PTPA #010: 4 ways to transition into Product Management

Oct 29, 2022

Read time: 4 minutes


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The most common problem I see when people try to transition into Product Management is that they don’t have a good plan B.

Typically, most plan A’s consist of the 4 same steps:

  1. Work on your resume
  2. Apply to all/any PM job posting
  3. Try to get referrals 
  4. Pay for an expensive (and useless) certification

And, in most cases, this only ends in rejections and frustrations. After months, or years, of following these same steps people start thinking of a plan B. 

Most plan B's are guided by frustration and disappointment; usually, more money is spent on other courses, books, and certifications that lead to the same outcome. 

I believe in 4 concepts for a successful transition into Product Management where one of them should be your plan A and a second one should be your plan B:

  1. Building Side Projects
  2. Getting closer to a Product Team
  3. Leveraging your Industry expertise
  4. Improving your story

Let’s dive into each one.


1. Building Side Projects

Getting into Product Management is not about adding keywords like “working cross-functionally” and “roadmap” to your resume. Instead, it’s about showing that you can do the job of a Product Manager and that you have gained skills like working cross-functionally and creating roadmaps by building products - even if it's your own product.

One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen is calling “side projects” to creating a presentation on how to improve an existing popular product, like improving Spotify or LinkedIn. While these are good exercises to practice your product sense, it’s not something that recruiters and hiring managers will look at to determine that you have PM experience.

Side projects need research, users to validate your research, and data to confirm that the problem you found is worth solving. They need prototypes and iterations before releasing an MVP. Side projects are just “putting the price” away from calling it a business (selling a product).

And before you ask, no, you do not need how to code to create a product. You can even create an entire product and business using an excel file.

2. Getting closer to a Product Team

Most Product Managers I know landed their first role as PMs through an internal transfer. An internal transfer is not just about networking with PMs in your company, but rather being close enough to them that you progress from having coffee chats with them to helping them in their daily tasks. 

When an Engineer, Product Marketing Manager, Business Analyst, or anyone else on my team (or close) is curious about Product Management, it’s easy for me to start sharing tasks with them so that they can gain the experience they need. It’s easy because we share context about the problem space we are working on.

Getting closer to a product team means that your plan A (or B) is to get into a role that will give you access to networking opportunities with Product Managers to transfer internally. 

Don’t make the mistake of waiting to see if you can get into Product Management and then, when it doesn’t work out, try to get into an adjacent role. Instead, try to move into Product Management, while also trying to get into an adjacent role - this will speed up the process of your transition into Product.


3. Leveraging your Industry Expertise

I know an Opera Singer who became a Product Manager and a Pharmacist that now leads Product Teams. Both of them have the same thing in common - they both leveraged their expertise in their industry to find a PM role in a company that needed it (startups in their niche).

You can view industry expertise in two ways:

  1. If you have X years of experience in a specific industry, find startups in that industry that are looking for PMs, or find big tech companies who may be looking to hire experts in those areas. The latter could be harder to find.
  2. If you want to enter a particular industry, you may first take a job similar to yours (or 1st one if you are a student) and then build enough industry knowledge and build the skills needed to become a PM in that industry.

While your main goal could be to land a Product Manager job at a company like Google or Microsoft, this can be accomplished in various steps. First leverage your industry expertise to get a PM role, then leverage your PM role to change companies.


4. Improving your story

In some cases, you might already have everything you need, but you might not be telling your story in the best way possible.

Before getting into Product Management I worked in Consulting. There were many things that I learned as a consultant like working with databases, creating statements of work, analyzing data to create dashboards, and communicating with customers. 

However, when I tell my story, I don’t focus on any of those - instead, I always talk about:

  • Working cross-functionally: I worked with a team of Engineers, Designers, and other consultants.
  • Focusing on customer problems: I spent days working with new customers to understand what problems they were facing, gathering requirements, and translating those to my engineering and design teams.
  • Creating end-to-end products: Once we understood the problem and we had our requirements ready, we would create a unique product for our customers. 

Focus on the parts of your story that tie your experience with Product Management skills, and if you can’t, then it’s a good indicator that you need to work on gaining those skills before you continue refining your story. 

Avoid the common mistake of only having one plan to get into Product Management and start thinking about executing your plans A and B simultaneously. This will maximize your chances of success:

  • Build side projects
  • Get closer to a product team
  • Leverage your industry expertise
  • Improve your story 

See you next week!

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