How to Break into Product Management (Part 2/5)

Five handpicked strategies for people with non-technical backgrounds or no prior product experience to get into this exciting space!

#2 Highlight your biggest “sells” on your resume

There’s never a bad time to feel good about ourselves, and that’s exactly what this article is aimed at. In this section, I have listed the various ‘tangible’ and ‘intangible’ skills that you can leverage to position yourself as a potentially amazing PM.

Tangible Skills

  • Data Sciences and/or Analytics: Most product managers actively work with huge, often unstructured sets of data to derive actionable insights. For example- product managers often evaluate big sets of customer feedback to identify tangible improvement areas. The most common tools PMs use include SQL and Excel-VBA, while others may use R/ Minitab or other statistical tools to perform advanced analysis such as regression modelling. PMs who work closer to ML or other data sciences teams have an even greater level of technical understanding of popular big data techniques such as Natural Language Processing, Sentiment Analysis etc.
  • Software Management: Without a doubt, if you have a background of being a programmer or managing software-intensive projects, it will empower you to add more value with with engineering teams as a product manager. Most PMs aren’t expected to write codes themselves (unless its very core to the nature of the product) because companies have highly skilled dedicated developers for that purpose. That said, if a PM comes from a programming background or displays understanding how general systems such as version control (like Github) work, that’s a super useful skill to have in order to have more productive conversations with engineers, estimate project timelines and anticipate/ resolve bottlenecks.
  • Project Management: The ability to manage cross-functional groups is one of the biggest portions of any PM’s job. Some of the most common project management tools used by PMs include Jira and Smartsheet, and the most common frameworks are Agile (Scrum/Kanban) as well as Lean. A handful of people also get certified in these areas, but even if you have some good hands-on experience, its great to highlight that.
  • Design: Someone really smart at my current job told me that PM and design go hand in hand, and I couldn’t agree more. Any familiarity with UX/UI designs is great to have because it lets you produce the most functional, appealing, intuitive products. Note that here, I would emphasize upon the user-understanding portions of design more than the technical component, for the purposes of a PM application (not that the latter is any less important, obviously).
  • Business Strategy: Every PM has to maintain the right balance of strategic and tactical thinking on their job. If you have a history of being involved in strategic planning and implementation on your job, that is a must have you want to capture. This includes identifying market needs by conducting industry and competitor analysis, financial modelling to determine business outcomes, and GTM strategy planning. There are huge sections of consultants and strategy professionals that switch to product management every year and bring this great array of strategic thinking into the domain.
  • Relevant Industry Experience: This one is more specific to the firm that you are applying to. If you can display affinity to the firm’s mission or product in the form of any past jobs/ internship/ projects you have experienced, it makes sense to shape them out. For example- If you are applying to a tech-real estate firm and have worked in a tech-hospitality project in the past, you can figure out common areas (such as renovations) that you may have experienced, that will enable you to ramp up quickly if you join the firm.

Intangible Skills

By definition, the challenge with intangible skills is that they are hard to capture. However, these are some of the most common skills that PMs require and that you will see pop up in most job descriptions. A stronger narrative of how these skills flow together has been covered in my first article.

  • Cross-functional team collaboration
  • Ability to influence people at multiple levels and get buy-ins
  • Ownership in leading end-to-end products
  • Scrappiness and the ability to generate maximum results in resource constrained environments
  • Big picture, analytical thinking
  • Communication & presentation skills
  • Customer empathy

A small town girl with some big dreams. I want to enable other dreamers by sharing ideas around product management, the MBA drill and mental health