How to Become a Product Manager
How to Become a Product Manager

How to Become a Product Manager

What Is a Product Manager?

A product manager works with a product or service through its entire lifecycle. They are involved in all areas, including:

  • Research
  • Design
  • Testing
  • Marketing strategy

Product managers work with individuals and teams to ensure the product or service has all the right features and will succeed in its target market.

It is a leadership role that involves strategic decision-making using data and analytics.

Product managers require extensive business knowledge and technical knowledge specific to their industry.

In a nutshell, a product manager identifies customer challenges or problems that the business can solve. Then, working with the various development, design and marketing teams, they create and launch a product or service that solves those problems.

Some companies have customers with multiple problems. It is for the product manager to decide which problem needs solving first.

Product managers can work for a single company/brand or as an external consultant.

According to Glassdoor, product managers make an average of $111,090 per year.

At the lower end of the scale, salaries are around 72,000,withthehighendearningapproximately72,000, with the high end earning approximately 171,000.

The amount you can earn varies between industries, skill level, company budgets and location.

What Skills Does a Product Manager Need?

To be a successful product manager, you need a varied skill set and knowledge base.

However, the essential skills for the product manager role are:

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Creative and strategic thinking
  • Business and industry knowledge
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Self-management and awareness
  • Relationship management

Emotional Intelligence

A large part of the product manager's role is to conduct market research and interviews with the company's target market.

As such, a good product manager can empathize with those in the interview, tune into their body language and think of a product/service that will meet their physical and emotional needs.

They should also be able to do this from the quantitative data.

Emotional intelligence also allows the product manager to see how their customer thinks and feels. This is great for UX and developing a product/service that the customers will enjoy using.

In an office environment, emotional intelligence allows the product manager to develop strong relationships with all departments, where everyone feels that they are part of a team, can contribute ideas and can ask for help if they need it.

Creative and Strategic Thinking

This role is dependent on creative ideas, from identifying customer pain points to finding solutions, from inventing new products to delivering those products, and everything in between.

Every step of the product lifecycle needs creative, strategic thinking and problem-solving.

While creativity is often a naturally acquired skill, knowledge and familiarity with the industry landscape can help develop this.

A strategic mindset is needed to navigate the product lifecycle as many problems often arise. These could be regarding a team dispute, a piece of technology, the right target market or the approprate marketing strategy.

As the lead decision-maker, the product manager must make the right, data-based decisions that ensure a product/service is a success.

Business and Industry Knowledge

As someone who develops products for a brand or company, it is implied that the product manager has knowledge of that industry. The more knowledge they possess, the more innovative their products will be.

Industry knowledge also involves keeping up with competitor product development, industry trends, technological developments and changes in economies.

However, as they deal with all aspects of a product, a product manager also needs to have knowledge and understanding of business functions, such as:

  • Consumer behavior
  • Marketing terms and techniques
  • Product analytics
  • SEO
  • A/B testing
  • Software methodologies
  • Prototypes
  • Finance and budgeting
  • User testing
  • Quality assurance

Communication and Collaboration

Communication and collaboration are key skills for any leadership role, but even more so for the product manager.

A product manager needs to ensure smooth communication and collaboration between all departments and many people for a successful product launch.

They are also the primary liaison between leadership and external stakeholders.

External stakeholders are not always the easiest group to manage, making communication skills non-negotiable.

A product manager's role is also to support, though leadership styles will determine how much.

They may be required to mediate conflict, negotiate priorities and timelines and offer assistance where they can.

As such, communication skills need to extend to non-verbal and active listening for success in this role.

Self-Management and Awareness

The product manager role can be incredibly stressful as they are constantly striving to meet the demands of CEOs, stakeholders, customers and various departments.

They also work to multiple tight deadlines and budgets.

To succeed in this role, a product manager needs to manage their emotions and time, both professionally and personally. They need to know when to push and when to take a step back.

Part of successful self-management comes from self-awareness. They need to know when they are working too much or pushing too hard.

Product managers also need to remain objective, especially regarding a product. The most successful product managers are objective because they are the target market.

