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Is Product Management Right for Finance Professionals During COVID-19?

Many of our members come to Product Gym from different backgrounds and ask us if Product Management is an option without the experience. In this interview, we talk to one of our past members, Melinda Wang, who successfully transitioned into Product Management from Finance. She will answer some of the most common questions we receive from prospective members with a finance background, who consider Product Management as their next career move.
11 min read

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Richard: Today, we have a very special alumni that’s doing a call with us, Melinda Wang. Melinda here is a Product Manager over there with XAXIS. And you used to be over there with a Citibank, right? 

Melinda: Yeah. I was working at Citi and I was actually in a very deals focused group. So, I came directly from banking into Product Management. 

Richard: Today we’re going to go ahead and answer this question because I don’t see anybody else answering yet. Is product management right for people that are coming out of finance and banking?  And we’re going to have Melinda today answer a few questions since she’s already made the switch with us. I think when I get on the phone with people that are in banking, the things that they really want to know is:

  • Am I going to like product management?
  • What are the salary expectations?
  • How realistic is that transition, without a technical background or computer science degree?
  • Do I need an MBA? What certifications do I need?
  • Is COVID-19 the best time or the worst time, right time or a later time to go ahead and make a transition into a product?

So let’s start with question number one, Melinda. Do you think people that are coming out of the banking and finance and banking world, do you think they’re going to like product management? 

Melinda: In my honest opinion, Rich, I don’t think there’s any one, right, like quote unquote right profession to get into product management. Inevitably you’re holding some product manager responsibility, or job function even in the most corporate working environment. I think it took me sometime and it’ll take you some time if you’re looking to make this switch, to really sit down and think about what you actually do on a day to day basis, what responsibilities, your current responsibilities entail.

And if any of those tasks or underlying job functions overlap and involve some part of the product life cycle. This is all to say that product management, in my opinion, is absolutely right for people coming from a finance background or finance, or currently are a financial professional, as long as you have the right mindset.

So, remember you yourself, and I think this is just a really good way for anyone to have this kind of mindset, is that you yourself, are a product, and are constantly iterating and ever so changing as well as improving through the different stages of your own life cycle. I would strongly advise if you already don’t have an open mindset to constantly improve and the desire to learn the ever changing as well as shifting technological landscape, product management is not the right profession for you. It’s not really actually the current profession you’re in. It’s really the mindset you have, and I’m more than happy to go more into detail about the kind of skillsets that I had in banking that could translate well into product management.

Richard: Did you want to do that right now?

Melinda: Oh yeah, sure. It goes to say that, banking is a notoriously savage and masochistic environment. It’s pretty toxic, and you know, some people, some like colleagues from the past have had great teams where the colleagues were very collaborative and they really loved the work they were doing. But I myself did not particularly find that fit, and it was kind of challenging for me to navigate that kind of environment. And I didn’t feel like it was a good fit for me, but it helps you build a very thick skin. You’re working long hours and you’re being demanded a lot, and you’re just indoors from 9:00 AM to at least like eight, 9:00 PM. I know individuals who are indoors like 14, 15, 16 hours a day. They go home to sleep on their bed, but then they just come right back into the office and you know, really building that thick skin and that grit is necessary in any sort of job going forward.

I feel like any other job I take going forward, is going to be a lot easier because even my current product management position people are a lot nicer typically and a lot more welcoming and collaborative and in a traditional banking environment, you don’t necessarily have that because you’re really just trying to push out deals, and sell financial products. So another thing that I think, in terms of banking at least, is that you build kind of that multitasking skillset, as well as being able to deal with lots of different difficult people both internally wise, when you’re speaking with your risk partners or compliance partners or even legal partners, as well as externally with the customer or the clients that you’re trying to serve. And everyone’s very demanding and you need to just be able to take that all in and eat it up and be able to put a smile on your face while you’re presenting whatever you’re trying to sell, whether you’re trying to get the deal approved internally or trying to get your client to pick you as the lead deal – the transaction lead. So, I think in terms of dealing with different stakeholders and translating that into a product management position or a product management focus position that, those are great skills. And I think for me at least, really the mindset was and continues to be the most important part of being a product manager. I would advise that for any individual going forward as well, who is looking to make this transition.

Richard: I did hear that, when I do talk to people that are coming out of your world that, well the world that you came from, the first couple of deals that you do, there’s like a real sense of fulfillment or accomplishment. If it’s not fulfillment, it’s a sense of accomplishment because you put so much, not only time and energy and effort into it, but you put a lot of yourself into it too. But after doing a few of them, doesn’t that take a toll on you?

