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Do you really need a certificate to transition into Product Management?

Updated: Dec 13, 2022

Busting the age-old myth in the tech industry...

Want to accelerate your career in product roles? Learn and gain industry experience by launching products in a cross-functional team. Check out PMDojo Product Accelerator👈

This is one of the most frequently asked questions by people looking to transition into product management. A follow-up question that is also asked is "is there an industry-recognized certificate in product management?"

The short answer is NO. Unlike project management, where the PMP is a recognized certificate, there is no industry-recognized certificate in product management. One of the most influential and respected Product leaders of our times, Listen to what Marty Cagan shares about certifications in the field of product management:

Other respected leaders such as Ken Norton (Product Leadership Coach and author of the blog 'Bring the Donuts') also shares:

“In product management, there’s an art and a science. The science is all of the stuff you read about: managing a backlog, writing a PRD, KPIs, marketplace dynamics, growth metrics, analytical thinking, the latest agile whatever. The “art” gets dismissed as soft skills: communicating, empathy, leading without authority, having difficult conversations, storytelling, making decisions when you don’t have all the information, dealing with ambiguity, inspiring others, and connecting deeply to customers and their problems.

The thing is, science gets more attention because it’s easier to understand, and therefore better for hustling boot camps and selling software tools. This trend is troublesome because it implies there’s one “right way” to do product management, and all you need to do is learn the technique or buy the right tool, and you can pass the interview, get the job, and win.”

As Ken points out, there is no one set of processes/templates/frameworks that can make someone an effective product manager. There is a lot of (mis)information out there which results in overwhelm and confusion for people wanting to transition into product management. As such you can find a lot of really bad advice or myths masquerading as facts.

Here is the distribution of the top-of-the-mind questions from people looking to transition into product management.

(Source: PMDojo Workshops)

Clearly, the graph above speaks to this prevailing myth or misconception. What is really important to understand is how do hiring managers perceive certifications. Would getting a certification increase your odds of standing out or getting a job in product management. When this question was asked to hiring managers and senior Product leaders, the answer was an overwhelming NO.

Intrigued? Take a look at what some of the hiring managers had to say.

"It’s a challenge to get that first job. It’s hard because you can only learn PM’ing by doing the job, by apprenticing. And companies don’t want to take the risk on you if you haven’t shown you can do it."

- Ken Norton, Product Leadership Coach and Speaker

"As a hiring manager, when I see certifications, it’s more a red flag to me than a green flag. They aren’t valuable in my opinion, will not offer nearly what on-the-job experience does, and is a sign of overcompensating or covering up for gaps."

- Head of Product, leading martech company

"I would look for experience (building prototypes, working on projects) rather than certifications. Real-world experience is critical to being a PM."

- Ex. Product leader (FAANG company) and a current senior executive

So you can see for yourself that real experience trumps certifications and now you can see why. Furthermore:

  • Most roles in Product will ask for real-world experience

  • Internships and apprenticeships are becoming more common in big tech companies

What are some paths to transition into product management? (SPOILER: no certification necessary)

Idea#1: Leverage your domain experience

Apply to jobs at companies where you know the domain. e.g if you have experience in healthcare, find health tech companies and apply for roles there. PMDojo's industry track offers opportunities for people to gain real-world experience in tech companies from specific domains like health tech, fintech, social impact, ed tech etc.

Idea#2: Make an internal transition

This is a path that multiple PMDojo alumni have charted for themselves! You can do this by helping out on projects that have high visibility or helping other Product Managers in your company. This can lead to internal mobility opportunities. One can learn immensely through observations and simply listening. Request product teams in your organization where you could sit in customer interview sessions or team rituals. Volunteer to take notes or help out. Ask for help and ask lots of questions.

Have already been doing this but need help to learn the language and ways product managers work? Check out PMDojo Product Accelerator.

Idea#3: Get into an adjacent role:

There are lots of different paths to product management. We have seen PMDojo alumni start in adjacent roles such as project management, product analyst, business analyst, product operations, data analyst, customer success before finding their way into product management. The key here is to get into a role where you can work with product teams, learn and be able to demonstrate your potential.

Idea#4: Advocate for yourself

Unless you believe that you can do the role of a product manager, how would you ever influence and convince someone else to give you this chance? At PMDojo, we see our fellows grow and start to work like product managers via storytelling, influencing and developing their confidence in just a matter of a few weeks! Remember, this stuff is part art, part science.

Idea#5: Launch a product:

As Product Managers, we solve problems to bring ideas to reality and change the world. We also happen to live in a world that has no dearth of problems. So pick a problem that affects a good number of people and try solving it. Don't just do a prototype and stop there! Launch a real product and get users using your product. Check out the video where I speak with Diego Granados, Sr. Product Manager at Linkedin about this. The key point to keep in mind is that if you go this route, solve a real problem by demonstrating your product mindset.

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Need inspiration or want to connect with others like yourself?

Check out how people with no prior experience launched their products in the market (most of whom had no prior coding experience!). Connect with them and learn about their journey and what helped them or what they found challenging.

Here are some recent fellows from our community who made the transition into Product without certifications:

and so many more...

If you are running into the "chicken and egg" problem of having no prior experience in a product role, then know that no number of courses or certifications will fill this gap...

Let us know what ideas resonated with you in the comments below.

Don't forget to subscribe to our blog as well!

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