However, they need to be careful not to cause a colleague or user to approve a product simply to try and please the product manager.

The correct product/service for the entire market must be prioritized over the product manager's personal preference. It is up to them to read the situation and act accordingly.

Relationship Management

Similar to communication and collaboration, relationship management is all about building bonds between:

  • Departments and their people
  • The finance team
  • CEOs, higher, middle and lower management
  • External and internal stakeholders
  • Customers
  • Sponsors
  • External agencies and services

Having these strong relationships helps the product lifecycle run more smoothly.

It also creates greater trust as people know that the product manager has their best interests at heart.

How to Become a Product Manager
How to Become a Product Manager

How to Become a Product Manager

There are several paths to becoming a product manager, and they can vary depending on the industry.

The route to success in a tech company will be different from that in a cosmetic company.

As a guideline, your path to becoming a product manager will take these steps:

Choose Your Career Path and Get an Education

The three most common career paths for product managers are:

MBA Program

Pre-requisites for an MBA include a bachelor's degree and three to five years of business work experience.

If you are accepted onto an MBA, you will learn to hone and develop your skills as a leader in product management.

Specialized Training

The Association of International Product Marketing and Management offers several certifications in product management.

It uses international best practices, but it lacks the detail of an MBA.

On-The-Job Learning

Though not as common, it's possible to secure a junior product management role and train under the product manager.

Through your on-the-job training, you will learn all the essential skills while putting them into practice. While it seems an ideal option, it doesn't leave you with a recognized qualification.

Gain the Necessary Skills

This article has already discussed the skills essential for a product manager.

During your education, you can develop these skills through:

  • Volunteer work
  • Internships
  • Work experience
  • Extracurricular activities

Network With Other Product Managers

Networking with other product managers will allow you to see the human element of the role.

You don't want to find yourself in the wrong profession, so take the time to ask other product managers:

  • What the role entails
  • Which companies hire product managers
  • What the work/life balance is like
  • Whether there is anything else you can do to improve your chance of success

Expand Your Work Experience

Over 100 people apply for each job advertisement, so you need to do what you can to stand out.

Aside from your qualifications and work experience, consider a side project that allows you to demonstrate your skills from conception to launch. Depending on your chosen industry, this could be anything from creating an app or building a website to creating a fundraising campaign.

The key is to show that you identified a problem, found a solution, created the product/service and launched it.

As a college student interested in tech, you could create an app that allows you to build a schedule to manage all your classes, homework, extracurricular activities and social life without burnout and make it available to your peers.

This project covers the entire product lifecycle and shows that you have great self-management and creativity skills.

If you enrolled your classmates to help, that's even better, as that demonstrates communication and collaboration.

For industries such as fashion or cosmetics, you could start a multi-media blog that offers solutions to a consumer problem. Your niche could be sustainable fashion, clean brands or upcycling.

During your interview, you will be able to demonstrate that you:

  • Can identify gaps in the market
  • Have the technical know-how to build a website
  • Are comfortable with all forms of media
  • Can successfully manage PR, marketing and advertising
  • Have established yourself as a trustworthy and reliable source on a specific topic
  • Can interpret consumer feedback to build a better product

Gain Certification in Product Management

Plenty of product management courses are available online or at educational institutions, depending on your budget and availability.

As this profession is so complex, it is recommended you take a course to help prepare you for your future responsibilities.

This certification will also help your resume stand out and indicates that you are serious about your career as a product manager.

Apply for Product Manager Roles

Once you have enough experience and education, you can apply for product manager roles.

While it may be tempting to approach big companies such as Facebook and Google, it is advised that you start small.

This way, you can confirm your passion for the role and you'll show that you can perform your responsibilities on a smaller scale before working at a large company.

Large international companies can be overwhelming for those with insufficient experience. Take the time to become familiar with the role first.

Final Thoughts

Product management is a demanding job, but it is also rewarding and stimulating.

The feeling of seeing your product succeed may never be matched, and the job progression and pay may make all that stress worthwhile.

While product management is a lucrative and gratifying role, remember to take time for yourself and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

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