Product Manager Career Guide

by Charles
Product Management Team

If you love ambiguity, become an IT product manager.  There’s nothing concrete about being one.  It’s even a challenge to find a consistent definition.  In the broadest sense, a product manager is responsible for a product through its lifecycle.  In reality, a product manager is whatever the individual and the organization decide.  

I’ve known product managers that focused on strategy, marketing and sales.  Others were involved in defining the features and functions of the product.  What they did depended on the company they worked for.  Smaller companies usually have fewer product managers, but they have more responsibilities.  Larger organizations may have specialized managers who develop expertise in one or two areas.

Do you need a technical background to be a successful product manager?  That’s open for discussion.  Some people believe technical skills can be acquired, so it is better to hire people with demonstrated management skills.  Companies with complex product lines believe that a technical background is more important than the soft skills of product management.

What Do Product Managers Do?

Trying to provide a comprehensive list of job responsibilities is impossible, but here are six tasks product managers perform.

The best way to learn what product managers do is to shadow them for a day or two.  Observing them in action will highlight the essential responsibilities.

What Skills Do Product Managers Need?

It’s recommended that an product manager have a technical degree.  It doesn’t have to be a bachelor’s or master’s degree.  An associate degree or certifications can suffice.  Since most product managers move into the position from within an organization, the degree is less important if you have proven your capabilities.  Certifications, boot camps or seminars can help with the transition into product management.  Here is a list of possible areas of study:

Being a product manager isn’t just about technical and product management skills.  You will also need soft skills such as the following if you want to be an effective product manager.

Since the road to becoming a product manager is not defined, there are few degree programs in product management.  You can earn certifications in different areas of product management, which may be a better solution if you are looking to transition into product management.  

What is the Typical  Salary?       

Salaries for product managers are high, even for entry-level managers.  Many people transition into product management from another area within an organization, which often means higher salaries.  According to ZipRecruiter, product managers make, on average, about $95,000 per year.  Your compensation depends on the company, the location and your experience.

Payscale shows that product managers make around 10% to 25% more than the average if they live in San Francisco, Seattle, or New York City; however, the cost of living is much higher in those locations.  An entry-level manager averages about $80,000.  Someone with less than five years of experience makes about $90,000.  Product Managers with five to ten years of experience average $103,000 per year, and those with ten to 20 years average $112,000.  Senior product managers average close to $120,000 per year.  Some senior-level managers can make more than $150,000 per year.

How to Find a Job?

For product managers, a well-crafted resume is essential.  Because most product manager applicants have work experience, it is difficult to know what to include.  You may be tempted to include everything, but don’t.  The best way to determine what to include is to look for keywords in the job posting.  Then, focus on your experiences that showcase your skills in those areas.  Aside from providing contact information and education details, your resume needs to reflect the job requirements.  Instead of providing a job history, divide your resume into keyword paragraphs.  If the job is looking for experience with certain management tools, create a section on Management Tools and list the tools you are familiar with.

The interview questions are limitless.  Here are a few to get you started.

Expect your interview questions to be challenging.  A potential employer wants to make sure you are a good fit for the corporate culture that you can think on your feet and that you do your research.  These are characteristics that a product manager should have.

If you are considering a career in product management, understand that it takes time.  There will be days when you wonder why you are in the profession, but those days fade when you have the experience of a successful product launch.  Maximize every opportunity, so your skillset continues to grow, but most of all, enjoy the journey.