Getting into Product Management

I get asked frequently for advice from folks who are looking to get into product management and often send them slightly customized versions of the same thing. I decided to write something a little more comprehensive and share it broadly. 

There are a few phases of work for folks looking to get into product management:

  1. Start by learning about product management and what product managers do
  2. Figure out where you want to work and make a list of companies that are exciting to you
  3. Prepare for your PM interview and get the job

1. Learn about product management

Product management is different from company to company. It’s worth learning about the different perspectives of product people at different companies, and here is a short selection:

2. Figure out where you want to work

An important part of the process is generating a list of companies you may want to work at by evaluating company size, quality of mentors, your connection to the product etc. Product management varies significantly by product, vertical (ecommerce vs. autonomous car PMs do different things) and individual company so it’s useful to spend time upfront here.

I recommend going somewhere where you think you’ll get good mentorship from people who are both experienced and very strong product managers. I also recommend joining a company which is growing, as a lot of opportunities can arise from growth.

Companies like Google and Facebook have very well respected product management practices, but it can be difficult to get an interview or get through their process without prior product management experience (unless you are earlier in your career where they have great rotational Associate Product Manager programs).

Some good resources:

3. Prepare for your interviews

Read and Learn: There are a few foundational books that will help you prepare for your PM interview and generally help you becoming a better product person:

  • Read the lean startup
  • Read design of everyday things to teach you how to think about user experience
  • If you are a ponderer and not a doer I would recommend making things happen
  • If you want to learn how to run a product development process I suggest reading agile product management which can be a bit dogmatic and dry, but it’s useful to know these foundational elements
  • If you don’t have a technical background, I’d spend some time learning how technical systems work and some of the foundational elements of programming. The best way to learn is to read/watch videos (good resource) and take a codeacademy class (javascript or python)
  • Cracking the pm interview is a really good book by a former Googler, and I’d start by watching her youtube video
  • Practice questions on the pm interview – it autogenerates a bunch of questions and you can go through them

Analyze products: Spend time breaking down products you like/don’t like – most ‘product people’ naturally do this, and enjoy this type of exercise. I like to break down my analysis into 1) Why does this product exist, what user need is it solving? 2) What do I like about the product? 3) What would I change and how would I change it? 

Learn how you’ll be evaluated: Companies hire somewhat differently so make sure that you ask your recruiter or hiring manager about how you’ll be evaluated as part of the interview process. Here are a few dimensions from my experience that I’ve used, and seen used in the past. 

My Interview Criteria: There are a few key skills that PMs need to be successful and I use them to assess when interviewing product candidates. It’s important to have at least one area where you feel like you are excellent and can get that across during the interview process.

  • Analytical Ability: Run AB Tests, Interpret metrics, Make data informed decisions
  • Product Sense: System design, and UX design to solve a user requirement
  • Leadership: Inspire, Influence, Build loyalty, Have empathy
  • Project management: Prioritize, Get things done, Make tradeoffs, Unblock
  • Technical ability: Ask the right questions, Build trust/respect

Google Interview Criteria:

  • Product Design: User experience and design
  • Analytical ability: Fluency with numbers, Key metrics dashboards
  • Technical ability: System design, Algorithms – earn respect from engineers
  • Strategy: Business turnaround, Go to market
  • Culture: Googliness, Kindness, Leadership

Facebook Interview Criteria:

  • Leadership and Drive: Influence, Self starter, motivated, influence teams
  • Execution: Goals, Metrics, Prioritization, Process
  • Product Sense: Design, Understanding users
  • Engineering fit interview: Not a technical one like Google, more fit interview

Being a product manager is fun, challenging and a great fit for people who like to make things, and like making things in a better way.

Best of luck in your journey and thanks for reading!