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How can you transition or grow as a Product Manager without enough experience?

Proven playbook to get unstuck from the "Chicken and egg" dilemma and succeed?

Overwhelm when it comes to transitioning in a product role
Overwhelm when it comes to transitioning in a product role

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

Transitioning or growing your career as a Product Manager is often described as a "Chicken and an egg problem". One needs to demonstrate the required experience to get the role but you need the role to get experience. Even entry-level product roles need 2-5 years of experience. This dilemma is faced even by experienced professionals such as:

  • Career transitioners who want to pivot into product management from another role

  • People with no tech background looking to get into tech

  • New Product Managers looking to upskill

  • Experienced Product Managers looking to switch domains and countless others

  • Product Managers who want to skill up and fill holes in their end to end experience

This begs the question - how does one gain the right skills and industry experience to be job-ready? We asked hundreds of Hiring Managers recently and the answer can be found in the following five key ingredients:

  • Human skills (or more widely known as soft skills)

  • Knowledge of the craft

  • Self -confidence

  • Network without fear

  • Experience that covers breadth and depth

At the same time, when asked what was the biggest frustration or challenge for Hiring Managers when finding product talent, their responses were centred around the following core themes:

  • Hearing shallow responses from candidates

  • Too much reliance on certifications from candidates

  • Inability to prove relevant experience in the role

The primary objective of this blog is to look at this broken hiring process from both sides of the equation and share proven resources used by countless Fellows from PMDojo.

Before we look at each of the 5 areas, let us first look at what are Product Managers and what they do.

What do Product Managers do?

Taking inspiration from Shreyas Doshi, Product Managers solve the right problems to deliver value to customers while balancing business goals and then coordinate across the company to enable its success. So then, what is all this confusion around the role of product management?

If you ask ten people for their take on what Product Management is, it is very likely that all the answers will be different. The truth of the matter is that product management looks very different from company to company and even within one company, it might look different between disparate product teams. This is one of the biggest reasons why it can feel so overwhelming to even begin wrapping your head around this discipline. Below is a short video from Sherif Mansoor, a Product Management Leader at Atlassian that is a fun way to demystify some of this:

What traits make a good Product Manager?

The role of a Product Manager is a high stake role that has multi-disciplinary elements from entrepreneurship, design, research, business, technology and others and the pressure to be a unicorn is real. This is why Imposter Syndrome is very real for Product Managers, even among the very experienced ones. The role involves collaborating with stakeholders who are often more knowledgable than the Product Manager.

So what are some of the most sought after traits that make someone a good candidate for the role? We asked hundreds of Hiring Managers and the top 5 traits are:

  1. You have high agency

  2. You have low-ego

  3. You are insanely creative and scrappy (but not lazy)

  4. You use words to bring clarity to your own thinking process

  5. You are resilient and will bounce back from failures and rejections

At PMDojo Product Accelerator, our Fellows get to learn and build on these traits to succeed in their role as Product Managers in addition to gaining knowledge and industry experience. They learn how to prove these traits in the job search journey.

Let us now do a deep dive into the 5 key ingredients that Hiring Managers seek in candidates for product management roles:

How can you leverage human skills?

Product Management is a craft that is both an art and science. It is easy to ignore and dismiss the "art" part and focus on frameworks, tools and templates (the science part) partly because the art cannot be codified. If you talk to existing Product Managers and Product Leaders, most of the challenges that Product Managers face is not being able to do the "art" piece well. Unfortunately, there are no frameworks here.

The human skills required of a Product Manager can be broadly described as (inspiration from Ken Norton). You can easily see how the human skills relate nicely to the traits we outlined above.

1. Communication:

Ability to connect, inspire and storytelling with others including Sr. Leadership teams. The way you communicate with each cross-functional versus Sr. Leadership team differed.

2. Collaboration: Ability to work well with other people and empower their ability to work with each other. This goes beyond just the product development team (design and engineering) and includes all cross-functional teams like sales, success, marketing, finance, C-Level and others.

3. Critical thinking: Ability to analyze, assess, and have a point of view that can be backed up with evidence. An adjacent skill here would be lateral thinking which involves building on ideas that are also high in demand

4. Creativity: Ability to think outside the box and find scrappy and insanely innovative ways to solve problems or identify new opportunities.

5. Curiosity: Ability to have a strong desire to investigate the unknowns. This often can be described as "detective" skills.

