How to Become a Product Manager Before You Have Experience

Product managers are the unsung heroes of the tech industry. They’re often overlooked, but without them how would any company ship anything? The product manager is responsible for everything that has to do with a product: how it looks, how it works, how much it costs and how it’s marketed.

That can sound like a sweet gig once you realize how many products there are in the world these days—and how many companies need help getting their products noticed amid all that competition!

Product management can be an exciting career choice because there's always something new happening in this fast-paced industry. Product managers have to stay on top of trends, conduct market research and make sure they know what customers want before anyone else does.

Sound like fun but don't know how to get started? We're here to help. Let's dig in.

What is product management?

Product management is the process of managing a product from conception to launch and continuing to iterate new features.

The product manager will be responsible for how the product looks, how it works, how much it costs, and how it's marketed. If you like being involved in all aspects of a product, a product manager role may be a great fit you.

Product managers are involved from conception to launch and beyond

Product managers are required in software development, software marketing, software sales, software finance, information technology (IT), or other fields that provide services related to software products such as video game design, computer graphics design (CAD) or computer-aided manufacturing (CAM).

A degree in business administration may be preferred by some employers but this is not always necessary. What is important when starting out is gaining experience. We'll get to that in a second, even if you're lacking real-world experience.

Why become a product manager

You don't need to be a software engineer or an MBA to make it in the software industry. All you need are some basic skills, some relevant experience and the ambition to get started.

Software development has become one of the fastest-growing industries, with software engineers making up about 10% of the entire workforce. That's more than double what they were just ten years ago.

And product managers? The demand for these professionals has been steadily rising, too. In fact, they have been ranked as number three on Glassdoor's list of "50 Best Jobs In America for 2021."

Demand for the product manager role continues to grow. According to research from McKinsey & Company, companies that routinely introduce new products grow four times faster than those without a formal process for doing so. And you can't introduce a new product without a good product manager.

Product management salary

So the role sounds interesting but what's the pay like?  Well, it may vary based on the location and industry you're working in but here are a few compensation benchmarks.

The average salary will vary based on location, specialty, years of experience and employer. PM's typically earn a median starting salary of $87,900 per year across all industries. Not bad, right?

A product manager with a technical background can expect to make a little more, between $95,000 and $147,000 per year.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics' states that software pm's earn a median annual income of about $113,150 with a few more years of experience. Clearly it'll pay off to develop your technical skills either on the job or through education and training.

Benefits for product managers

Benefits such as paid time off, health insurance, and other generous perks especially if you're working with tech companies, are common in the field.

Paid time off : 12-20 paid vacation days per year, in addition to 10 paid holidays.

Health insurance: The majority (93%) of PM's receive health insurance benefits through their employer.

Bonus opportunities: Many companies reward performance with bonuses for hitting certain milestones during the product development process.

For example, a product management team member may receive a $10,000 bonus if the product exceeds its sales goal by 25%.

Cushy benefits exist in the tech industry because demand for product development is booming. This is likely to continue with tech and manufacturing moving closer together.

Product managers, however, are essential for both tech and non-tech companies as they provide the link between the company, product and customer.

So does becoming a product manager seem like something you're interested in? I think so.

Skills of a product manager

Becoming a product manager is an excellent career move. It's all about managing and planning the development and release of products, including new or updated versions of them.

A product manager must be able to communicate clearly with people from many different backgrounds, understand customer needs, assess competitive offerings, and plan how the company will develop its own products. All this means that there are a lot of skills necessary for someone who wants to become a product manager.

In order to do it well, focus on building these three skills:

  1. You need experience – even if you don't have any yet! There's no way around it. If you want to know what your employer wants from their PM, then get some work experience first. Then go back to your potential employer and say "Hey, I've got some experience now. Check out my resume."
  2. You need an education – but you don't necessarily need a tech degree. Yes, many product managers come from tech backgrounds (or they will soon enough), but a tech background isn't necessary for this line of work.

    Other common degrees for product managers are business, marketing and design. Since you'll be responsible for product planning, customer experience, and market research, it makes sense that companies want these skills from their PM's, too.
  1. You need to know how to communicate - This is the most important skill for a product manager because they must be able to communicate clearly and effectively with their team, as well as with potential customers and clients. A product manager must know what their customers' problems and questions are, and relay those concerns (both technical and non-technical) to their team. A product manager must also be able to clearly communicate the product's features, benefits and value proposition to its customers.

There are many skills necessary to become a product manager but these are 3 traits that are inherent in any good product manager. If you think any of these might interest you, then it may be worth checking out some courses or certification programs at your local college or online.

If you're just getting started, don't get discouraged. Everyone has to start somewhere. Even Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg had to work their way up in the tech world.

Just make sure you can check off these three boxes: experience, education, and communication.

How do I become a product manager without any experience?

Product management is an emerging field with a high demand for qualified professionals.

For those without any experience, it may seem daunting to break into this competitive sector of the market, but there are many ways to gain experience and develop the necessary skills.

Here's some advice for breaking into this emerging field without any experience.

Learn product management fundamentals

The best way to learn product management fundamentals is by taking courses offered by schools and universities in your area or by taking online courses, many of which now offer certificates that are recognized by some of today's top employers like Google and Facebook. Experience through these courses can help you find product manager internships to help you build subject matter expertise.

