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Breaking into Product Management: A Personal Journey and Professional Guide


In over two decades in Product Management, I’ve encountered numerous paths into this dynamic field—mine began in an unexpected corner of technology. Often, when I share that my college major was in Information Technology, it leads to a deeper discussion about the serendipitous routes many of us take into Product Management. Today, I want to demystify this journey for those aspiring to enter this exciting career.

What is a Product Manager?

A Product Manager orchestrates the development of products, focusing on strategic execution while balancing user needs and business goals. This role is pivotal in translating problems into innovative solutions, often acting as a liaison among stakeholders to ensure alignment and successful outcomes. See our article on the roles and responsibilities of product mangers for more information.

Assessing Fit: Is Product Management Right for You?

My transition into Product Management was sparked by my role as an account manager at a web company, where my daily interactions with Product Managers fueled my curiosity about the ‘why’ behind their requests. This curiosity, a cornerstone trait for Product Managers, along with empathy, attention to detail, and strong communication skills, are vital.

If you find joy in strategy discussions, thrive in understanding customer needs, and excel in problem-solving, Product Management might be your calling. However, it’s not a one-size-fits-all; the role requires a personality that enjoys continuous learning and can handle the fluid dynamics of managing both product development and team interactions.

Learning and Preparation: Building Your Product Management Foundation

While formal education in Product Management is rare, courses in business administration, strategy, and competitive analysis can provide a foundational understanding. Real-world experience, particularly in roles close to the customer like support or sales, can be incredibly beneficial.

I’ve often advised those exploring this path to seek mentorship within their organizations. Connect with existing Product Managers, ask questions, and understand their daily challenges and successes. These insights are invaluable and can guide you in shaping your approach and expectations from the role.

Gaining Practical Experience

Start where you are; leverage your current role to gain relevant experience. If you’re in customer service, for example, your direct interaction with users provides a unique perspective on the product needs and challenges—attributes that are essential in Product Management.

The Interview Process: Demonstrating Your Potential

When you’re ready to apply for a Product Management position, tailor your resume to highlight your problem-solving skills and your understanding of customer needs. During interviews, focus on demonstrating your soft skills—communication, empathy, and a customer-centric approach are often just as important as technical knowledge. Having been there ourselves we have an article on common Product Manager interview questions to help you out.

Product Management Certification and Continued Learning

While not mandatory, certifications in Product Management can demonstrate your commitment to the field and enhance your knowledge base. At Productside, we offer various Product Management certifications that not only boost your credentials but also provide practical insights that are applicable on the job.

Learn the necessary skills to become a Certified Product Manager™
Take the Course

The Journey Continues

Remember, breaking into Product Management is not a sprint but a marathon. It requires patience, a willingness to learn continually, and the ability to nurture a strong professional network. Consider every interaction as a learning opportunity and every challenge as a step forward in your journey.

As we often discuss in a recent webinar, building a ‘personal board of directors’—a group of mentors and peers who guide and challenge you—can significantly impact your career trajectory. This network will support you, provide advice, and open doors to opportunities in Product Management and beyond.

The path to becoming a Product Manager is as unique as the individuals in the role. With a curious mind, empathetic approach, and strategic thinking, you can navigate this path successfully. Embrace the journey with enthusiasm, and let your passion for products and problem-solving guide you to your ideal career in Product Management. Of course one of our Product Management courses will help you along the way!

Joe Ghali
June 27, 2024