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How could I boost my CV to become a product manager eventually?

I've always thought of becoming a strategy consultant, though I fear the opportunity has passed. Lately, I have come to know of product management and took on a course with Udacity and loved it. However, I am really not sure how to get into it from where I am at as there do not seem to be entry jobs. I’d like to know the best approaches to get there. I am fairly old and have rather little experience at this point that I could boast. How should I efficiently use my time to boost my my CV/experience/etc.? Is there a chance at all?

business productmanagement productmanager product-management noexperience entry advice

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Alfredo’s Answer

Dear D.W.:

Product management has come a long way since I develop, launched and managed lifecycle of payment products. Depending on the sector, I believe that more rigor and discipline is at play. Knowledge and experience in themes such as market and customer research, competitor analysis, P+L and analytically driven, project management, testing and prototyping are key but also vary from sector to sector.

One approach could off course be to cover this gap via coursework or previously suggested certifications some of these themes. However since you have not really got your hands dirty in product management, I suggest a more experiential approach that may be readily available in your school as it was in my university. The idea will be to get coached in some of the theory while actually managing some aspect of product development at school or even engaging with a local employer to shadow a project manager with some specific goals and duration in mind.

Best wishes,
Alfredo

Alfredo recommends the following next steps:

1. Consider what sectors are most appealing to you (IT, Pharmaceuticals, Fintech, Software, Consumer Goods, Art)
2. Inquire in your school if the Business Department have any arrangements within the university to support innovation and product development (may want to include graduate programs)
3. If available, discuss with your advisor which is the best option and arrangement for a credit or non credit project with specific goals, support, and timelines
4. If not available and your school is flexible, you can copy and mirror similar projects elsewhere and make it happen for you in your school
5. Alternatively, also look for internships or shadowing opportunities with local employers where product management is relevant
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Kiran’s Answer

Hi D W. - Building great products is a difficult and complex job, but also fascinating. To become a successful Product Manager, you need to be both visionary and pragmatic. You should explore various highly recognizable certifications available in this area. Below article from HBR is a good one and would be helpful.

https://hbr.org/2017/12/what-it-takes-to-become-a-great-product-manager

Good luck!
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Bob’s Answer

Having been Product Manager of a multi-billion dollar portfolio, before moving through other positions to CEO, many routes to Product Management have been in evidence.
In my experience a Product Manager should be able to successfully demonstrate capabilities in project management. In addition, your CV might include success in strategic thinking. There are certification courses for each of these capabilities.
If you have had some technical/job experience in engineering or sciences (math, software, hardware, physics, biology, etc.) it will be helpful. Of course, this depends upon the products you wish to have responsibility for.
Certainly, strength in marketing is key. A Product Manager should have a feel for current and future markets as well as customers served. He/she should be a visionary, able to envision changes and additions to market needs as well as the communication skills to sell product iterations and new ideas for funding. Visiting industrial shows in the product areas of interest as well as speaking with the writers at these shows, who write the articles related to current and future products on display, will make you familiar with the terminology, product needs and vision for the future.
Finally, you will need to be a team player. A successful Product Manager is able to work with multiple organizations and people. Sales and marketing, to understand customer needs/price points - engineering to work through technical issues/priorities - finance, to be assured of monies to develop the products in specific price bands - manufacturing, to understand the cost/needs to make the product - service, to be sure the product is easy to repair or replace - distribution, - to address channels for delivery to the final global customer - advertising to develop product literature and to lay out marketing and customer strategy/vision, - etcetera. So, you would wish to emphasize in your CV how you have worked with other disciplines within your prior assignments.

Bob recommends the following next steps:

Add certifications to your CV in Strategic Thinking and Project Management
Visit industrial shows in the industries you have an interest. Speak with industry writers at the show. Gather technical and marketing brochures. Speak with Product Managers at the show.
Look at your current CV and determine how your experiences may be detailed in such as way as to characterize it as fitting within the role of a Product Manager.
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Justin’s Answer

Product management is a very broad role and can take many forms. I work at Atlassian and we think of there being three corners of the PM triangle -- the Scientist, General Manager, and Artist corners. As a PM you sit somewhere in the middle of that triangle and may have particular strengths in one or more of those areas. How you bolster your resume depends a lot on what kind of PM you aspire to be and what skills you already have.

I think one of the most useful things you can do is just start working on a product, even if it's just something simple. You can do all the reading in the world, but there's no substitute for hands on experience.

There are many ways to get hands on experience and how you go about it depends on where you are in your career, how much time you have available, and the skills you already possess. Perhaps there's a non-profit you can help. Maybe you can intern somewhere. Or, you can create your own product.

Several years ago, before I was officially a product manager, I built a simple iPhone app. I had studied computer science in school (though I was not a professional programmer). Even still, creating an app was a real learning process. I had to follow tutorials, read books, and asks lots of questions online. But I did it and got it out into the world. Having people use my app, listening to their feedback, and continuing to improve the product in response was rewarding and an excellent educational experience. I was eventually able to leverage that experience into my first PM role.

