Product manager jobs

Product manager jobs

The essential guide for product managers looking to land their next job

March 17, 2022
22
 Min Read

Is this product manager jobs guide for you?

If you fall into either of the following categories …

  • “I’m just getting started in my product manager career, and I’m looking for my first job.”
  • “I’m established in my product management career, and I’m thinking about what’s next for me.”

…. hello, we’re so glad you’re here! We also have good news. We have built this guide just for you.

In fact, both groups have a lot in common

Whether you’re just starting out or you’re an experienced and established product manager, you likely have a lot of the same questions:

  • “What does the product manager job market look like right now?”
  • “How can I make my product manager resume stand out?”
  • “How do I find a great product manager job that’s right for me?”
  • “What do product manager salary and compensation look like?”

The answers to these questions will help you determine what’s right for you. And in this guide, we’re going to help you answer them so that you can make smarter choices for your product management career.

Table of contents

Part I. Today’s product manager job market

Part II. Product manager resume crash course

Part III. How to find your product manager job

Part IV. Product manager career path

Part V. Product manager salary and compensation

Part I. Today’s product manager job market

Over the past few years, the obvious headline for discussions around the job market for any role is The Great Resignation. While there is a lot of volatility in the job market overall, it is an exciting time for job seekers of all stripes (that includes you) to find the position that’s not too firm, not too soft, but “just right.”

But if we dig into how specifically the product management job market has changed, the story of change is somewhat different. 

The technical education requirement is much softer

If you were applying for a product manager job, particularly at the start of your career, having a degree in a technical area (e.g., computer science) is a requirement you often came up against. While it may still be true for companies seeking product management professionals, that is no longer a norm across the board.

This is an exciting development for people who may be considering pivoting to product management as a career path. Still, you may have been worried your lack of technical education background will hold you back. 

🔎 Related: From economics wonk to product management, my unexpected career path to the perfect fit

Again, some organizations will still hold that requirement, but it’s not something that will hold you back from entering the field entirely.

Product management as a field is more diversified 

One of the most exciting developments in product management is how nuanced it’s become with sub-specialties.

For instance, growth product management is not something that even existed ten years ago, and it’s a type of product management that demands a different skill set than one might associate with the traditional product manager. Technical product management is another example.

Even artificial intelligence (AI) has changed the game, opening up that space as a niched-down area for would-be and current product managers to explore.

Knowing how to code is no longer a steadfast requirement

“You need to know how to read and write code if you want to cut it as a product manager.”

This may have been true in the past, but that is certainly not true today. That’s what engineers do. And while you need to be able to think technically and collaborate effectively with those who do the coding (your engineers), you don’t have to be able to do their job.

Instead, there are four key skill groups for product management you need to focus on:

  • Vision
  • Execution
  • Strategy
  • Design

The good news is that, while you need to be able to operate in all four areas, you only need to be really good at two of them to excel as a product manager. 

And if you think about it, it makes sense, right? Someone who is an incredible, forward-thinking visionary and strategist may not be so hot with execution. (For instance, this is why CEOs, who are visionaries, work with COOs, who are implementers.) On the other hand, someone who is fantastic at tactical execution and design may not natively think with a big-picture mindset.

What the future holds for product management

While we don’t have a product management-specific crystal ball handy, here’s what we can say about how this field will continue to evolve …

As more and more organizations across almost every single industry transform into technology companies – either for the sake of efficiency or their products (or both) – the demand for product managers will only increase. As a result, we anticipate that there will be a continued shift toward more niche and specialty areas of product management. 

Bottom line, it’s an exciting and diverse field that is only going to continue to grow and evolve. To stay competitive in the field as a professional, continue to monitor tech trends – especially those of interest to you, as they may open up doors to new possibilities now or in the future.

Part II. Product manager resume crash course

Now that you understand a bit more about what the current product manager job market looks like, let’s dig into how you can stand out in your resume for a product manager role, regardless of your experience in the field.

Desired experience for your first product manager role

If you’re looking for your first product manager position (either out of the gate at the start of your career or as the result of a potential pivot), it may seem like you’re the star in a real-life chicken-and-egg drama.

You need a product manager job to gain experience in the field.

You need experience in the field to land a product manager job.

While it may feel this way, that’s not quite the case. Every single product manager out there earned their first gig without having another product manager job behind them. 

Instead of worrying about the roles you haven’t had, think about how you can highlight the related skills and experience you do have. For instance, in junior product management roles, you need to showcase what you can do

Execution, not vision or strategy, is the name of the game

So, you need to showcase that you’ve built something before by yourself or with a team. And that “something” could be anything; it doesn’t have to be technical. 

Maybe you helped with a remodel or renovation project in your parents’ home or the development of an app. Even if you’ve built a fun spreadsheet that was useful enough for it to be a “product” you shared with your friends, that counts too.

Think about any volunteer experiences you may have under your belt that can showcase your execution and tactical abilities. 

For instance, working with multiple teams or groups to organize a fundraiser isn’t easy and requires the oversight, management, and execution of many moving parts. Moreover, it can highlight your ability to motivate individuals and teams toward a common goal. 

That last piece is seen more in senior roles, but if you already have that experience under your belt, definitely don’t be shy about it.

Quantitative aptitude is also highly valued

When we say “quantitative aptitude,” we mean your ability to manage, manipulate and interpret data sets. 

You’ll want to highlight this skill set when entering the field. For example, let’s say you’re already a working professional who’s been in the game for some time. Maybe you’re a business analyst or in finance, and you studied math or economics. 

On the surface, those fields and courses of study don’t sound like they’re product management material, but they are. So much of product management centers around evaluating and interpreting data, which means your background in these areas can work to your advantage on your resume.

If you’re an experienced product manager looking to stand out in a crowded job market

The tides of the job market for all professionals are ever-changing. So, while it may feel saturated right now because so many people are making shifts in their careers, this may not be true forever. (If things change, we’ll be sure to come back and update this guide for you!)

Still, it doesn’t matter the health of the job market. There are a few key evergreen suggestions we can share with those of you who are established in your product management career but are looking for a new role:

  • Show that you’ve been given more substantial responsibility over time. Whether that’s through the projects you’ve worked on to defined promotions you’ve received, this is a big one. It demonstrates you have successfully juggled competing priorities and tasks.

  • That responsibility should also be increasingly strategic. If you’ve been given more responsibility over time, underscore where those increases demonstrate strategically more important things to do. It’s not just about an increase in the number of tasks that’s critical here; it’s also the increase in scope and complexity.

  • Ask yourself, “Do I possess the ‘secret sauce’ for this role?” Let’s say you played a product management role for something very specific, and now you’re considering moving onto a new position. Does that specialized expertise make you a better-fit candidate than others for the roles you’re looking at? If so, that’s another part of your resume you should make prominent.

  • Showcase your abilities and your posture as a leader. A great product manager can not only rally a diverse group of people to bring a project to completion, but they can also walk into a room of stakeholders and hold their weight as a leader in the group. If this is your background, you will want to lean into this, particularly if you are looking at more senior roles. 

Product manager advice for all career stages

The productivity tool trap

Undoubtedly, technology has influenced the field of product management in countless ways. In particular, new productivity tools for product managers are cropping up everywhere you turn. This can create a bit of anxiety for people in product management who are looking for a new job. 

“I have experience with Teamwork, but I don’t have experience with Asana.”

“I’ve used some productivity software in the past, but I’m not 100% sure how to spell Jira.”

First, take a deep breath. Second, relax. All that matters is you can say you have experience with productivity tools and leveraging technology to keep a project on track and on time. You don’t need fluency in the exact tool or software of the company you’re looking to work at.

Be mindful that product managers are part of a team

Here’s another piece of advice to keep in mind wherever you are in your product manager career. 

Whenever you’re going out for a job, you can sometimes feel as if you have to be the sole hero of every success story you use to highlight why you’re the best candidate. This is a slippery slope for those interested in growing into the product manager space.

When you accomplish something incredible in your career as a product manager, there is very rarely (if ever) a circumstance in which you did so on your own. Almost always, your wins and your successes will be achieved as part of a team. 

Seasoned product managers know this. So, when you talk about your wins – either contextualized in an existing product management career or extrapolated from a different background – keep this context in mind and don’t obfuscate the narrative of a team win to make yourself look like the hero.

Describe your specific contributions and acknowledge your collaborators and specialists and what they did to bring the project across the finish line.

Where possible, quantify your accomplishments

Numbers are a great way to express the impact you’ve had in the past. Sometimes it’s really easy to do that. For example, did you work on a product with $100 million in revenue? That’s an incredible responsibility, and you should highlight that.

In other cases, it may not be so obvious how you can express your successes in a measurable way that’s meaningful to others. If you find yourself in this situation, ask yourself what numbers you did move or what scale you were able to achieve on behalf of yourself or others.

It’s not just about the product, it’s about the team

We’ve touched on the importance of teams, but let’s come back to this for just a moment. 

When you first think about product management, on the surface, it can look and seem like it’s all about building products. (Duh, it’s in the title, right?) However, those who can truly grow and excel in the field of product management, have one thing in common.

They understand they’re not just a builder of products. They’re a builder of teams. You’ll notice this is more true as you advance in your career. But if you’re an established professional in a different field looking to move into the space, keep this in mind as you think about what related experiences you want to list on your resume.

Part III. How to find your product manager job

OK, so you have your resume all put together, and you’re ready to start looking for that perfect, diamond-in-the-rough product manager job. Where do you start?

To be honest, we could sit here and list a bunch of different job boards and websites. Yes, there are the big ones like Indeed and LinkedIn – even us here at WhoCo. There are likely even a wealth of product management-specific job boards out there, too. 

But when we thought about the best advice we could give you product manager job seekers, it wasn’t a stale list of websites you likely already know or have searched for.

Instead, we have a few other more substantive and meaningful suggestions to help you land the best product manager job for you.

🔎 Related: Learn how can WhoCo help you advance in your career

Cover letters are hard, here’s how to make yours shine

We get it, no one likes writing cover letters, but they are still important. They can be a great way to make yourself stand out from the crowd. 

If you want to craft a cover letter that makes a hiring manager or decision-maker stop and say, “OK, this product manager candidate has piqued my interest,” the one thing you need to do is tell your story and tell it well.

When we say that, what we mean is:

  • Why are you here applying for this job at this specific moment?
  • What precisely about this role is interesting to you?
  • If your background or current field is wildly different from what you’re applying for, with a clear pivot, why are you making this change?
  • Is there something specific and personal for you about the work the company you’re applying to is doing? 

The last thing you want to happen is someone gets to the end of your cover letter and is still wondering, “Why are you here? I don’t get it.”

(Honestly, this advice holds for any job you’re applying for. So, if for some reason down the line you decide product management isn’t for you, don’t forget this section.)

Asking great questions in a product manager interview

Asking great questions is something job applicants in all fields should strive for in an interview situation, but it’s essential for those of you interviewing for a product manager position. 

Different types of questions to ask

When you show up to your job interview, have prepared questions in mind that demonstrate you’ve done your homework. Meaning, you understand the company, its mission, its position in the industry, and its strategy, in addition to its product(s).

And when you ask questions about the product(s) of a company, a question like, “I’m curious if you’ve considered building out this type of functionality? I think it could be very useful, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.”

🔎 Related: How to ace your next job interview

Of course, when you ask probing questions like the one above about an existing product, you should always position them to be tactful and respectful. Be a curious and excited candidate, not a condescending one.

You’ll also want to understand how decisions are made

Another thing you need to understand before you say yes to any product management role is how decision-making happens at an organization. With that in mind, you can ask questions like:

  • How do different teams in your company work together?
  • Do you have any annual or quarterly planning cycles?
  • How are big, strategic decisions that influence products made, and who is involved in those conversations?

It’s also wise to ask these same questions of different people as you move through the hiring process. That will help you develop a more holistic view of how decisions are made, rather than adopting an individual’s answer as the full picture.

If you’re looking at more senior roles, where the title implies you will have strategic ownership and a voice, these are helpful questions to ask. You don’t want to accidentally end up in a situation where your title is “head of product,” but really the founder is the one calling all the shots.

If you’re talking to an engineering leader

If you end up in front of an engineering leader at any stage of the interview process, you need to know one thing. There is a good chance they have the ability to veto you. 

On the other hand, depending on how they talk about product management, you may see they aren’t the right for you either. That’s something you need to know before you say yes to a role. So, talk to them about how they like to work with product managers, as well as their own personal preferences and styles. 

No matter what questions you ask in an interview setting, keep in mind that one of your primary goals is to move your conversation forward and beyond the superficial fluff. 

Product manager resources you should bookmark

We started this section by saying we’re going to give you actionable advice, not a list of websites. Well, we lied. Sort of. Sorry.

There are two websites we want to recommend to you if product management is your chosen career:

  • Essays by Sachin Rekhi
    Rekhi’s essays on product management are invaluable. He talks about everything from frameworks to how to build a product roadmap, and it’s actionable and useful.
  • First Round Review
    First Round Review and its associated podcast are another great set of resources to follow. In addition to insightful interviews with leaders in their portfolio, they also feature fascinating deep dives into management and business topics that are applicable to product management.

Part IV. Product manager career path

It doesn’t matter what level of experience you have, understanding what your potential product manager career path could (and should) look like is important. 

On the surface, product management is a lot like other fields. You start out as an individual contributor and then you can work your way up the ladder into management. There are also director and VP positions available to you as you continue to work your way “up.”

The question you need to ask yourself, however, is whether or not what some see as the more “traditional” path of growth in a career is right for you.

People management vs. individual contributor

Yes, you can climb the ladder and take on what you may perceive to be the “bigger” and more “advanced” titles. But that is not the only option available to you if you want to grow and develop as a product manager. 

While we have spent a lot of time already talking about the importance of highlighting your ability to lead teams (particularly if you’re looking at more senior roles), you do have the option of simply staying as an individual contributor who develops increasing levels of seniority. 

Being a leader of teams can be exciting and immensely rewarding for some of you. You can not only help build products, but you can also empower others on your team to grow and develop in their own careers. 

But people management is also not for everyone, and that’s OK. In fact, what’s exciting for those of you who do decide to stay more in the seat of an individual contributor is that you can switch purposefully between different contributor roles. 

The path to getting promoted and being paid more isn’t only achieved through people management. So, be mindful of the choices you make. Chase after your goals and the work you genuinely love doing, not what you think you should be doing to (from an optics perspective) “advance” in your career.

Cross-functionality demands

The other thing to keep in mind as you make moves throughout your career is that different product manager roles will make different demands of you, and your abilities to flex into other areas. 

For instance, a smaller company may want you to also be able to put on a product marketing or operations hat, as those needs arise. Are those areas interesting and exciting to you? Fantastic, you’ll be a great fit in that kind of environment. 

At a larger company, on the other hand, it’s less likely that you’ll be asked to perform in other areas as they likely have dedicated people in those seats. In fact, you may be a product manager focusing more on strategy because there are program managers supporting execution. 

You won’t learn how to develop in your career from a textbook

For those of you who are entering this field for the first time, this is critically important for you to understand early on. 

No matter how far you end up advancing in your career as a product manager, remember that understanding your customer is always going to make your decision-making more sound. Data will only be able to tell you so much, it will never be able to tell you “why.” If you develop fluency in your customer, you’ll be able to understand the “why” behind whatever the data is telling you.

