How To Become a Product Manager With No Experience
So you want to become a product manager without any prior training or work experience. Well, can we let you in on a little secret? The most successful product managers out there today didn’t have any of those things either when they first got started.
You don’t need any formal qualifications and you don’t have to have a certain kind of resume. If you’re looking for your first product manager job, it’s not a tall order. You can have one in no time.
But you do need to have some particular qualities that all great product managers share. Let’s find out if you have what it takes.
What is a product manager?
Product managers generally lead and work across teams to get their product designed, built and launched. They’re responsible for getting data, analytics and expertise together and making the final call on product decisions.
In reality, that comes down to handling a lot of little pieces at once: managing the product backlog, maintaining the roadmap, getting stakeholder buy-in, talking to customers, and coordinating multiple teams to ensure you’re all working towards the same goals.
This is no small task – it involves a lot of people wrangling. In fact, the most important qualification a product manager brings to the table is their ability to work with people.
In the following Slideshare, you’ll see that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a former pizza store manager or a violinist.
What really matters is how good you are at getting people from different areas of the company, with different agendas and motivations, to unite behind your vision.
How do you find the right product manager job?
Our co-founder Janna Bastow got her first product manager job after a few months on the job as a customer support rep at a software company. The company was a mess, and she found herself instinctively sitting there putting the pieces together. For example, she was spending all day talking to angry customers about the same problems with no end in sight.
So she started writing out and handing over detailed solutions for the development team – those are known as product specs, as she found out later.
Her manager noticed that she had a knack for the job and formally promoted her to Product Manager.
So that’s one way to go about it – be an accidental product manager until someone finally notices.
But really, here’s what you need to keep in mind. If you’re actively looking to make the jump to product management, it’s important for you to identify your talents, interests and strengths so you can land a job where you can make the most impact.
All product manager roles aren’t created equal: Product management jobs vary by industry, company and even sometimes by department.
When you’re looking for a new job, these are the factors you should consider:
Do you want a creative or technical role?
When you’re looking at job listings, you’ll find that there is a wide range of product jobs out there. Some companies are seeking candidates with creative skills while others are looking for someone more technical to help maintain an existing product.
There’s a lot of advice on Quora about finding the right product role, which you should definitely consider:
“One company might have a product manager that’s primarily focused around business, market analysis, business relationships, etc with only a little bit on the creative and the technical side. Another might have a greater focus on UI/UX and design, or (you guessed it) the technical aspects.”
Think about which type of role plays to your strengths. If you want the creative license to build something entirely new, you might want to focus your job search on companies that are looking for a candidate like you.
In contrast, you’re likely to find yourself working in a more predictable environment, look for roles working with existing products.
Are you passionate about the product or field you’ll be working in?
You can narrow your job search down significantly if you focus on products you’re passionate about. Remember that as a product manager, you’re responsible for setting the product’s vision and direction. Good luck doing that for a product you don’t care about.
What’s your passion? Healthcare? Fintech? Travel? Beauty? There are tons of products out there that you can make your mark on. Take the time to think about what you really want to do and where you really want to make an impact.
Sure, you can think of it as just a job. But being passionate about your product will really make the difference for both your career and the people you work with.
Make those long hours worth it. 😉
Are you working with the right culture?
The term “culture fit” comes with a lot baggage, but it’s almost a necessary term. When you’re considering companies to work with, look closely at whether you’ll be working in an environment where you can succeed.
Does the company have a supportive culture? Do they have the right values in place?
Do people who work there feel like they are valued? Will you able able to test new ideas? Will you encouraged or discouraged from bringing change into the organization?
You can glean this kind of information just by talking to people who already work there. If they’re happy at their company, that will shine through in the way they talk about their experience there.
Look also at whether the company has benefits and perks that will help you keep learning while you’re on the job. Will you have access to a mentor? Will you have a budget for attending conferences and workshops throughout the year? Will you have a budget for getting your company set up with the right tools and processes?
It’s a good sign if a company has these things lined up already!
II. Getting hired as a product manager
Make yourself visible
Get plugged into the online #prodmgmt community:
If you’re new to the world of product management, I have good news for you. The online product management community is both active and incredibly welcoming to newbies.
Here are the first steps you should take:
👉🏽Join any of these online communities for product managers
👉🏽Follow these top product management people on Twitter
You can get plugged into the conversation on Twitter right away: get started by following #prodmgmt and #productmanagement.
Feeling shy? Get yourself started by leaving comments on other people’s work. Not only will that be highly appreciated, but the more you write and tweet, the more visibility you get. All this will go a long way in helping you break into the network.
Network and attend meetups:
Being online is great, but nothing beats good old fashioned going out and meeting people in real life.
Product managers attend meetups not just to keep up with the industry, but also to potentially recruit new hires. If you’re serious about looking for a new job, it’s not a bad idea to mention it while you’re mingling with new folks you meet at these events.
Even if they’re not hiring, chances are they know someone who is.
The following events are pretty popular and well attended – find an event near you!
ProductTank: Monthly meetups for product managers in 100+ cities around the world
ProductCamp: Free, user-driven “unconference” for product managers and marketers (around the world)
MIndTheProduct: The conference for passionate product people (in London and SF)
You can always head to Meetup.com to find local product management events near you.
Meeting the right people at a company can help you fast track your application at a company. It definitely helps to have someone on the inside who can vouch for you.
Put yourself on the market
Check in with HR:
If you like where you work and want to move into a product manager role, let the hiring manager know! It’s likely that you already have a good deal of product knowledge if you’ve been at your company for awhile, and that will definitely work in your favor.
Sign up for jobs boards
There are also a handful of places where you can find companies hiring product managers. Check out the following jobs boards:
Do your homework: Take advantage of product management resources
Books you should read
Product management is a fast-changing field of expertise, and we are all learning as we go along. There’s a lot of reading available online! Here’s a few of our favorite ones:
- Product Leadership by Martin Eriksson, Richard Banfield and Nate Walkingshaw
- The Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen
- The Art of Product Management by Rich Mironov
There’s no shortage of books on product management. You can find a much longer, crowdsourced list of recommended reading for product managers here.
Blogs and podcasts you should check out
Oh, where do we start? These are a few of our favorites, but again – there’s no end to this list!
- Silicon Valley Product Group (Marty Cagan)
- Mind the Product
- Ken Norton
- Product Coalition
- Women in PM
You can find an extensive list of product management blogs here.
You can also try our Resource Center to find our in-house resources on product management, product roadmapping and more.
Ready to go all in?
The exciting thing about product management is that there’s no one road to becoming a product manager. There’s no official certification you need to enter this field. There are no barriers to entry – and it’s a role where you can make a real tangible impact at your organization.
The truth is, the best product managers are self-taught.
If you’re serious about product management, the best way to prepare is by getting out there, listening and learning from other people’s experiences.