A few years ago, most people probably thought “product manager” was a complicated way of saying “warehouse worker” or “forklift driver”. However, especially with the rise of the big tech giants and now with the nascent ascendancy of fintech and other disruptive, tech-oriented companies, product manager jobs are vying with those in fields like investment banking and management consultancy for the attention of the best talent globally.
Chances are if you are reading this article, you are considering making a career move to product management (if you aren’t, maybe you should be!) and are trying to get an insight into which skills recruiters are looking for to make successful additions to their product manager roster.
Of course, the particular demands of the job will depend to some extent on which PM role you are applying for and at which firm. For one thing, the kind of product you are aiming to work on will dictate a substantial amount of the skillset required. Amazon, for instance, separates two kinds of product managers – PMs deal with more standard products, whilst PMTs (Product Manager – Technical) deal with more technically intricate products.
The idiosyncrasies of corporate culture will also be relevant – for example, Amazon emphasizes its 14 key leadership principles throughout the selection process for both PMs and PMTs.
With this in mind, this article will take a look at the general demands product managers of any kind will face day-to-day. The specifics beyond this will change from role to role – and recruiters’ demands with them – but the points here will help you to get your head around what the likes of Amazon, Google, Apple, and others are looking for in their product managers.
Inevitably, the broad skill set required and the huge demand for PM roles at the top firms will mean that you will need to do a significant amount of work to get yourself up to speed before you apply in the first instance. To maximize their chances of success, many aspiring PMs leverage services like the MyProductMentor development programs to guide them throughout all stages of the selection process.
Regardless of where they work, then, the role of product manager will fundamentally depend upon a few key skills:
Knowledge and Experience
The requirements here might be a little different from how you imagine. For example, whilst Facebook requires extensive previous specific product management experience from new PMs, this is not the case for some of the other large firms.
In those cases, companies are happy to consider applicants coming from other backgrounds who have exhibited the required skills in other contexts and who are overall sufficiently gifted and with the correct character traits to excel.
Regarding technical knowledge, the bar to clear in this regard is often actually rather lower than many applicants believe. It must always be kept in mind that, if one of these giant firms wanted someone simply to code all day, they would hire a software engineer.
Whilst PMs should be able to understand what the engineers they manage are up to, that is not the work they are employed to do.
Product management is all about managing a team internally and then representing that team both within the company to executives and other departments and externally, to suppliers, distributors, and so on.
Every day of a product manager’s working life will challenge their ability to manage and motivate others, as well as to interact with their superiors and others. As such, interviews will drill down on your experience in leadership roles, as well as your character, and fit with the prevailing company culture.
The day-to-day work of a product manager is a business of solving a constant stream of problems. These might be coming up with optimal design solutions or identifying and solving flaws with prototypes or live products.
This is one reason why PM interviews across major firms will often feature puzzles and/or brainteasers. This will let the firm get a feel for how you address problem-solving in real-time.
Raw analytic ability will only take a product so far. Ultimately great products are marked out by their novelty and successful projects will depend on innovating to solve problems elegantly rather than simply bodging slapdash solutions.
As such, companies will be looking for individuals with a creative mindset which will manifest throughout all aspects of a great product manager’s work.
Organizing a whole complex project so that all the various actors are working in concert and on schedule is demanding in itself. Product managers will need to be able to arrange workflows rationally and keep on top of everything that needs to be done at all times.
If it sounds stressful, that’s because it is and firms will select candidates with a strong record of managing a variety of staff to generate outcomes throughout highly involved projects
Product managers have a high degree of autonomy in their work but are also subject to high expectations in terms of high quality and timely output. Thus, firms are looking for individuals whom they are confident will be self-motivating and happy to put in long and grueling hours where this is required.
Sound right for you?
If this skillset sounds like it is one you can bring to the table, then you might well find that a career in product management is for you. The next step, then, is to do your research, learning everything you can about your target company and specific role.
From there, you should figure out exactly how this matches up to your profile in terms of education, previous experience, and personality. All this will let you submit a high-quality application that showcases you in the best possible light.
Networking is a great help both at the research stage and in making sure your application is taken seriously once it is submitted. After that, it will be time to prepare for interviews and hopefully for an eventual job offer!