What are job options for those who have product development and product design degrees?
Keith Sun, MA, NCC
Ellen, that's a very valuable area of study for a lot of business companies. Your interest in product development sets you up well for careers in marketing, sales, product design, commercial advertising, and business management, or business analysis. Most companies who sell a product or service are always looking for product development and design students who have work experience in that area. My advice would be to do an internship or two with an organization in their product development department while you're still in college. That experience combined with your educational background will prepare you well for entry-level work in product development once you graduate.
Product management and development is a growing field- and its great that your school is forward thinking enough to offer a degree in it! Most product managers are not fresh out of college, and a typical career progression could involve a year in sales, a couple years in marketing, and then transferring to product after 3-5 years. An alternate route if you have an engineering or design background could be working in those departments first then transitioning to product.
Finding jobs that hire product managers fresh out of undergrad college can be tough, as product is such an integral part of the company and with complex relationships to other departments that it can be risky to hire new grads. Large companies like Workday and Zynga, however, are starting to hire undergrads! I know this because I am one of them :) As a product manager I work with engineering, art, design, and marketing to build features for our games that users love while contributing to the company's top line goals. I love this job because it's fast paced, I am always working on something new, and get to work with people from many different disciplines than myself. And of course my job involves playing and making games, which is always the most fun part!
I would recommend that you take classes in these areas: data science, programming, graphic design, entrepreneurship, marketing, and finance. If you really love one of them, it might be more fun for you to start in those departments first. If you like all of them and how the topics crossover, then I would advise going after internships that let you flex those skills before graduating. It's difficult to get a job out of undergrad as a product manager if you don't have any prior experience.
I think the great thing about a product management degree and career is that it is fairly center to the heart of any business. The product manager gets to interact with business stakeholders in tech, strategy, marketing and ultimately gets to represent and build what is best for the consumer. That said, product managers I've met (including myself) have come from all sides of a business. Also, many product folks move into areas of speciality through their career, which may include more specific sides of businesses. It's really open ended and a great way to see a lot of how a business operates (whatever size). Take advantage of informational discussions with everyone in the business to discover areas for which you would like to explore. You get to choose where you want to explore and where you go!
A few options that come to mind: product management, product design, user experience design, product research. I'd recommend you read up on these roles to get familiar and see what appeals to you. Further to those roles, your academic background can be an avenue to marketing, product marketing, business development, sales, and strategic partnership jobs.
From my career I've learned that most if not all career paths are available to you, if you bridge the gap with experience and supplementary education. A valuable step you can take is to try to land a job that sounds interesting to you, and use it as a gateway to learn about other roles/departments in that company. Get exposure to various business functions, and figure out what excites and motivates you. Then work with you manager, peers, mentors etc. to build a career path towards your goal. Most companies that care about their employees will help you move around within the organization in pursuit of career development.
As a product manager, I would recommend you try product management. It's an interesting role that naturally places you at the intersection of business development, design, marketing, support, and depending on your industry, engineering/development/production. It's a multi-faceted role that provides great exposure to various functions and people within the organization. The job provides variety, and it also forces you to learn. It's also a job that can be heavily influenced by your style. If you enjoy design, you can be a product manager that collaborates very closely with design, or even produces their own designs. If you're proficient with software development, you can be a very technical product manager who works very closely with engineers on technical implementation details. It's a wonderfully malleable job!
In my experience, it can be difficult to land a product management role right out of school, but not impossible. You can explore internships to get your foot in the door and prove yourself. You can also try to land a role that is adjacent to product management, and position yourself to collaborate with product. Take advantage of mentorship programs, even if unofficial, and create opportunities for yourself. Reach out to product managers and ask them questions, ask them for a quick meeting to pick their brain, and follow up. They will offer advice and they will help you!
Some common responsibilities for a product manager:
- Perform customer research, market research, and competitor analysis to inform your product direction
- Form product hypotheses to test (ex: If I make my website's "Register" button bigger, I think it will generate an increase in user registration), and then test them to see if they're valid
- Design prototypes to test hypotheses, and to serve as instructions for engineers/developers/manufacturers
- Writing requirements for development
- Working with marketing and sales to promote your products, and to help them be successful in market
- Working with support to make sure they can help customers be successful with your product
- Analyze the performance of your product to determine if it is successful, and to inform your ongoing strategy (ex. did I generate enough of an increase in user registrations to meet my business goals? Or is more work needed?)
If you think design is more interesting to you than the responsibilities above, then I recommend you do some research about user experience (UX) careers and product design careers.
Victor recommends the following next steps: