Updated: Jun 17
Thinking about becoming a product manager? In this blog, I will share with you how to approach a career change and the 5 steps to transform your career and become a product manager based on my personal experience.
To make it easy, I'll refer Product Manager as PM throughout this blog post.
The big question '' WHY ''
Before you plan your transition plan to become a product manager. The first thing you should ask yourself is: '' Why do I want to become a PM?'' #thinkbeforeact
“Always define WHAT you want to do with your life and WHAT you have to offer to the world, in terms of your favorite talents/gifts/skills-not in terms of a job title.” Like Richard N. Bolles said in his book ''What Color Is Your Parachute? 2020: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers''. A career change is not about changing a job title, a career change is a way to find who you are and your purpose. Btw, highly recommend anyone who's looking into a career change read this book (click below)!
Ask yourself: ''Are you tired of just coding, and want to understand the business impact, and become the bridge between tech and clients? Are you in product marketing and developed an interest in actually deciding what to develop for your clients? Are you naturally good at problem-solving but not be able to leverage it in your current position?''
Ultimately, as a product manager, it means you should have the passion to resolve clients' problems and help your company to prioritize, decide what's the right thing to do, and deliver value to clients. So having a check-in with your motivation will set you up for success as step one.
Dig deep in self-awareness
It's not enough to just have the motivation to change the career before you jump into action. Do a self-assessment and see if those fundamental skill sets required as a PM happen to be your shortcoming.
A few important skillsets & qualities PM must have, in my opinion, are:
Strategic thinking and planning
Assertive and say 'No'
For instance, as a PM, you must be able to say 'No' and say it quite a lot. If you find it difficult to say No or turn to always seek harmony, then PM might not be an ideal career change for you. That is not to say, you can not develop such a skillset, though it needs a lot of practice and determination to enhance your weakness. To my opinion, it's just not worthy to focus on your weakness, instead, you should always try to leverage your strength in order to have a fulfilled career.
Understand what it means to be a PM as a career
Now if you are confident after checking those skillset boxes. It's time to make sure you understand what it means to be a PM. Every career path has the pros and cons, ups and downs.
As a PM, some of the most rewarding peaks for me were:
The sense of achievement when the product/feature I delivered added value to clients and helped them resolve problems.
When your product pitch convinced tech and stakeholders to develop it.
Your squad appreciated your contribution and leadership during the retrospective meeting.
Kudos from the sales/ account management team when the feature you released helped them to gain a new client or prevented clients to churn.
A great feeling when you work with your team to brainstorm and find a solution for a problem.
And so much more...
However, as a PM, you are not always living in flower and honey days, you will likely face some of the challenges and frustration as well:
You will have to:
Be very hands-on, often need you to do manual work, heavy data analysis, a lot of story mapping, and acceptance criteria writing.
Be comfortable with uncertainty and changes.
Be good at dealing with stress and handle tight deadlines.
Learn technical knowledge to a certain extent and be able to translate between business and tech units.
Say No a lot and not able to make everyone happy.
Solve many problems on a daily basis, be prepared to have decision fatigue by the end of the day, and there's no seasonality and less busy time of the year.
So make sure to be completely honest with yourself and assess if this is the career path you'd sign up for.
5 Steps to make it happen
Well, if all the above didn't scare you away. Instead, you are excited more than ever before. Then I think you are ready to make the move!
To make it happen, I would suggest you follow the following 5 steps:
Step 1: Identify the type of industry and company you'd like to work for
Do you just look for an internal transfer to the product team or enter into a brand new field and company?
To achieve a successful job function switch on top of industry and company change is more challenging. Consider picking up your battle wisely and start from one change at a time instead of a triple jump.
If you do decide to leap into a new industry and a new company while becoming a PM, then be ready for a long haul and start to learn industry knowledge, and begin to build your networks in the new field.
Step 2: Get equipped with basic product management knowledge and a tool kit
Nowadays with the infinite amount of material online, you can pretty much learn everything without going to school. However, product management is a complex topic and can easily make you lost in the ocean amount of information. So sign up for an online PM course, or even better to have a face-to-face 1on1 training with an experienced PM who has done the transition him/herself.
My upcoming crack into PM course only has limited spots left, sign up here.
Step 3: Build experience and skillset through side projects and volunteer/internship
No experience in PM and every job post requires at least 3 years of experience? Don't worry, you can build those experiences by working on side projects, part-time, or volunteer to build your friend's business website/app. The key is to get your hands dirty and get referrals and anecdotes.
Step 4: Market yourself through networking and personal branding
Don't have your personal website? It's time to build one. Especially if you are an introvert, and haven't mastered the art of networking yet. The first step to let the world know you better is to build your personal brand online. There are many ways to do it, a youtube channel, a blog, a podcast, whatever you feel comfortable with. The key is to start now.
Another important part of it is to spread the word through your network and let everyone know you are looking for a new opportunity in product management. You never know if one of your acquaintance FB friends happens to need a new PM.
Step 5: Find a mentor or coach to guide you through
In a challenging time of career change, a mentor and/or a coach who has gone through a similar journey could provide vital support you need to survive and thrive in the process. Consider reaching out to your network and identify a few who can be your role model and ask for help. If there's no such candidate in your circle, you can always drop me an email. Glad to have a conversation and see how can I help.
Making a career change is never easy. It requires courage to let go of your past and take risks with the unknown. But what I've learned from my own transformation experience is: As long as you go into it with the growth mindset, a clear goal & plan, and most importantly put into the hard work, it'll pay off - Big Time! And what comes out of it, will not only be a career transformation, but a personal reinvention!
Good luck and leave your thoughts and comments below, or ask me more questions!