There are also online courses that offer instruction in all aspects of the position: everything from writing user stories and design briefs, to conducting customer interviews and mapping user journeys. A reputable online course, like the Software Product Management Specialization from Coursera, is a great first step at landing your first product management job.

To stay up-to-date on the latest changes in the industry, sign up for email newsletters from relevant blogs and industry publications. Read news from a variety of top outlets in the product management space to remain informed on how businesses are using modern techniques to increase engagement, decrease development time, and more.

Some popular resources are:

Grow your home library with books on product management

Even without any experience, product management can be a lucrative career choice for those willing to learn. By studying product management fundamentals on your own time and taking advantage of educational opportunities, you will gain the knowledge needed to get your foot in the door and succeed in this field as a product manager.

Develop your own projects to build product skills

Once you've taken a few courses and have product management fundamentals under your belt, you'll need to apply those problem solving skills to a few pet projects.  

Projects can be anything you want them to be, either work-related or something you do in your spare time. The main benefit of using pet projects as a way to build product skills is that you'll be able to work with actual customers and users, gaining valuable experience by getting the opportunity to directly receive feedback on your product right away.

The best way to develop product management skills is through hands-on experience. If you're looking for a little guidance, why not try designing an app to solve a problem in your community.  

Create your own projects to develop your skills

If there's something frustrating you about daily life, like a lack of access to healthy food in your community, design an app that would make it easier for people to find a healthy grocery store around them. What features would the app have? Who's your customer? How would you pitch the product to a potential team member or investor?

Don't be afraid to try things out and fail. Steve Jobs once said, "I've had some success and I've had some failure. The funny thing is, I don't feel like a failure when I'm failing. It just feels like I'm setting the groundwork for something that will be great." You won't always get it right on the first try, but that's perfectly okay!

By getting a few projects under your belt, you'll be able to demonstrate direct authority as a product manager to help kick off your career.

Create a portfolio to show off your work

Once you have a few projects under your belt, create a portfolio.

A product career doesn't follow a traditional career path. Graduating from college with a computer science or business marketing degree won't automatically land you your dream job as a product manager.

Employers are looking for people who have shown the ability to manage projects through completion successfully, by testing their deep understanding of product management fundamentals through hands-on experience.

A product manager's portfolio is a simple way to demonstrate specific, professional product manager job skills such as:

  • speaking the language of engineers and designers
  • developing your own product strategy
  • demonstrating problem solving skills using technology
  • creating value for customers through product management workflows and processes
  • conducting market research to inform your go to market strategy
  • validating your product market fit

By building your own projects that encompass all of these principles and showcasing them in your own product management portfolio, you will be able to significantly increase your chances of landing the product management job you want.

Learn more about how to create a portfolio in this article from product school.

Join a professional organization related to product management

Joining a professional organization related to product management can help aspiring pm's enter the field.

There are a few key benefits of joining a professional organization for aspiring professionals who are trying to gain experience.

First, these organizations offer great resources, such as job boards, webinars, and conferences.

These resources can help connect you with employers. Additionally, these organizations often have networks of professionals who can provide advice and mentorship. This can be incredibly valuable for folks who are looking to gain experience.

Second, joining a professional organization can help new pm's build their skillset. Through webinars and conferences, seekers can learn about the latest trends and gain insights from experts in the field.  

By leveraging the network found in these organizations, successful product managers may help aspiring professionals choose a renowned and respected product management certification course.

How long does it take to become a product manager?

Like many industries, it takes time to develop the product management skills needed to be an effective product manager. If you're learning by yourself through resources like this article, you can expect to take at least two years before you feel comfortable enough pitching products and building your own projects that demonstrate all of the essential product management fundamentals.

In contrast, if you're enrolling in a professional education course like this online bootcamp from University of Virginia, it might take as little as six months to a year before you feel confident enough to apply for product management jobs.

At the end of the day, becoming a product manager is all about demonstrating mastery of specific skills and gaining experience through practice.

Start by applying to roles like junior product manager to test the waters and build your industry knowledge. Once you've got a few junior product manager roles under your belt, start applying for senior product manager jobs and gain experience scaling up existing products, managing product portfolios and leading cross-functional teams.

The future of product management

As product management continues growing as an industry, product managers will play a more significant role in product design and development as well as product marketing.

With the increasing amount of data available to a product manager today, you'll be responsible for identifying key product metrics and KPIs that indicate the success or failure of a product before it even hits the market.

Plus, as product management becoming more and more product focused, product managers will need to be able to conduct product research. This will help with identifying the most effective product strategies to solve customer pain points. It'll also help with demonstrating product market fit before spending significant time and money on product development.

While product management is currently one of the fastest growing fields in tech, product management experts predict that product management will continue outpacing other product-related roles in the next five years.

Now let's land your first product manager job

To land your first product manager job, it is important to understand product management fundamentals and demonstrate these skills in your own projects. Start taking product management courses and get working on your own product management portfolio. Once you've got something you're proud of, share it with senior product managers at companies you're interested in working for. You'll be surprised by how quickly they'll take notice!

As Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe put it, product management "will be part of every industry and product."

Sounds like a good place to be. What are you waiting for?

Product managers around the world use DoneDone to manage their product work and support their customers, all in one simple app that's easiest enough for everyone to use. Try it out for free. No credit card needed.

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