That is one of the major ways you can develop true mastery in product management – and the innermost workings of a company’s particular customer base can’t be found in any textbook.

In general, actually, product management is something best learned “on the job.” That’s why you should find people who are willing to act as a mentor or a coach. 

The best way to become a better product manager is to get great feedback from people with a proven track record of success. 

Remember your wins, and focus on what you’ve learned rather than failures

There is a tendency for product managers who have been around the block to become rather critical. What we mean by that is, it’s easy to become someone who always sees what’s wrong or what isn’t working properly. 

In the field of product management, “it’s a feature, not a bug” that sometimes things don’t always quite work as expected or get finished. If you develop a negative mindset where you only walk away from those moments seeing the “defeat,” that’s going to chip away at you over time. 

Make the choice to remember your wins and focus on what worked well. And when failure inevitably rears its ugly head, don’t view those moments as fatal. Instead, challenge yourself to look at those failures as learning opportunities, as well as signals for what you should do next.

Part V. Product manager salary and compensation

OK, before we dig into this part of the conversation, we need to be clear about something. The salary ranges you’ll encounter out in the wild for product manager roles are going to vary wildly from company to company. 

That means if you’re looking for something like … 

“If you’re a 23-year-old from Michigan with an educational background in finance looking for their first product manager gig in Silicon Valley, your salary will be exactly $122.54.”

… in this section, you’re going to be disappointed. 

What we can tell you, however, is what influences salary and compensation in the product management field, as well as a few considerations you’ll want to keep in mind as you evaluate potential offers.

Education and product manager salary

Across a large number of industries, we’ve seen an emerging trend of bachelor's degrees becoming less of an absolute necessity for jobs. Yes, it would be tough to land a product manager job directly out of high school, but if you were recruited into a startup out of college before you graduated, that’s a different story. 

The conversation around the influence of education is similarly nuanced when we’re talking about salary. 

The old rule used to be that the three Es – education, experience, and expertise – are the three most important factors in determining salary. 

Experience and expertise are still very important, but education isn’t the salary heavyweight it once was in the product management field. If you look at Silicon Valley as an example, there’s much less of a focus on what degree you have. Instead, it’s about whether or not you can do the job, and a degree doesn’t guarantee that.

Yes, you may be compensated more at some companies at an entry-level for having a degree, but it is no longer the norm.

Product manager vs. engineer compensation

Some jobs command higher salaries than others, which we’re sure is not a surprise to any of you. What can be an unpleasant surprise to some product managers is the fact that their engineering counterparts will often command higher salaries. 

This means if you’re entering into the product management field, there is a good chance you will be working alongside engineers who make more money than you do, based on the in-demand skills they possess. 

Of course, this won’t always be true. You may end up at a company where product roles are more competitive than engineering for some reason, but that is much less common. 

A specialty can work to your advantage

Let’s say you worked at Google on one of their machine learning products. If you decide to apply for a product management role that also deals with machine learning, your expertise can position you to negotiate a much higher salary. 

So, as you go through the hiring process, remember your expertise can not only put you at the front of the pack for certain roles, it can also help you when it comes to settling on your final compensation package should an offer be made.

Finally, remember compensation goes beyond salary

If you’re just entering the workforce, this is something you need to be aware of. It can be very easy to become blinded by what your actual take-home pay will be from a company, but your salary isn’t the only piece of the compensation package puzzle. 

In addition to medical benefits and other perks, you may also be offered signing bonuses or equity. Equity can be partially tricky to gauge, in terms of its real value to you. In some cases, equity is a life-changing positive. In others, it can be a costly mistake, especially if you are talked into taking a lower salary because you are being given equity. 

Again, it will vary depending on the circumstances. Just remember that you always need to feel good about the cash compensation you’re receiving, in addition to anything else you are offered as part of your compensation package. You can’t use your “wellness budget” to pay rent, right?

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