The different career paths to become product manager
A lot of people ask themselves, how they can become a product manager. Most of articles who try to answer this question start by saying that there is no school to become a product manager, but is there one for salespeople, for developper, for entrepreuneurs ? No. So the product manager job is not the super different job that these people want you to believe.
As any other qualified job, if you want to get hired as product manager, you need to demonstrate during the hiring process that you are able to take the role.
A product manager is in brief someone who is able to :
- Detect and understand issues or opportunities
- Talk to people who are going to help him understand and progress on this topic
- Create a strategy and be a good communicator to demonstrate the importance of this topic
- Define objectives, and lead a team of people to solve these objectives
Do you need to know how to code ? No but you need to be able to talk to a developper . Do you need to know how to do a business plan ? No but you need to know what is the financial impact of your project. Do you need to know how to design an interface ? No, but you need to be able to talk to a designer about design.
There is no mandatory expert knowledge except being able to think. The most important part is that you need to know a little bit of everything of how a company works. But being good at something is not negative either, most product manager are very good at one topic, some will be past developpers, some past designers, some past data analyst, some past entrepreuneurs ... When someone is trying to hire a product manager they will wonder if this person is able to know a little bit of everything first, but when they have doubt about your potential they will remember your qualities 'Yeah but he understands very well dev' or 'She is super strong in design though'.
The different career paths
Former dev/designer/data analyst/product marketing manager/project manager
This one is the one you will see recommended the most often, because a lot of people have been through that path. The path is the following, you get good at any of those job, so you end up being hired to do low level things in a company, you will start working in a product team, with developpers, designers, product managers, data analysts and you will build internal knowledge of the company. After you have shown that you are good at you own job, you can ask to take more product responsibilities inside your team (usually product manager are willing to give away they responsibilities to other team members to empower them and free more time to something else) and after about a year, if your company is looking for a new pm, you can apply and it is very likely that you will be chosen, because they already know you, they know you are smart, there is no risks for them. You can be upfront as soon as you are hired that your goal is to transition to PM, so that they can help you doing so.
Former entrepreuneur/side project builder/charity leader
There is this famous quote that the product manager is a "mini CEO", a lot of people argue that this is false, well those people don't know what is a CEO. A CEO is a not a guru or a dictator who decides everything in a company, a CEO is first a leader, has responsibilities and help the company going forward, exactly what a product manager do at his product level. Thats the reason why CEO/entrepreuneurs/charity leaders are very good at product management, their job is very similar to the product manager one, the difference that they usually don't know a lot about tech.
So if you are one and you are interested about tech, then this will be easy for you to go through a product management interview process, do not think that because you don't have a product manager title on your resume people will not consider you, focus yourself on prooving on the points I described in the introduction
When you are a consultant your job is similar in a lot of areas, you are very often working alone, but your job has an impact on a lot of people, and in several missions you need to interface with operational people which makes you very good at understanding politics and how companies are run, which is very often an area in which product managers lack skills
Product manager assistant internship
If you are still a student, starting directly by being a product manager is possible, there are more and more offers of internships for product manager, but the competition is big, so don't try to apply without studying what product managers do. The good thing about starting as an intern is that it will be very easy for your company to convert your intership into a full time position.
Having the different career path is good but don't forget that you need to read content about product management, learn what is the developper/designer job, understand how a company is run, how to create a mobile app, understand a bit commong things in web apps ... You don't need to be expert about all this topics, but you need to know a little bit of all of them
And don't forget that the best way to demonstrate a quality during an hiring process is to build yourself and show it.
- If you are a former designer, learn python and create a simple app to store your mood of the day for example
- If you are a former coder, create a website for your side project with a landind page and pricing page for example
- If you are a consultant, learn to code and build a simple app to gather your expenses for example