Melinda: Yeah, absolutely. There were certain things I did like about banking. Specifically, I wanted to build a very technical skillset in terms of credit analysis, financial modeling, understanding, reading, as well as being able to work with our legal partners to come up with a legal documentation that’s actually really important in a deal transaction process.

For me, after I gained those skills, and like you mentioned, Rich, after completing my first deal transaction from start to finish, I realized there wasn’t that much exponential growth that I could foresee. In my team. It’s kind of like finding gold. And then once the initial excitement wears off, and hence your ROI wears off, your happiness and mental health start to diminish.

And then you get a classic diminishing returns situation. You know, from economics, that’s really the term coins. So yeah, there’s growth, but then the growth comes crashing down and plateaus really quick. And that was something that I didn’t foresee myself continuing to pursue a career in.

Richard: Sounds absolutely horrible. I could see why people hate it so much. Okay, so let’s talk about the other big thing that’s – what, if you don’t mind me asking, what year did you graduate from college?

Melinda: I graduated in May 2016 so actually four years ago as of today.

Richard: I graduated class of 2014 myself. I don’t think there’s any resource out there that talks about, you know, what you can expect salary wise, right? I think there are some people that are in finance banking that are just making a lot of money. I would say about 200 – 300 K plus a year. We’ve gotten some people, 200 K, 250 K product manager jobs, but I think that’s really an outlier. How does that compare to people going into product who graduated around the same time as you did?

Melinda: At least 125K. Typically, I would say and see my colleagues getting around 150 to 200 at least, for people graduating 2014, 2015 above.

I think typically in finance, it is easy to get caught in all those zeros like you are making a lot of money, but it’s also dependent on what group you are part of. If you did well in your group that year, or if your group did well as well. I would say in my previous role, my group was not as highly, I don’t want to say highly revenue generating, but the ROI wasn’t as high, so the compensation wasn’t as high as, you know, what people like to imagine people in banking or professionals in banking would get.

So, it’s really a toss-up. I know people in my year in finance, or in a banking focus group getting, you know, with bonus, almost a quarter of a million their first year. But yeah. Like you mentioned, there are, those may be that outliers.

It’s also about your group’s performance as well as your individual performance. It’s really difficult to put a range because the range is so large and it’s really dependent on how well your group does. But, I would say, like for me, it wasn’t just a compensation. Compensation was just a very small factor.

For me work life balance was much more important and I wanted to take that as a priority. Both my mental and physical health more so than just seeing a lot of zeroes in my bank account.

Richard: Do you feel like transitioning from finance or banking into product management, with 120 K or 150 K for salary is realistic?

Melinda: I definitely saw people’s first product manager job get at least 125 towards 150. I noticed people who didn’t even have a product manager job, but they were basically defacto product managers and then they tried to reach for a senior product manager role, were getting up to 200 as their first like official product manager role. So, it’s just the way you interview and the way you sell yourself at the end of the day. And like I mentioned earlier, it’s truly a mindset. If you’re just trying to tick a bunch of boxes, and don’t get me wrong, you should be ticking some of those boxes, obviously, but if you don’t have the mindset to want to constantly improve, and, view yourself as a product and view your work as a product, then it’s going to be really difficult to succeed as a product manager, no matter which company you go to.

Richard: Absolutely. Okay, so making the switch from a finance and banking into product, people always ask like, how realistic is making that transition? Let’s talk about your transition when you were working with us; how many product manager interviews were you averaging a week working with Product Gym?

Melinda: I think in the beginning, this is actually only my first version of my resume. I was only scheduling 10 interviews a week simply because I can’t be away from my desk, because I had an open floor working environment all hours of the day. Honestly, it was already really suspicious that I was gone for an hour a day. People can tell, like your boss may not see you, your manager may not see you, but your colleagues will definitely see you. And if you’re on a team of more than 10 people working on an open floor environment, it’s going to be obvious pretty quickly what you’re doing.

So, I only did around two interviews a day, for two weeks straight. And then I made the decision to leave my current role, just out of my own volition, so that I could do even more interviews and interview properly. But I would say for individuals who don’t have that option to really make every interview count, you’re in control of the interview. Don’t think the recruiter or the interviewer is in control of the interview because if you make it seem like you’re in control of the interview, you can cap it. You can cap interviews at 20 minutes and then you can do three interviews back to back for an hour.

It’s difficult. It’s very strenuous, but it is very manageable. So, at the height of interviewing, I would schedule at least four, sometimes up to six interviews a day. I would try to give myself at least a day break to do a case study prep. I would be doing around 16 up to 20 interviews a week, even up to 24.

