Advice

5 Tips On Transitioning Into Product Management 🎉

The secrets they DON'T want you to know! 👀 (Just kidding.)

Helen Huang
October 21, 2020

So, the company you're at right now already has Product Managers. But you're not one yourself (just yet). What do you do next? How do you transition from the role you're in right now, to the one that you want?

Product Management, or also affectionately known as simply PM, is one of the best roles within the tech industry today. And it’s an especially interesting one, namely because there’s no one background or degree that guarantees you success.

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Maybe you just found out about the PM discipline. Or maybe you’ve been considering a career change for a while. Either way, you’ve probably realized by now that landing a PM job might not be the easiest thing in the world. 😅 Because at the end of the day, getting that coveted offer is all about being able to answer the following:

How can you demonstrate to employers that you have what it takes, especially without prior experience?

Prioritization board

Alt text: Prioritization board with sticky notes.

Great question! And that’s why Sefunmi and I interviewed over 100 people on how they got into the industry. Our insights then made it into the How to Product book. Let me know in the comments below if you'd like to be sent some chapters! Back to the point of this article though...

Landing that first PM role is hard, and proving that you have the expertise to do so is difficult. However, as someone who is already in the tech industry (even if you're not in your dream PM role just yet): you're in luck! 🍀

You’re already familiar with how the organization is run. You can share your learnings and best practices from one space into the other. There’s less ramp-up time necessary. And, it greatly benefits your company because they save on both recruitment and onboarding costs.

That being said, how do you take advantage of all the above to transition into that PM role?

Tip #1: Make sure you understand Product Manager responsibilities, and what your transferable skills are.

This title is pretty self-explanatory, right? Maybe you’ve got some understanding of the theory through some online articles, courses, or boot camps. If so, that’s definitely a great start! If you haven’t done so just yet, I’ve listed some resources at the bottom of this article.

What's important though is being able to list out the skills you bring to the table from your current role. You're in marketing right now? You probably know a lot about speaking from the voice of the customer. Sales? Exceptionally strong communication and negotiation skills, written and oral. Software developer looking to switch? Those technical chops will definitely serve you well.

Comment below what your current role is and let's brainstorm some skills! 🧠

Tip #2: Try to get PM responsibilities as part of your current role!

If there is ONE tip in this entire list to actually take action on, it's this one. It is absolutely the easiest way to get actual PM experience, aka the practical knowledge and skills you can use to prove your capabilities to hiring managers and recruiters.

If possible, be transparent regarding your career goals to your manager. Discuss what they are with your management or leadership team. See if you can work out an arrangement in your current role. This is something I’ve seen in action multiple times.

The first time was with a subcontractor at a multinational technology company, who landed a temporary contract for an Executive Administrative Assistant role. Over the course of her 18 months at the company, she worked with her manager to take on more product responsibilities… eventually landing a full-time offer as a Sr. Product Manager by the end of her contract. 🥳

Another example is with a co-worker, a Software Engineer looking to try out the PM role. They code 80% of the time, and take on more of a product-strategy-vision role the other 20%. Looped into spec reviews, helping with customer interviews, and the like, just to test it out to see if it’s for them.

Tip #3: Network, network, network.

Networking zoom call

Alt text: Screens with group Zoom call.

Worked with a PM once on a project? Heard a product leader speak at some point? Again, reach out to them and just ask to chat.

If that’s something you’re already doing on LinkedIn, then you can probably replicate (and improve) that success within your own company. Even if they aren’t able to help in the immediate term, you get them to be a little bit more invested in your success. Who knows what helpful things, thoughts, or people they can refer you to in the future?

These days networking is so easily facilitated online, so leverage all of the tools you've got! Even if it's not 1-on-1, try to find like-minded peers within your own company and help each other develop the skills necessary to succeed.

Tip #4: Apply to internal PM openings.

Yet another self explanatory title right? Internal transfers greatly reduce the cost of recruiting for the company and also cuts down on turnaround time for you. ⏳ You may also be able to get detailed feedback on how you did during interviews, which is always a blessing!

Again though, while an internal transfer may help you with getting an interview, what’s important is that you land the job. I'll be writing more articles on how to do that, so stay tuned!

Tip #5: Do more than just apply - reach out to the hiring manager directly.

We keep hearing how you need experience to get experience. And so you already have experience already with the company. That’s great! Buuuut it might still not be enough. So make sure you do your due diligence and actually reach out to the hiring manager.

Email or ping them and ask to have a quick chat about whether they think you’re ready for the role. Or if not, whether they have any advice on how you can get there.

BONUS TIP: Remember you’re an asset to your company and don’t give up!

You got this board :)

Alt text: Board syaing “You got this!”

All in all, don’t forget to look at the bright side: You’re in a great position to transition into PM. You'll bring a unique perspective and that is an absolute benefit when creating products for a global and diverse audience. It’s beneficial to your company that they train and ultimately retain you. You’ve got the network. You’ve got the skills, the hustle, and the motivation. Now it’s just about getting the practical experience and proving your capabilities to the right people.

As a non-technical Product Manager myself, let me reiterate again that there is no one degree or one background that dictates your success in this industry. I have an Earth Science background, and I'm still succeeding in my own right! You've got this! 🌞

⭐⭐⭐

Of course, these things are easier said than done. 😋 Maybe you’re extremely motivated, but don’t know where to start with Product Management 101. Or maybe you’ve understood the theory from boot camps and courses, but haven’t had the opportunity to put it to practice. Landing the interview is easy… but getting the job? Much harder.

Again, we go back to this same question:

How can you demonstrate to employers that you have what it takes, especially without prior experience?

From talking to recruiters and hiring managers (and being one myself) we don’t want to just be told, we want to be shown. Our biggest concerns are that very few candidates can show their skills put into practice, beyond the theory. Taking classes, boot camps, and doing small side projects are definitely a step in the right direction, but how else can you show that you can work with developers and designers, launch a product, and actually execute?

Cartoon woman waving hi

That’s why Sefunmi and I are building Co.Lab. You can check it out at joincolab.io!

We’ll prepare you for success within the industry, by facilitating actual hands-on, practical experience. You'll get grouped with your own designer and developers. You'll work together to identify and tackle a problem space, find real customers, and ship an actual product.

In addition to proving you understand the theory of how-to product, you'll prove that you can actually perform well on the job. That you’ve worked across design, development; you’ve shipped real products to real users for real impact. You’ve learned from and have been mentored by industry leaders from top tech companies.

Landing the job, regardless of the role you’re going for, takes more than just theory. You’ve got to put it into practice. 👩‍💻

So if you are a developer, designer, or product manager looking to get that practical product experience, apply now at joincolab.io! Our next cohort begins from October 26th until December 12th.

What do you think about these tips? Let me know in the comments below! 👀 The full article is also posted here on my LinkedIn!

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