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How to become a Product Manager: Your Complete Step-by-Step Guide

Product managers are currently among the most sought-after professionals in the business world. With companies increasingly relying on these valuable individuals to drive innovation and success, there has never been a better time to venture into this field.


If you're just starting out, no worries at all! We're going to dive into everything you need to know to kickstart your career in product management, even if you're coming in without any prior experience. By the end of this, you'll have a clear roadmap to launch your journey.


Here’s what we will cover:

  1. What is product management?

  2. What does a product manager do?

  3. What is a product manager’s typical background?

  4. What skills and qualifications do you need to become a product manager?

  5. How to become a product manager?

  6. What are the best product management courses and certifications?



1. What is product management?


Before we get into the nitty-gritty of becoming a product manager, let's take a moment to understand what it's all about.


Being a product manager is like being the captain of a ship, responsible for steering a product through its entire journey—from an idea to delivery and beyond. It's about setting a clear vision and strategy for the product, all while ensuring it meets both business goals and user needs. Think of it as a mix of business savvy, tech know-how, and a deep understanding of what users want.


2. What does a product manager do?


So what does a product manager's day-to-day look like? We're the all-rounders of the product world, overseeing everything from inception to delivery. We're the ones collecting, managing, and prioritizing ideas for new products or features. We set the benchmarks for success and chart a course for the product's vision. Once that roadmap is in place, we become the orchestra conductors, ensuring everyone works together towards a shared goal. We're in constant collaboration with various teams, from designers and engineers to marketers and leadership.


In a nutshell, picture us as the go-to experts for all things related to the product. We're the product's number one advocate!


3. What is a product manager’s typical background?


Let's talk about how people like you and me find our way into product management. Here's the thing: there's no one-size-fits-all path. Product managers come from all walks of life. It's a field that values diverse skills and experiences. The good news? Almost any role can equip you with skills valuable to product management.


If you've worked in customer-facing roles, like sales or retail, you're already ahead of the game. Why? Because you've got that user-centric mindset that's crucial for a product manager. If you've dabbled in areas like marketing, engineering, or business analytics, you're on the right track too. These experiences have already honed some essential skills needed in product management.

The takeaway? There's no specific field you need to come from to thrive in this role. We all bring a unique set of skills to the table, and that's what makes us stand out.


With that in mind, let's talk about the skills and qualifications that can help you shine as a product manager.

4. What skills and qualifications do you need to become a product manager?


Product management is this awesome blend of business, user experience, and tech know-how. You'll want to wrap your head around product design and development, get cozy with metrics and company goals, and be a bit of a puzzle-solver. You will need a diverse set of both hard and soft skills. Many of these talents can be gleaned from other domains.

Let's dive into the key proficiencies required for excelling in product management:

  • Comprehensive grasp of the product design and development process: This entails some technical know-how, like understanding the workings of web developers and the technologies they employ to bring your product to life. Additionally, familiarity with UX design principles and workflows is crucial.

  • Business acumen and strategic thinking: Product managers spearhead the development of products that drive business growth. You'll need to be adept in business metrics, KPIs, and have a solid understanding of the company's broader objectives, all while thinking strategically.

  • A talent for problem-solving: Solving problems is at the core of a product manager's role. This extends beyond addressing user issues to tackling internal challenges, devising ways to navigate constraints, and streamlining processes.

  • Proficiency in data analysis and interpretation: Research, data, and analytics are integral to the product management journey. Product managers must excel at gathering and dissecting data to comprehend their user base and make informed decisions about the product.

  • Outstanding interpersonal skills: Top-notch product managers are exceptional communicators, collaborators, and adept storytellers. They engage with various stakeholders daily, efficiently facilitating teamwork across departments, presenting ideas with confidence, and communicating with empathy. Stellar communication skills are the backbone of this role.

A question I often get is 'do you need a degree to step into product management?' Nope! no formal degree is required, and there's no universal qualification that employers look for. However, if you're starting from scratch, consider obtaining a product management certification. This not only guides you through learning the essential skills in a structured manner but also readies you for the hiring process, boosting your entry into the job market with confidence and credibility.



5. How to become a product manager? 6 Essential Actionable Steps!


Now that you know what it takes to become a product manager, here are 6 actionable steps to get there.

1. Expand Your Foundational Knowledge


The first key step in your learning journey is to start by building a strong background knowledge. Dive into blogs, books, and podcasts to grasp essential terminologies and concepts, such as ‘product life cycle’, ‘product development process’, and ‘product roadmaps’. Studying and becoming familiar with these jargons will give you a deeper understanding of what product management entails, setting the stage for more structured learning, and allowing you to speak their language. This process will also help you confirm if product management is indeed the right path for you.


2. Cultivate Your Product Management SkillSet


You've now delved into the realm of product management and are even more enthusiastic about a career in this field; now it's time to elevate your skill set.

First, assess your existing competencies in relation to the critical skills of a product manager (as outlined earlier in this guide and in our product management skills compilation). Take note of the skills you already possess and identify the gaps—those that require focused learning.

With your skill gaps identified, take proactive steps to bridge them. If you're currently employed, seek opportunities to develop these skills in your current role. This is particularly beneficial for soft skills like communication and problem-solving, which can be honed in various contexts.

