Career change – how do I break into product management?

My journey into product

In 2019, I was fed up.

I’d been in marketing for about seven years and was not enjoying it anymore.

I’d learnt some great transferable skills but I just didn’t feel inspired by writing copy, creating adverts, monitoring engagement etc.

Instead, I wanted to be a part of a team that was building cool stuff and solving problems.

Without realising it, I’d always been trying to do product management by way of changing the website to better hit business goals (usually lead generation) and user needs (information, events, content).

Around this time I first heard about product management and it sounded like the exact thing I was looking for. I was fortunate enough to land my first role in product in 2020 and, four years’ later, feel settled in the profession. It’s been a good for me – I’m fortunate enough to say I enjoy going to work each day.

When I was trying to transition from marketing to product lots of people, in what I now know to be a deeply collaborative and helpful product community, were generous with their time; giving me a tonne of useful advice, guidance and encouragement.

Trying to give back

I’m now in a position in which people, looking to embark on a similar career journey that I went on, message me on LinkedIn looking for advice. Remembering how helpful people were to me when I was, I always make a point of trying to give back.

My recommendations for getting into product

So, what advice do I give to those people?

Get Connected

As mentioned earlier, the product community is awesome.

Since joining it, I really feel like I’ve found my tribe.

They tend to be people that enjoy their craft, are eager to learn new things, have no qualms sharing expertise and help and like to lift each other up.

Tap into that. Mind the Product run monthly ProductTank meet ups in pretty much every major city. Tap into that. Go an listen to what I can almost guarantee will be amazing talks but more importantly, meet some people and be open about your plans. I’m sure, along the way, someone will let you know about a job or introduce you to someone hiring.

Likewise, don’t be scared to add people on LinkedIn and ask for advice. It might seem scary but in my experience most people are glad to help as they remember others taking the time to help them in the past.

Look for associate roles

An associate product manager is like a trainee / apprentice product manager. Companies looking for people with good skills but no product experience will often hire an associate with a view to pairing them with senior product people so they can learn their craft. This was my route in and I couldn’t recommend it enough.

Consider an internal transfer

If the associate route doesn’t work for you, or you can’t find one, can you find a company that has a product function that you could, once you worked there, transition into? It’s a bit of a long game but I’ve heard of lots of people that retrain within their existing company into the product position.

Learn, learn learn

There are awesome resources available for aspiring product managers.

Mind the Product’s website is full of tonnes of free resources.

There are brilliant online courses where you learn the basics and get accredited.

There are great newsletters such as Product Breaks.

There are awesome podcasts out there. My personal faves include Lenny’s PodcastThe Product ExperienceProduct Thinking with Melissa Perri.

Some of the books I found most helpful for understanding the role of product management include Marty Cagan’s Inspired, Teresa Torres’ Continuous Discovery Habits, Matt LeMay’s Product Management in Practice, and Eric Reis’ The Lean Start Up.

I try to keep learning by co-hosting the Product Confidential Podcast with Evie Brockwell. We’ve recorded some episodes that I think give great advice to people at the start of their product journey which I’ll call out below

Adil Hussain on the associate product manager role

Susana Lopes on advice for people in their first product role

Don’t be intimidated

Doing recommendations 1-4 will give you a good grounding in the fundamentals in product and go along way to demonstrate your passion and determination for your planed career change.

Following these steps won’t make you an expert. And that’s okay. That will come with time in the role, good management or coaching, and putting theory into practice, but that’s not the problem you’re trying to solve right now.

When learning, try not to make the mistake I made of thinking that product is some kind of scary science that you will never be able to master. To be honest, a lot of it comes down to common sense, pragmatism and being nice to people.

If you are looking for a role in product, I hope this post has been helpful.

Good luck, and do feel free to reach out to say hi. I’d be glad to hear from you.

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