How to Become a Product Manager

A high-powered tech career that requires no coding background and the ability to lead your own team? It might sound like a dream, but that actually describes the role of a product manager. One of the most unique roles in the industry, the product manager sits at the intersection of user experience,  engineering and development and marketing and sales, without taking on the full job responsibilities of any of these roles. Instead, the product manager is often thought of as the “CEO” of the product they manage, overseeing the entire development lifecycle. 

Given its unique nature, the path to becoming a product manager with no experience is not always a clear one. In this article, we’ve broken down the complete qualifications, educational options and career outlook for this lucrative position. In short, if you’re looking to enter the product management field, you’ll want to invest in these steps:

 

  1. Research the Role
  2. Take a Product Management Course
  3. Become an Expert in Core Competencies
  4. Brush up on Technical Skills
  5. Learn to Lead

 

What is the Job Description for a Product Manager?

Within an organization, a product manager takes on the ultimate responsibility of bringing a product vision. But let’s take a step back for a moment. Just what is a “product?” Within the tech world, this could describe a physical item, (a new computer model, a VR headset) or a digital one (a mobile app, an updated software). The responsibilities and challenges of the role will therefore differ based on this distinction.

Despite this, the job ultimately comes down to one word: “coordination.” The PM coordinates each team, ensuring deliverable deadlines are met to get the product out on time. With a customer-centric approach, PM’s might lead teams or be directly responsible for conducting user and market research, implement plans with engineering, sales and marketing teams and utilize analytics to craft innovative solutions before and after launch.

Underlying all elements of the role is the “management” part of the title. Regardless of technical ability, a PM absolutely must be able to lead cross-functional teams, and be prepared to prioritize problems that come up from multiple stakeholders. Using a strategic mindset to pivot on a dime and bringing together disparate teams to solve customer problems are a daily part of a product manager’s job.

 

Product Manager versus Technical Product Manager

Depending on the needs of an organization, you might come across roles that specifically call for a technical product manager. Unlike a traditional PM, the technical product manager is more internal-facing, focusing on engineering and design issues, rather than user research and competitive analysis. The technical product manager is someone with an advanced background in computer science and computer engineering, making it a great career advancement step for the more technically-inclined.

Product Manager Qualifications

Since product managers can be found working on apps, devices, software and more across the tech industry, there’s no standard set of skills they must possess. Many enter the role with a background in marketing and communications, while others transition over from the programming or UX/UI design side. However, some skills you might see for PM across the board include:

  • Mastery of design principles and workflows, especially Agile Methodologies frameworks like Scrum and Kanban
  • Quantitative and qualitative user research skills, including a familiarity with deriving data-driven insights
  • Ability to conduct market research and competitor analysis and communicate actionable insights to stakeholders
  • Managing across diverse teams, serving as a liaison and ensuring deadlines are met
  • UX and/or UI design skills such as prototyping and wireframing, testing and iteration, design research
  • Knowledge of marketing and pricing strategies

While this list might seem intimidating at first glance, the good news is that not processing any one of these is not a dealbreaker. Depending on the size of the organization, the product manager might be required to be more hands-on or off at any given area of the product lifecycle. Becoming familiar with your industry of interest will give you a better sense of the areas most important to focus on. Remember, as implied by the name, product manager is typically not an entry-level role, giving applicants ample opportunity to learn throughout their career journey. That being said, below we’ve broken down five simple, yet critical steps you can take today to start moving towards your dream product management role!

Product Manager Education Requirements

Product managers come from a wide variety of backgrounds. While most hold at least a bachelor’s degree, it’s not a requirement. Nor is the degree type limited to computer science, as a strong background in business, marketing communications, or even data science could serve as an advantage for some aspects of the role. More common in the field are certification courses in product management, designed to supplement an educational background and other on-the-job and self-taught learnings. Some popular providers of these courses include Product Manager HQProduct Institute and more generalized online education programs like Skillshare or edX.

How Long does it Take to Become a Product Manager?

On average, professionals might spend 3-5 years gaining experience before ascending to the role of product manager, but every individual’s path will be different. Above anything else, a continual willingness to learn and ability to demonstrate on-the-job problem solving will serve as the most important traits for future product managers!

How to Become a Product Manager

1. Research the Role – No two project managers will share the same day-to-day responsibilities. The diverse nature of this role makes it critical for interested applicants to spend time talking to people currently in the position. No one else can give you as detailed an impression. As you gather experiences, it’s not a bad idea to begin a target industry or company list where you could see yourself working. The product manager of a small startup is going to have a very different experience from a PM at a major firm like Google.

2. Take a Product Management Course – A Project Management certification course is one of the best ways to gain the “hard” skills of the profession and stand out among other applicants. Bootcamp providers often offer these less time intensive courses (typically a week) and cover topics such as agile best practices, working with data and validating metrics and real-world portfolio projects. Advanced strategy courses are also available, in addition to those solely aimed at individuals already in the tech industry looking to transition into the product side of the business.

3. Become an Expert in Core Competencies – Because the list of “skills” needed by a product manager is so lengthy, it’s vital to have the basics down. Among the ones mentioned above, try to fill any inexperience gaps via instructional courses or through any number of self-taught learning modules you can find online. This might mean brushing up on data tools like Tableau or Microsoft BI, familiarizing yourself with the design sprint process and agile, or even diving into the world of revenue and pricing modelling. The more knowledge you have, the better equipped you’ll be to ace that interview!

4. Brush up on Technical Skills – Yes, we did begin this article noting that the product manager role does not require coding knowledge, but, familiarizing yourself with basic technical expertise can give you an added advantage. If you intend on working with mobile apps or software, a free coding course, or even a bootcamp might strengthen your ability to lead a cross functional team. For those interested in the physical product side, UX/UI design skills will be a must.

5. Learn to Lead – We’ve saved this last step for all those skills they don’t teach in school. The person in this role especially must go far beyond technical core competencies to succeed. Leading a team towards its goals requires a high degree of emotional intelligence and empathy, as well as the ability to make business-critical decisions with a clear head. Product managers must always stay curious, thinking of a product from a users perspective and abreast of any trends in the space, so the competition doesn’t get ahead.

 

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Job Outlook for a Product Manager

The product manager role is both highly coveted and highly demanded across the tech ecosystem. The role has experienced 29% year-over-year growth in the United States, according to LinkedIn. Unlike other tech niches, you’ll find product management positions at more tech-centric companies, including all of the “big five,” in addition to various other industries across media, sports and more! Remember, any organization that maintains any type of mobile app or website, likely has a product team behind it.

Best jobs for Product Managers

There’s no one career path for product management. And this is a good thing: More than 88 percent of PM professionals started their careers in a different field according to a survey conducted by BrainStation. Take this as a sign that it’s never too late to pursue this professional path! Successful product managers have come from backgrounds in fields like UX/UI design, web development, marketing and data analytics. Taking on leadership responsibilities and heading up individual tasks is a great way to build up those vital soft skills that might be absent from your current role. Check out our career resource pages to learn more about these roles.

Product Manager Salary

The product management role is typically filled by someone with several years of experience, which is reflected by a relatively high salary. The average salary of a product manager in the United States is $96,513, according to Indeed. This amount will depend upon the company, geographic location and years of experience. Below, we’ve broken down the average salary for a product manager in five of the top metropolitan areas in the U.S.

 
CityAverage Product Manager Salary
Austin$92,983
Boston$112,062
Chicago$102,818
New York City$114,492
San Francisco$129,317

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