Alternatively, most of the product managers I know have come from other areas of the business. I've seen people transition from engineering, customer support, PR, marketing, data science, and more. Again, because product management is such a broad role, it's often possible to use experience in an adjacent role to make the jump across to PM. In that case, I would recommend taking the time to develop a deep understanding of the product(s) your company builds, the customers you serve and how your products benefit them, and the company strategy in general.

Best of luck!





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Jay’s Answer

Hey D.W.

Like a lot of the previous answers, I want to stress that there is no single way to becoming a Product Manager.

In my experience, the most successful PMs are those that have experience in the area they are looking to be a PM for. They normally will start at one of the supporting roles (customer support, tech support, sales enablement, quality assurance, etc...) and they become a deep expert in that area. From there, they are able to transition into a PM of the area t hey have been supporting.

The benefits of this type of hire is that you know they understand the product at a deep level, have working and functional experience, and in many cases have direct knowledge of the gaps, issues, and pain points the customers of the product experience. That customer mindset allows them to succeed at the role.

So my advice for boosting your CV would be to focus on those areas and products that you have had a direct working knowledge of, and look for roles and opportunities there. Focus on your customer interactions and skills. Communication skills and being able to draw common threads from many different customers shows your ability to think about how best to solve the customer needs.

Also, it is worthwhile to focus your sights on a company/role that interests you and aim for one of those supporting roles at first, since those roles will help you build your expertise in the specific area.

Hope this helps.

Best of luck :)
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Belinda’s Answer

At the core of product management is creating something (the product) that solves important problems for your customers. I agree with previous comments that there are many ways to land a product manager role. In my personal experience, I had the most success when (1) the product space was one where I had been a customer/consumer of the product and developed a passionate interest in the product area, (2) I networked with the individuals behind the product team before trying to join them and (3) I mapped where my skills would provide the most value to the product team.

In terms the skills to build and add to your CV/resume, the ones that jump out to me as a hiring manager are customer discovery and learning examples the demonstrate listening and analytic rigor and work experiences that highlight results and value provided to the business or customer.

Best of luck in your continue career journey!
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Gabe’s Answer

I can second the recommendation to read the book "Lean Product Playbook" by Dan Olsen. It's an excellent primer for understanding product management.

Experience in customer-facing roles is a great way to transition into product management. Along with my 11 years of software and elearning product management experience, I've spent 10 years in customer-facing roles—tech support and sales, which are both excellent ways to learn how to work with customers on the front lines and solve their problems. Talking to people is key.

Solving problems is a big part of product management. The solving part is fun, but it's even more important to spend time with customers to understand what their problems and pain points are. What are you trying to solve? And why?

These are the two questions you should always ask when working as a product manager: What and why? You’ll work with engineers whose job it is to focus on the “how.” You remind them of the big picture—what are we doing and why are we doing it?

As for your job search, you might want to focus on associate product manager roles (that's the closest you'll see to an entry-level product manager). Of course, expertise in the related industry is a huge plus since a big part of product management is knowing the market, your customers, and how to build solutions that address customer pain points.

Along with solving problems, understanding customer pain points, and asking good questions, another key component of being a great product manager is communication. It’s a role that interfaces with just about every department across an organization—engineering, design, marketing, executive, finance, business intelligence, sales, etc.—so it’s crucial to have excellent communication, writing, and presentation skills.

Depending on the organization, product managers tend to work closely with a project or program manager, so exploring those types of roles might be another good way to break into product management.

Good luck!

Gabe recommends the following next steps:

Read books on product management.
Figure out what industry you're passionate about.
Learn everything you can about that industry.
Practice asking good questions.
Focus on the what, the why, and the customer problem you're tying to solve.
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George’s Answer

Hey D.W., I answered this question just yesterday to an aspiring product manager and my answer was this:

Experience is greatest teacher. Wherever there's a product, or product portfolio, there's a need for a product manager to analyze the product's competitive advantage, strategize on a vision and build a roadmap to get there. Find a product - your friend's iphone app or an important internal tool that needs improvement - and get to work. Learn from that experience and put that experience on your resume.

It is rare that anyone would hire you into such an important role as a Product Manager without you having some experience. Don't wait for someone to give you the opportunity. Take the opportunity!
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Wayne’s Answer

Hi D.W.,

You're halfway there! You're showing drive and intuition by taking Udacity classes. There are other organizations like the General Assembly that can help you further your skillset in Product Management. I'm a firm believer in hands-on experience, so if you're looking for a role, I would start by finding Product Owner or Analyst roles. Don't let your age hinder you. It's never too late to

1. Identify a problem
2.Understand the customer
3. Ideate a solution
4. Form a hypothesis
5.Test and Learn

Other alternatives:
- Many people get a certificate or a graduate degree to change career fields.
- Find a startup that measures your aptitude for the field rather than just measuring you by your paper resume.
- Hone your Design Thinking Approach
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Michelle’s Answer

As many have stated above, there is not one path toward becoming a product manager. I believe you should be passionate and knowledgeable about the company and field in which you work; this has made me a more effective product manager in my experience. I like to recommend that folks look for interesting companies/fields and find broad or rotational roles that will give you the flexibility to shadow more senior product managers and possibly shift your responsibilities later.