So, it just really depends on how well you can manage your schedule. But getting interviews isn’t the issue, as long as you have the correct branding and you sell yourself well; it’s really converting the interviews through that four-step interview process.

Richard: You were able to get these interviews. And they took you seriously, without having an MBA, right?

Melinda: No, I do not have an MBA. You do not need an MBA to get a product manager position. I don’t even know where that came from because typically MBAs, you get an MBA to further your career in private equity or at an asset management fund. That makes sense to me. But to get a product manager position, I don’t really know where the two links, when it’s in business administration and that seems pretty different terminology than product management. So, you do not need an MBA to get product manager positions.

Richard: Do you have a computer science degree or computer science or technical certification?

Melinda: No, I do not have a technical certification. I do not have a computer science degree. I majored in economics and minored in business studies at university. Although I will say that if you want to be a product manager and you have no interest in tech, then that is also a pretty problematic for myself.

I genuinely like tech. Like I spend my free time learning computer science. So, I know basic Python, I know basic SQL. Those are skills that are very useful and I think, you know, will be useful not just in product management, but if you’re pursuing a career in like data analytics or data science, like, our world today is very data focused.

And I mean, even given the current situation and environment, we are operating in, everything’s digital and everything’s remote. If you don’t have those kinds of skills, it’s really hard to compete amongst all the other candidates out there. Like I said, originally, if you don’t have an interest in technology then I don’t really know why you want to be a product manager in the first place.

Richard:  And you were able to get interviews for roles that asked for, you know, four years of product management experience, six years of product management experience, 10 years of product management experience.

Melinda: Absolutely. I even interviewed for roles that they literally said we need an engineering or computer science backup. I remember multiple roles.

I wrote this down nowhere on my resume that I was comfortable coding all day or had an engineering or computer science background. So, this is one thing you’ll realize. Sometimes recruiters don’t even know what they’re looking for because they are getting the request from upper management.

And sometimes these job titles or job criteria, they’re really hazy or they’re not very well detailed out. So, recruiters themselves are trying to figure out, okay – should I send this person to the next round? And then from there, even sometimes the hiring manager, although they may know what kind of person they’re looking for, they don’t exactly know what the job role or responsibilities will entitle.

Because I would say that the product manager term, unless you’re working at established tech firms like Google, Facebook, etc. isn’t really defined yet across smaller companies. So, they themselves don’t really know what they’re looking for in a product manager. You can tell them what they’re looking for in a product manager, they’re looking for you.

Richard: There we go. Now I think the last question of the day is, you know, given the fact that when you were working with us, you had so many interviews that you, you have to quit your job because there was just no way for you to manage, you know, your day job and managing, interviewing and prepping case studies without it already seeming overly suspicious as it is. You know, do you, if you had to do it over again, like would you say that COVID-19 is the best time or not even the right time to go out there and make the transition? If you’re coming out from banking?

Melinda: It’s the time that you want to put in. I wouldn’t say it’s the best time or the worst time. I think this is an opportunity. It’s like a very good opportunity. You have no one looking over your back. You don’t need to go into a separate conference room with glass windows or doors trying to hide away from anyone while you’re trying to sneak in two or three interviews. If you don’t have meetings, and you finish – you crank out your work whenever you can, and you have the flexibility to do that, then I would say that it’d be foolish to not interview right now if you didn’t want to, if you wanted to interview. So yeah, in that sense, it is a very opportune time to go out. Put yourself out there, put your resume out there.

Have these conversations; yes, the supply is a little bit low right now, but there are opportunities. If you look every day and you’ll just count how many product manager roles there are across the Northeast region or even the United States, or if you’re looking at a global region, there are job roles open and that need to be filled.

It’s whether you want to put in the time to sit down and craft your story and be able to prep for those interviews. So, this is all to say that I would recommend if you have the flexibility and you want to interview to do so right now, because you’re never going to get the chance again to like, get away with interviewing all day if you wanted to because you essentially can at this point. No one’s watching you.

Richard: I could not agree more, especially for all the people that love developing non-soft skills. You know, which we offer every course that’s imaginable to developing your skills. You’re not going to get this time again. So, you know, with that said, we are going to be creating more videos, especially for this demographic. Thank you so much for your time Melinda!

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Is Product Management Right for Finance Professionals During COVID-19?

Many of our members come to Product Gym from different backgrounds and ask us if Product Management is an option without the experience. In this interview, we talk to one of our past members, Melinda Wang, who successfully transitioned into Product Management from Finance. She will answer some of the most common questions we receive from prospective members with a finance background, who consider Product Management as their next career move.

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