Depending on your workplace, you may find chances to acquire product-specific knowledge. If possible, request to shadow a UX designer, web developer, or even a product manager within your organization—or engage in a brief discussion with them over coffee or a Zoom call.

In addition to refining essential soft skills and acquiring product-specific knowledge, embark on formalized learning through a course. There is a wealth of free courses available online, allowing you to familiarize yourself with the basics before committing to a more comprehensive program.

3. Get Certified!


So you've been diving into heaps of independent reading and maybe even tried out a free course. That's fantastic and you've built up a solid foundation of knowledge. Now, if you're really serious about becoming a product manager, it's time to put theory into practice.


Employers want to know you've got the hands-on skills, not just book smarts. That's where formal certification comes in. It's like a structured roadmap, making sure you grasp all the crucial concepts and skills. Plus, it focuses on real projects, not just theories.


One big perk? You get to build a professional portfolio, showcasing what you've got. And you won't be doing it alone – experts in the field will be there to guide you. Also, it doesn't hurt to have a certification from a reputable institution, right?


Not all product management courses are cut from the same cloth. When you're picking, make sure it's got everything you need to actually land a job. And here's a nugget of wisdom: one of the best ways to learn how to be a product manager is to start acting like one. Put on that product manager hat, dive into user needs, do your research, and figure out what fits your schedule and budget best.


4. Build and Curate Your Product Management Portfolio


It's not just about learning the skills, you've got to prove them to potential employers. Your own product management portfolio is like a stage where you show off projects where you took charge as a product manager (or at least showed that product manager mindset).

To put it together, turn your projects into case studies and showcase them on your personal website. Your portfolio isn't just about projects, it's a chance to share a bit about yourself, your past experiences, and why you're a stellar product manager.

Remember, the best courses include hands-on projects that can go straight into your portfolio. And the top-tier ones will even guide you on how to build it from scratch.

5. Network! Network! Network!


Getting out there and mingling with other product managers is a crucial step. It's like opening a door to a world of opportunities, mentorship, and industry insights.


I get it, networking can seem daunting, especially if you're new and don't have an instant "in." But here's the thing, there are many ways to kickstart your networking journey, and not all involve bustling rooms and awkward conversations.

Connect in a way that feels genuine to you. If you've got product management buddies at work, drop them a message and see if they're up for a quick coffee or a virtual chat. Join online communities, check out local or virtual meet-ups and events, and link up with fellow aspiring product managers on your course.


Start small and early, and you'll naturally grow a solid product management network. For example, you can join Slack communities like ‘The Product Folks’, and ‘Product Buds’ or scope out product management events and socials on meetup.com.

6. Apply and Land Your First PM Job!


You've got the skills, certification, and portfolio all set; now it's time to put yourself out there.


Ideally, your chosen course should offer coaching and tips on how to apply and interview for relevant product manager positions. But either way, you'll want to customize your resume for product management roles – highlight the skills that matter most and draw the connection between your past experiences and the jobs you're gunning for.


This is especially vital if you're coming from a different field. Your product manager resume and cover letter should scream that while you're new to this field, you've got the transferable skills in the bag.


With your application package polished and ready, hit up job boards for suitable positions. Here are a few worth checking out:

  • Indeed.com

  • Mind The Product

  • Product Hunt

  • Product Manager HQ

  • ProductHired

Or, if your current workplace has a product management department, chat with your manager and the team about potential opportunities for an internal move. It's a fantastic way to kickstart your product management journey since you've already proved yourself in the company and are familiar with the product.


Whether you're applying for a brand spanking new role or eyeing a transfer, remember to showcase and prove those core product management skills. It's not just about the title – it's about demonstrating that, despite being new to this, you've got the stuff to excel.

6. What are the best product management courses and certifications?


Finding the right course or certification program can make all the difference. With a multitude of options out there, it's important to do your due diligence before making a choice.

Let me guide you through some of the top-notch product management courses tailor-made for newcomers and those looking to switch careers:


The Product School Product Manager Certification

  • Duration: 8 weeks part-time or an immersive 5 days full-time

  • Cost: $4,499

  • Format: Engaging online sessions with live, expert instructors.

General Assembly’s Product Management Course

  • Ideal for beginners, this course focuses on practical, real-world applications.

  • Duration: 10 weeks part-time or an intensive 1-week option.

  • Cost: $3,950

  • Format: Online, with a hands-on approach.

The Product Management Certification Course by BrainStation

  • Elevate your product management journey with cutting-edge skills in product strategy and development.

  • Duration: Five immersive Saturdays, 10.30am-5.30pm EDT

  • Cost: $2,900

  • Format: Online, interactive sessions.


Key Takeaways and Next Steps


Product management is a realm filled with challenges, fast-paced decision-making, and immense rewards. If you thrive on tackling complex problems, formulating effective strategies, and enjoy collaborating with diverse teams, then you're on the right track. Product management is where you belong.

As we've discussed, excelling in this role demands a wide-ranging skill set and familiarity with various tools. The good news is, much of what you've learned and experienced in the past is transferable.


So, are you prepared to embark on this exciting journey in product management? Begin by booking a free product management consultation call with one of our product coaches at inohq.com. We can cover more in details, including crucial aspects ranging from strategic planning and design to embracing the Agile methodology. We will equip you with the knowledge and tools you need to kickstart a successful career in this field. Take action now for the next exciting and fulfilling career in your life!

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