This is the last post in this series. You can find the first two articles here:
- Get real product management experience without being a product manager.
- The 3 most important skills for new product managers and how to acquire them.
In this post, I cover the different paths that aspiring product managers can pursue to get their first product management job.
Below, I share the five paths, in descending order of ease, for aspiring product managers to get their first job. All paths are equally applicable to college graduates and experienced professionals who are seeking their first product management job.
1. Join a medium to large sized product company, and then internally move to a PM role
Within a mid-large sized org, joining teams that work intimately with product management make the transition to a product role relatively easier. Some of the teams that fit this criterion are product analytics, growth, and project management.
How to do this:
- 6 to 8 months after joining a product-related team, get an understanding of the internal job transfer processes.
- Working in the above defined setup should give you direct access to product managers. Leverage these relations to understand how product managers typically operate, which skills are highly valued, and how you can demonstrate those skills.
- If there are others who successfully transitioned to a PM role, ask them for specific pointers which can help you make the same move.
- Create a plan to develop the skills required to be a great PM. (More details on this here.)
- Find a mentor, preferably a product leader in your team, who can guide you along the process, hold you accountable to your goals, and enable you to make the transition.
2. Join an early-stage startup.
Early-stage startups prefer hiring those who can perform well in ambiguous, aggressive, and ever-changing environments.
An aggressive startup culture motivates one to manage multiple responsibilities, learn at an accelerated speed, and get better at execution - all essential qualities of a good PM.
Fortunately, product management recruiters recognise this, and hence they favour candidates with startup experience. This recruiter bias makes this path an attractive option.
How to do this:
Apply for startups that satisfy at least two of the following criterion:
- They are creating an excellent product or solving a problem that you resonate with.
- The product and senior leaders have past experience of creating world-class products and teams.
- The company has been revenue-generating for at least 12 months.
- The company has at least 60-80 employees, majority of which are product managers and engineers.
- The company should have raised at least one 'Series' round of investment.
Assuming you get the job at a startup and assuming you have the option to choose, please choose to work on tasks that are similar to core product management tasks.
Do exceptionally well. Repeat steps 2 - 5 from the previous section.
3. Get an entry-level role with tech giants
This will not be easy, but the fact that there are enough first-time product managers at FAANGMULA is evidence that this is doable.
How to do this:
The simple way to do this is to look for relevant APM, RPM or internship roles at the prominent tech giants, apply, and spend a significant amount of time preparing for and practising the typical product questions.
To keep this post relevant and short, I will not cover the details on product management interview preparation.
4. Get an MBA
MBA is not a mandatory requirement for getting a product management job.
However, I believe that an MBA is extremely helpful as it quickens and eases the process of getting the first PM job. It also familiarises you with business principles and frameworks that will help you ace the interviews and do well at the job. Finally, it will broaden your professional network to thousands of resourceful alumni, some of whom might help you get your first job.
How to do this:
- Apply for either Tier 1 MBA schools or schools that are known to get the most product management job openings.
- Focus on building your network and meet as many students and alumni.
- Connect with alumni who are successful PMs, and seek guidance on how you can follow the same path as them.
- During the on-campus placements: apply to as many roles as you can and shamelessly ask for referrals from alumni.
5. Starting up on your own
Starting up on your own is last on my list because doing it is hard. And, if you do it successfully, you will not need to look for a PM (or any other) job.
Failed entrepreneurs, on the other hand, make great product managers for the following reasons.
- They have done most of what a PM does but on their terms.
- They passionately believed in a product and put in the effort, time, energy, and money in growing it - all things that most PMs do.
- They executed, failed, (hopefully) learned, and became better at creating products.
- As described in the second path, they developed the skills necessary to succeed as a PM.
If you are an ex-entrepreneur, highlight the PM related skills on your resume. Try to bring out specific achievements that exhibit your success (or failure) at creating products and solving problems. (More on this later)
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