I’ve been asked by a few people how to transition from any kind of role into a Product Manager role, so I put together a few tips that helped me.
Don’t take these as gospel, this is totally based on my experience, but it did work for me and I’ve really enjoyed the role.
Find a mentor who will help you and is invested in your success.
Start developing PM skills
Things like roadmapping, stakeholder communication, cross functional collaboration.
Start thinking like a PM
You can do this by thinking through every project start to finish, think about the small details and think critically through hard problems.
It helps to have a development, technical or design background in my experience.
I wish I was better at design and UX, its something I’m working on a lot now. These aren’t deal breaking, but it can certainly give you a leg up for lots of reasons.
Be comfortable doing and being prescriptive.
People don’t like to make decisions and it can be hard to feel comfortable being the guy who says yes even though sometimes it is your place and sometimes its not. If it is your place, don’t be afraid to say yes and no to new projects. If its not your role, practice creating persuasive arguments and influencing people to get things done
Check out Lenny’s Newsletter.
There’s so much good stuff in there, just having exposure to the way that product managers think will help you learn what you don’t know. I often find that just understanding what I don’t know helps me a lot.
Check out Reforge Product Management courses.
I got started with these courses and seriously every course they offer is freaking awesome. Cannot recommend enough. It’s the first time in a long time I read the content and thought “whoa everything he is valuable and is teaching me”.
Learn how to own something.
This is more than just work, but it means identifying stakeholders, communicating with them and persuading everyone you work with that you are the right person to be handling this project. If people feel like they should be talking to your boss, you don’t own it yet. Develop that confidence by owning your domain 1000%. Its hard and pulls you into uncomfortable places, but its super good for growth, personally and professionally.
Determine what kind of PM you want to be.
Do you like marketing, development, design, software, hardware, physical, digital? There are a lot of types of product managers and the job can vary drastically depending on what you do and with which company you do it with.
Be an absolute expert of your product.
Whatever space or product you own you should know it better than anyone. This comes from using the product yourself a little everyday and understanding how your users engage with the product. It was a little easier for me because I went from SEO manager where my whole job was understanding user behavior and search behavior, to development where I was building the resources I knew we needed to now Growth Product Manager where I’m owning the website, proposing new solutions, offering inputs, studying user behaviors even more in depth. I’ve just slowly scaled up how much ownership I really have.
The Head of Growth was hiring for a Product Manager of Merchant Growth and I had been thinking about my future and using that role as a baseline for myself. It only later occurred to me that maybe I should ask what the plans for that role were. I asked and he expressed what they were looking for and it fit what I wanted to be doing, so I told him I would be interested in that role. He was super excited to see me show interest and spent several months providing (and paying) for courses and books for me to study and talking to me about my takeaways. This was a golden time because neither of us had much at stake, if it didn’t work out no harm, no foul. But if it did, he got a new PM on his team and I had built trust and showed that I was dead serious about doing this right. Now I’m on his team and we have a great relationship that continues to grow, but he trusts me and mentors me.
Own your product like you’re the CEO of it and your boss is the board.
My Head of Growth says this all the time and every day it has new meaning for me. I’m starting to really understand it and only scratching the surface of doing it.
Interview a ton of other Product Managers at companies where you’d like to work.
Nothing is more impressive to people than taking initiative and going after what you want. In my experience people (especially Product Managers) are extremely open and excited to talk to you about what they do and how you can learn. Bonus points if you can find a company with an opening for a low level PM and reach out to whoever is hiring for that role and just talk to them about it. You don’t need a formal interview to get your foot in the door.
Ask people who you know at companies you like who their PM’s are and ask to talk to them
Its way better to go in with a warm referral. Go big, but be smart. I’ve gotten several people hired for different roles where they didn’t think they were qualified, or in one case where someone applied by themself, got reject and then I referred them a few months later and they got hired. So shoot for the stars, apply to that job that looks cool, but if you can get someone on the inside to connect you. Plus an insider might know more about the role and can advise you if its a good fit or not. If its not a good fit, it isn’t personal, its probably just a different skillset or personality they want, but you can have all those conversations outside of a sucky applicant portal.