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Survey results : Best ways to break into Product Management

posted on 4 Dec 2020

Arguably, Product management is one of the most sought after jobs in tech today. After I built Zero To PM, I made quite a few connections on LinkedIn and Twitter who were enthusiastic about the role and wanted to break into Product Management. Talking to them ascertained that the PM role is indeed a highly coveted one but a brutally difficult one to get into.

Read More While some of them have been failing to get past the resume screening when applying for a Product Manager role probably because of no prior PM experience, others have been speculating over whether a PM course is really going to help them get a PM job. Although most of the product managers I’ve interacted with got into Product Management through an internal transition in their companies, I really wanted to dig deeper and understand what the most common ways to break into product were. Hence, I surveyed over 45+ product managers to figure out the answers. This post is to present the survey results.

Survey Participants

The participants in the survey comprised of people with different levels of seniority - right from Associate Product Managers to VP of Products and with years of product management experience ranging from 1 to a maximum of 10 years. Since a majority of the survey participants were from India and given that majority of product managers fall in the experience range of 1 to 10 years, I find it fair to state that Product Management in India is in its early stages.

The two best ways to get into Product Management

In my discussions with product enthusiasts desiring to break into Product Management, I've always maintained that the following two approaches are their best bets to get into Product Management

  1. Identify smaller projects in their current company they can contribute to in the capacity of a PM and then make an internal transition.
  2. Join a small startup in whatever role you are competent enough for. Then learn and build as much as you can about building and scaling a product before you can get the founders to formally make you a product manager.

The survey results affirm these two approaches.

1. Internal Transition at your current company

Nearly 41% of the product managers who took the survey got into product management by making an internal transition in their company. This is a risk-free approach of making a career pivot and transitioning into product management. However, IMO, there are some pre-requisites

  1. In order to seamlessly make the internal transition, you should have spent a significant amount of time on the product and established your authority as a go-to person for one or the other product needs.
  2. You should have demonstrated the ability to tackle customer problems and escalations thus establishing trust in the minds of the stakeholders that they can be comfortable putting you in front of customers.
  3. You should have demonstrated some of the PM skills in your current role.

Doing the three things above will add a lot of weight to your candidature when it comes to convincing your seniors and other stakeholders to let you make the transition. Here is some practical advice from product managers who have used this approach.

Find yourself a sponsor/champion from the product team internally. Finding sponsorship is a function of building the necessary skillset and demonstrating intent to get yourself a break ~ Product Manager, 1 year of PM experience
Breaking into product management requires more soft skills than hard skills, communication across multiple functions, customer focus, and logical reasoning. Start an independent project which positively impacts the metrics of the function you are currently in and that is your path towards product management ~ Product Manager at a data security company, 2 years of PM experience

2. Joining a small startup

This approach bifurcates into two routes. You can either join a small startup as a PM or you could join in whatever role you are competent for. The former route would require you to hunt for startups who are still in the early stages of customer and product development and could use a product manager. This route requires you to network your way through the hiring process. Unconventional ways to reach out to the founders and later on convincing them what value you can add to the team, can help you get a break. The latter route will need you to get into the startup and then hustle your way through to get into product management. Working closely with the founders, getting your skin in the game, and delivering more than what is asked of you will not only boost your confidence but also instill confidence in your capabilities in the founders' minds to entrust you with the PM role. If you are making this move after a significant number of years of experience, there is a possibility that you may have to take a salary cut. For folks who are making the move early in their career, this approach presents a promising opportunity and is relatively less risky.

In totality, a little over 30% of the survey participants took this approach to land a role in Product Management.Here are a few tips from some of them -

Get some hands-on experience in a product startup in a customer-facing role and then make an internal transition when the opportunity arises. ~ Product Manager, 4 years of PM experience
Start shouldering some of the responsibilities of a PM in a small startup and then slowly get more involved in the decision making process. ~ Product Manager, 1 year of PM experience

The next best approach to get into Product management as shown by the survey results was the B-school route. 18% of the survey participants got into product management after B-school - some via internships , others via campus placements.This survey really helped me understand the practical ways that people break into product. It also gave me a first-hand insight about what existing product managers think is the less stressful, more productive way to get into product management.

For quite some time now, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing about my thoughts on getting into product management and thriving. With a lot of hesitation and a pinch of hope, I’m stoked to let you all know that I will be writing a short ebook titled - Zero To PM: Breaking into Product Management the right way! - to put a structure to all my learnings and insights that I’ve gathered so far from my interactions with product managers, leaders, and product enthusiasts. I’ve set a goal for myself to release it in Feb 2021. If this interests you, please follow along the journey by subscribing below. I promise not to spam you and will only reach out to share updates about the ebook.

Categories:  #Product-Management