For instance, I started out in a business rotational program (with a little computer science under my belt) and found that the operations of our team could be managed more efficiently. I took it upon myself to develop better operational processes and ended up creating a new operations-focused team. I then realized that the internal system (product) we were using could be enhanced to make our operations even more efficient. This led me to sit with many adjacent product managers to learn how to write product requirements and submit tickets to make these enhancements. Ultimately, as other folks got promoted or shifted teams, this helped me land a product manager role internally since I had been closest to the day-to-day processes of these more senior product managers.
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Kris’s Answer

This article really resonated with me when I was attempting to shift from one industry/domain to another...it should help you connect experiences, interests, and aspirations toward a product management role: https://www.mindtheproduct.com/becoming-industry-agnostic-product-manager/
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Narbeh’s Answer

A good way to figure out how to boost your resume is to find out what you are missing. I suggest going to a job board website and search for all product managements jobs in the U.S. Location doesn't matter. What you want to find out is what skills you have that match that job and what skills you need to develop.
Once you put have collected at least a dozen or so job descriptions put those descriptions in a word cloud (just google free word cloud and you'll have plenty of options).
The words that stand out are the skills you need to highlight.
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Gabriele’s Answer

Hi DW,
my suggestion is to find the business sector and market you want to work in and start documenting about its characteristics, competitors arena and peculiarities.
Then I would encourage you to become an expert of Lean Product Playbook that is the new and effective way to do product management in highly variable contexts, following Lean methodologies. Starting point is the book "Lean Product Playbook" from Dan Olsen.
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Elizabeth’s Answer

All of the answers provided are great. The only thing I would add is something I saw missing on every resume I reviewed when going to hire a product manager. This is an understanding of how to incorporate a new solution/product to an existing process. The best product managers I interviewed and eventually hired demonstrated expertise in broader areas - most at the entry to their career. When launching a new solution, if the solution can't be demonstrated/sold/ordered/invoiced without much labor, the value of the solution's revenue is significantly reduced. Therefore, showing that you understand how products have been launched in your organization would be critical, i.e. understanding of the supporting process (order to cash) infrastructure and how your product will fit into that plan, training efforts for teams selling and supporting, third party launch etc. It goes on much further than product definition and development.

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Lucie’s Answer

As long as there is life there is hope. Of course you can become a Product Manager! And being old does not have anything to do with it, if it is your dream and you are willing to work hard at it.

If you have 0 experience in product management it is true that it is a tricky position to get into.
However, all product managers have the same basic skills in my opinion:
- Cross-functional Teamwork: Leading without managing is something you will hear a lot as a Product Manager, you work with a Product team that does not report to you and you have to be able to: make the connections, understand everyone's way of working & pace, as well as motivations & needs, etc. Adapting is key here.
- Strategizing and Prioritizing: You have a sometimes lengthy product roadmaps and backlog items. You need to be able to: weight opportunities, understand priorities, see the bigger picture, etc. Organization here is the key.
- Data Analytics and Market Knowledge: Understanding markets and trends, gathering data and input, looking into numbers and health of your industry & product portfolio, implementing success metrics, measuring ROI and other ratios. Analytics here is the key.

In an interview, focus on these skills (rather than your experience), to display your understanding of the role and the responsibilities that come with it.
I would also recommend you read a couple of books: Decode and Conquer, Cracking the PM interview and Inspired; are a very good start to prep you.

Hope this helps,
Cheers
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Brett’s Answer

Hi DW,

There have been some good answers from people who have more direct experience of Product Management than me. However I'd like to talk about how you get into Consulting, and any unique considerations for someone who is older than the traditional candidate.

Consulting is a very broad umbrella, and encompasses a lot of different kinds of work. Very broadly it falls into two types:
* Strategy - Strategy Consultants are business experts who are brought in to tackle challenging business problems that a company doesn't have the in house expertise or resources to complete themselves, or when they want a fresh perspective.
* Technology - Technology Consultants are technology experts who are hired usually to develop or enhance a company's technology systems. Usually they are used because they know a technology that the customer does not have the skills for in house.

If you are interested in Product Management, then you are likely looking at the Technology path. I think the most straightforward way to get into the Technology field (if you're not already) is to develop hands-on development skills for a specific, in-demand technology. Personally, I became an expert in the Salesforce platform, which allowed me to start off as an Analyst doing the hands-on build work, and eventually that experience led me to become an Architect. Once you have your foot in the door, you can make your way gradually towards more management focused roles.

If you are interested in learning about Salesforce (again, I'm biased, but it is definitely an in-demand skill), you can go to https://trailhead.salesforce.com/en/home and use their free training courses to begin to build your skills. They even have learning paths focused on career development.

I find that hands-on, technology development careers are the best options for getting started because they are often much more skills-based than other jobs. Many use programing tests that run on a computer to give you a score. They care more about how good you are at your job than, say, your age (which should never matter but sadly sometimes does influence decisions). Once you have established yourself you can make connections with people who may be able to guide you in advancing your career path.

Please feel free to follow up with questions, and good luck on your career journey!
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