6. Consciousness: Ability to develop the muscle for resiliency and inner strength to navigate, cope, and grow through failures and challenging or high stake situations

PMDojo Product Accelerator creates a safe environment that mimics the real world under which Product Managers have to work. This provides the Fellows with opportunities to learn these skills in the context of the role and apply them on a daily basis. This has been proven to be one of the reasons why Fellows from PMDojo not only succeed but also thrive in their roles and often receive promotions in their careers. Check out what Andy Bastien, who recently joined Figbytes Inc as a Sr. Product Manager has to say:

How can you gain knowledge in the craft of product management?

There are thousands of resources from books, podcasts, events and courses available to learn about Product Management. While they are a good starting ground for an aspiring Product Manager, candidates find themselves overwhelmed with all the information. Equipped with theoretical knowledge, they find themselves back at the crossroads where they are unable to cross the chasm of having prior "experience" as a product manager. If you are someone who wants to stand out as a high potential candidate, here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Get access to some of the free courses and materials already available

  • Identify a problem that exists today and try solving it. Launch a product

  • Shadow a Product Manager at your company and ask for small tasks to help out

  • Share what you learn and socialize them with other Product Managers to get feedback

If you are someone who learns best in an immersive environment, consider joining PMDojo. Unlike other courses and boot camps that focus on theoretical and tactical learning, PMDojo prioritizes giving its Fellows the opportunity to build the traits, human skills, end-to-end knowledge and real-world and industry experience in a product role. It is also important to remember the following insights from Hiring Managers:

  • There is no industry-recognized certificate in product management

  • Hiring Managers do not look at certifications

PMDojo Product Accelerator is a ten-week immersive apprenticeship-style program where Fellows can collaborate as a cross-functional and diverse team to build and launch a live product in the market. Working in an environment that mimics the real world, Fellows build tangible and demonstrable skills to stand out to future employers. Being part of a diverse and cross-functional team who gets to work with Sr. Leaders from the industry provides a rare opportunity to practice and demonstrate one's skills and experience resulting in many warm referrals and introductions for career opportunities.

How can you gain self-confidence?

Half the battle to successfully transition into product management is limiting beliefs, imposter syndrome or self-doubt all sabotaging one's self-confidence. Our Founder, Bosky is often heard sharing this - "How can we influence someone to take a chance on us if we are not confident in our own abilities". Self-confidence starts with us.

PMDojo Fellows share that their confidence increased by over 98% to navigate their career and its ups and downs. From having a supportive and inclusive community where they can ask all of their burning and at often questions they might feel uncomfortable asking their peers or managers. PMDojo Fellows often find themselves with multiple interviews and offers and the ability to confidently negotiate their offers.

How can you network without fear?

Networking can appear to be scary and overwhelming especially if you do not have an existing network in the industry. Candidates struggle with the idea of sending cold messages on LinkedIn and never hearing back. Surprisingly, the tech industry is still small and knowing the right circle of people can make a big difference when it comes to accessing the opportunities. Here are a few ideas for you to network effectively:

  • Engage with the person whose post or article you read and if it resonated with you. Offer a point of view or ask a question such as "Have you thought of ...". Go beyond liking it

  • When you send a connection request on LinekdIn, send a personalized note to the recipient. (PS: Mobile view does not let you send a note)

  • Before you ask for help, offer to help or casually chat to learn about their journey

At PMDojo, it is quite common for Fellows to be having this access to exclusive opportunities. Given the community has lots of Hiring Managers and alumni, the referral network works organically. Most Hiring Managers are a message away and because they get to see our Fellows work up really close, it becomes easier to champion and advocate for them even after they graduate from the program.

How can you gain experience that covers breadth and depth

Not having direct product management experience is the Achilles heel for those looking to transition or grow as a Product Manager. One of the best reasons for this broken process can be explained as:

"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

While you cannot change our previous background and experience, there are a number of ways for you to start building some experience:

  • Learn how to package your previous skills to match what product roles require

  • Strategically work on side projects that will allow you to demonstrate product sense. Remember that not all side projects are equal

  • Launch a live product in an environment that mimics the real world

  • Get internships and/or apprenticeships with companies

  • Move internally within your company

Watch the video below where our Founder, Bosky talks about how Product Managers need to think about side projects with Diego Granados, Sr. Product Manager at LinkedIn:

Many Fellows who join PMDojo share that the biggest advantage they have is the breadth and depth of industry experience they gain in the program. A number of Fellows use their PMDojo experience to explore the multitude of roles that exist in product teams to position themselves uniquely for opportunities. Check out a glimpse of the PMDojo curriculum here.

PMDojo helps career transitioners gain industry experience in a product role to stand out in job search. Learn more here.

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1 Comment

Jun 13, 2022

Thanks for this, this is so helpful


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