So you want to be a Product Manager...
Confession: I spend 90% of my time helping aspiring Product Managers to leverage their existing skills to land their first Product Management roles. (The other 10% is spent on my doctoral coursework, and learning new bourbon recipes, but I digress.) It’s incredibly rewarding, and literally the best job I’ve ever had.
After years of teaching well over 1,000 students Product Management at General Assembly and watching so many others lose confidence and grow in frustration, I decided to do something about it. I created a coaching program that makes preparing a transition into Product feasible - without the guesswork, self-doubt, and lack of validation that you’re doing the right things.
My four-part FAIR™ process has helped aspiring PMs become actual, real-life PMs - even in the midst of the 2020-2021 pandemic.
FILL Knowledge Gaps: There is a core set of concepts that all Product Managers need to know and know well. Not just the “I googled it and have an idea” but a true understanding of what the concept is, when it is relevant (and when it’s not), how to implement, and what challenges a Product Manager may face when implementing. While you may not need to be a Product guru, you need a basic understanding of the product development process and what a Product Manager’s responsibilities are in each stage.
APPLY with Vigor: While networking and job referrals are awesome and can be helpful, applying to jobs is still very much a part of the process. Leverage the folks in your network who can connect you with a hiring manager or recruiter and ask for the opportunity to interview. While you’re applying to roles, ensure that you’re applying for the right roles. Is there an industry or customer that you know well? Are you applying to the right level? Just because you were a senior customer success manager that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re qualified for a senior product manager position.
Prepare for INTERVIEWS: Learning how to handle the nuances of Product Management is a task but totally doable. While there are tons of Medium articles and books on the topic, you would do well to practice in real life. Conduct as many mock interviews as you can, get feedback, and iterate. It’s so Product Management-esque if you think about it: the only way to improve is by launching and gaining feedback.
Optimize Your RESUME: I can’t tell you how often I meet aspiring candidates - project managers, for example - who submit resumes that still represent them as a project manager. Yes, some of the skills are transferable, but it still makes the recruiter and hiring manager work too hard to understand the value they'll bring transitioning into Product. Make sure that your resume is optimal, so that you’re not applying to your dream job with a resume that doesn’t stand a chance. Seed confidence by detailing how you’ve accomplished what most Product Management job descriptions require. Explain how you’ve owned or influenced a roadmap, detail how you’ve partnered with developers and methodologies you've used for user feedback. Err on the safe side with a more traditionally-styled resume and forgoing opportunities to showcase too much personal flair. Find ways to optimize and include essential information so that you can keep it to one page in length, two full pages if you have significant experience exceeding a decade and multiple roles. (Whatever you do - no 1.5 page resumes please.)
Pivoting into Product isn’t impossible, I promise. Start with the fundamentals by understanding your strengths, create a plan to address your opportunities, and stay the course.
Blair is a full time Product Management Career Coach specializing in helping professionals land new and first-time Product roles. She has spent her career in a range of industries from medical device, industrial architecture, and startups - with nearly ten years of direct Product Management experience.
Aside from her experience as a practitioner, she is also a Product Management Educator and a Distinguished Faculty Member with General Assembly where she has taught 1K+ students. Blair has coached at the Enterprise level partnering with organizations such as Walmart, McKinsey & Co., and Johnson Controls to help them achieve Product Management excellence.
Blair holds an MBA from New York Institute of Technology, and a BS in Marketing from Hampton University. She is pursuing her Ph.D. in Organizational Innovation and Design. She is also a Certified Product Manager
When Blair isn’t coaching new and aspiring Product Managers, she’s hosting the productmanagHER podcast, sharing the stories of women in Product Management.