How Product Managers Can Prepare for Management Roles
Pritika Goyal shares valuable, actionable tips on everything from how aspiring Product Managers should approach the job search, to the attributes of high performing Product Managers and the learnings that have had the greatest impact on her growth as a Product Manager.
Pritika Goyal is a Group Product Manager (GPM) who leads the ads demand team at Doordash. In conversation with Co.Lab, she classifies her duties as a Group Product Managers into three broad categories. First, is being a north star for your team. That involves ensuring that the team has the right vision and are working towards the goals of the company.
The second task is building a team. It is the GPM’s responsibility to find the right Product Managers as the only way to scale is to grow the team and put people in charge of tasks which eventually feed into the bigger picture.
The last part is unblocking your team. “How do I prioritize A versus B?” What are the trade-offs you want to make?
Building a Team
Recalling the above, a major duty of the Group Product Manager is finding the right people to work on your team. What does Pritika look out for when picking out these people?
One thing is their story. “Why do they want to be Product Managers and what have they experienced that makes them think that they’ll be good at it?
However, what convinces her more is the ability of the candidate to tell the story of a product that they shipped. Where most people start with “I shipped XYZ”, a good Product Manager will start with “Here is what I changed in the metrics to suit it to the customer I was shipping for/here’s what changed in their life because of this product/here’s how the thing that I did made a difference/here are the things I could’ve done but instead I chose this and here are the results/here’s what I could’ve done better.”
A customer-obsessed explanation of what you did and how you did it, using impact metrics, is the best way to discuss your product because the ultimate goal of the Product Manager is to understand the consumer problem and the way that solving it changes their world. If you can articulate your role in that, even if it wasn't a huge role, you will stand out in the interview process and are well on your way to becoming a successful Product Manager.
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Yet Pritika understands that the biggest challenge for aspiring Product Managers at the moment is macroeconomics. Unfortunately, as an individual, there just isn’t much that one can do about this but until the tides turn, here are some of the ways that she recommends dealing with it.
- Become comfortable with rejection: Pritika admits that she completed about 50-60 applications and got about 10 interviews before she landed her job. “You have to be willing to reach out to as many people as possible and be comfortable with no response or ‘no’ as a response. Cold call, make online apps, do whatever you need to get as many opportunities as possible.”
- Be conscious: This is obviously a personal choice but Pritika does not consider it a very good idea to apply for Product Management roles forever and ever. “I knew that I enjoyed the job, but I also gave myself a time frame of six months. I was not going to spend two years looking for a Product Manager role. I called everyone I knew and filled every application online and luckily, within those 6 months, I got a few offers and made a pivot.” Define how much you like Product Management and put a timeline on how long you want to keep exerting your efforts.
- Take advantage of your existing skills and resources: Pritika has a Bachelor's degree in Engineering as well as an understanding of business because she used to work in management consulting. “So out of three things that you’d want in a PM, (if you define Product Management as the intersection of solving customer problems with tech and doing it in a business manner) I checked two boxes and I amplified that. I also took advantage of my network and in fact most of my interviews were from my network, not from cold calls.” The reality is that because of how big the industry is, network based interviews will get you in front of managers faster than cold applications.
- Try transitioning within your company: Because there, people already know you and can vouch for you rather than having to go and interview at an entirely different company. Look into your company first and see if someone there is willing to make a path into Product Management available for you.
- Be flexible, don’t restrict yourself: Go where you think that you might be needed. So for example if you’re an Engineer who has worked in logistics, then apply to companies where that skill set would be helpful as a Product Manager. Find places where your past experience becomes relevant and don’t box yourself in by saying “I only want to work at X company.”
- Get an MBA … or don’t aka analyze things on a case by case basis: “One thing that I did was get an MBA. I did that because while I already understood business, I believed that it gave me a better platform to get in front of companies offering internships, it gave me access, but not necessarily improvement of my skills.”
A person with no exposure to business might find an MBA useful to learn how businesses work so that they can become better Product Managers. But one must learn to analyze things based on their own individual circumstances – who you are, where you are and what you want as opposed to going into things simply because that’s what others are doing.
- Be a problem solver, have people skills and be an excellent communicator: If you ask Pritika, she’ll say that these are the three topmost attributes of a high performing, successful Product Manager. Evaluate yourself honestly on these three attributes to determine whether or not Product Management is for you.
The best hack to assess yourself on these three attributes is working on a product. As you gain real experience and receive feedback from a team and from stakeholders, you build muscle in the role. Get into the data of your product, no matter how little the number of people you’re shipping for is. Practice breaking down complex issues into four/five sentences for your stakeholders that are less familiar with the technical side of things.
In the meantime, be honest with yourself, and humble too, understanding that you don’t know the job, while staying open to learn. Look for an internship, side project, or a ‘product-adjacent’ role. Ship something, grow your network and upskill. Anything to put you on the track of Product Management if you’ve decided that’s what you’re going to do.
And finally, at the back of your mind, store these three learnings that have had the biggest impact on Pritika’s growth as a Product Manager:
- Ask the tough questions. When you’re new or junior you don't want to ask questions but truth seeking is an important part of the job of a Product Manager.
- Get to know the people you work with. Understand what motivates them, personal circumstances, stressors, etc because when you understand the person as a whole, you’re more likely to be able to influence them and influence is like a third of your job as a Product Manager.
- Don’t run after the next promotion, run after the behaviors of the next level.
Programs like Co.Lab that allow you to ship a real-life product are an excellent opportunity to develop Product Management skills. Apply now to join our next cohort.