Over the past decade, the Product Management career has grown incredibly quickly and has become very, very popular.
In 2018 alone, job openings for Product Managers grew 30% (LinkedIn) and both Product Management and Product Development were among the most in-demand skills on LinkedIn.
But, it’s also becoming harder than ever for aspiring Product Managers to break in! Many Associate or Junior Product Manager roles either explicitly or implicitly require some Product experience.
“Wait…I need Product experience for a Junior Product role where I’m supposed to learn more about Product and build my Product skills!?”
Sounds a bit like a catch-22!
However, there are many ways you can build Product Management experience without actually ever having the title “Product Manager.”
Are you skeptical?
Well, read ahead and find out how!
How to get PM Experience Without Being a PM
Live The Role
The vast majority of Product Managers did not go to school for Product Management. Rather, they were a developer who had a knack for strategy and a passion for customers, an analyst who wanted to move beyond simply pulling data for stakeholders, or a “get-shit-done” leader from anywhere in the business that was really, really good at achieving difficult goals.
Learn more about these different personas and paths to Product here:
In short, find a way at your current company to start “living the role” of a Product Manager. Focus on finding opportunities to flex or develop your muscles in areas including:
- Customer/User Feedback
- Project Management
Need more ideas? You can find them here:
If you can start to develop your muscles in these areas, you’ll make yourself a much more compelling candidate for a junior Product role!
Get a Product Mentor
A great way to build your Product experience before being a PM is to talk to someone who can teach you about Product!
It used to be that you had to cold email or cold LinkedIn request potential mentors (or be fortunate enough to have Product mentors at your current company).
Things have gotten a LOT easier.
Here are (just a few) mentorship sites that I highly recommend to help find a great Product Mentor:
Disclaimer: You’ll also find me on these sites! I’ve talked about it before: Mentorship is a two-way street and I find it incredibly valuable too!
Grab a (Virtual) Coffee with a Person in Product
Find people, ideally mutual connections or people in some way connected to you (same school, same career path, etc.) who recently transitioned into Product.
Reach out to them and see if they are up for a 15 minute call to share what they’ve learned through the transition.
I’ve done hundreds of in-person (pre-COVID) and remote (COVID) coffees and they are still one of the most valuable uses of my time.
How can you create the perfect coffee meeting with a perfect stranger? Learn more here:
Join a Project on ProductHunt
Each and every day on ProductHunt, dozens of new product launches are shared. These new products range from well-funded, highly polished releases to solo-preneur passion projects.
Find 5 projects that interest you on ProductHunt and reach out to the founders to see if you can help!
Even if your contribution to one of these projects ends up being small, the skills you’ll build from helping iterate on a product, address customer feedback, build new features, and promote releases will be invaluable for your eventual Product interviews and applications.
Go Build Something!
If you’d prefer to build something yourself instead of jumping on someone else’s ProductHunt project, that’s great too!
The bar has gotten lower than ever to build your own project. Before you get started, think about these things:
- What problem are you solving?
- Who is this a problem for?
- What do you know about this problem? What do you need to learn?
- What’s the smallest thing you can build to help answer these questions and provide a solution?
Don’t know how to code or don’t have a developer friend? No problem, check out no code resources like MakerPad that can give you more than enough firepower to begin validating or invalidating hypotheses.
Learn From Product Leaders on YouTube
YouTube has a wealth of great content on Product Management from some of the foremost leaders in the profession. Learn from their (and my) mistakes and successes before you jump into Product.
Plus, there are many great videos on the Product basics too (What is a sprint? What is the development process? How do Product Managers prioritize?).
Check out my handpicked list of the top 25 videos for aspiring and current PMs here:
Sign Up for Product Newsletters
I’m a newsletter fanatic. I’ve gathered 10 of my favorite Product Management newsletters into this below blog post.
As someone looking into a career in Product, you’ll find many of the insights from these newsletters incredibly important as you start to learn about how PMs approach trade-offs, deal with difficult deadlines or technical issues, and balance planning with the future and executing today.
Analyze Your Favorite (and Least Favorite) Products
Look at your phone right now.
How many apps do you have installed? 50? 100? More?
Each of those apps is a great opportunity for Product analysis.
Pick a couple of your favorite apps and a couple of your least favorite apps.
What makes your favorite apps so great? Is it the UX (User Experience), is it the gamification, is it the quality of the content, is it something else?
On the other side, what makes your least favorite apps so bad? Are they slow, buggy, not useful, don’t solve a real problem, or something else?
Break down these apps and also write down the top 3 things you’d do to improve each app and why you’d prioritize them in that order.
Guess what? You’re starting to do Product Management!
Keep it up and challenge yourself often to break down the products you love and the products you hate. Before you know it, it will be natural and you’ll be ready for these types of questions in a Product interview.
Build Your (Technical and Non-Technical) Skills
One of the best ways to make yourself a more compelling Product Management candidate is to build both a technical and non technical skillset.
This balanced skillset will provide would-be hiring managers the confidence that you care about learning and growing and also that you are able to comprehend the basics needed for the career.
How to Build Technical Skills
Build Non-Technical Skills
- Course: How to Become a Product Manager
- Book: Building Digital Products (2nd Edition)
- 100+ Product Interview Questions and Video Answers
Find Opportunities to Present and Share What You Know
Communication is a cornerstone of the Product Manager role.
As a PM, you’ll even find yourself communicating the same information differently to different stakeholders. For these reasons, try to find opportunities inside or outside of your current career to present and share what you know.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a remote meetup, virtual conference, or even volunteering to present more at your current company, get more experience in this area.
It will pay off when you break into Product and find that a significant part of the role is listening to, educating, influencing, and communicating with stakeholders, leaders, and your team.
How Did You Get Product Experience Before You Were a PM?
Let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @amitch5903!