If you have worked in a few Product Manager roles or have even interviewed for them, you may have noticed at this point that the role of a Product Manager can vary greatly across companies, teams, and products. While the core responsibility of a Product Manager — launching the best products possible — is always a part of the role, so many other factors can influence your day-to-day experience of your PM job. In this article, we will examine the two areas that differentiate the Product Manager role most: the company and the type of product you own.
Product vs Company
Both the product you are working on and the company that you are working with play a role in the type of Product Manager you might be and therefore what your PM job will actually involve on a daily basis. Both of these factors can hold equal weight in influencing your experience, but you may prioritize one over the other in your PM job search depending on what is important to you.
When Considering the Company
The company culture can play one of the most important factors in your long-term career success and satisfaction. As a Product Manager, a significant component of your job is working across the company with team members from every part of the organization.
A company culture that promotes open communication, collaboration, and is data-driven, for example, can make or break not only your success in the PM job but also your overall enjoyment at work. Another important aspect of the company culture that can influence how your role manifests is the stage of the company. You will be doing drastically different work at a company just starting, growing rapidly, and that is focused on stability. At the largest companies, you can consider your immediate team the “company” that you need to analyze and consider.
When Considering the Product
You can be aware of the fact that you will become an expert on this product and the broader subject area your product lives within. While most Product Manager skills are transferable, direct industry knowledge sometimes is not. If you have a clear idea of an industry you are interested in and want to work in, you may want to make sure you are working towards that.
There are two ways generally that the product can most influence your role: technical vs non-technical and B2B vs consumer. If you are working on highly technical products like those involving APIs or Machine Learning, you will need a deeper level of technical knowledge to be effective in your PM job.
In turn, working on these products will develop your technical skills and move you further towards technical products and roles in the future. Similarly, with working on Enterprise vs Consumer products, there can be a difference in some of the components to the Product Manager role.
For example, in a PM job working on B2B products, you will be interacting directly with Sales, external customers, and internal support teams much more frequently. You will also be operating with a different set of customers (a smaller number where each one is high stakes) and potentially slower product iteration cycles. On the other hand, working on a consumer product may give you the opportunity to work more closely with Design, User Research, and Marketing teams. You may also have the opportunity to grow in Data Analytics as the sheer quantity of data is higher and more frequent when dealing with decision-making in Consumer products.
Getting the PM Job
As I mentioned above, a common misconception when interviewing for Product Manager roles is that you need to have direct experience in the industry area to succeed in a role. It is more important to focus on developing the core 90% of Product Manager skills that do not have to do with the specific product area you work on than to attempt to become an expert in every subject area you are interviewing for.
I will share that personally I prioritize looking for the right company and team fit versus the product when I am interviewing for Product Manager roles. With the right company, you will be able to grow in your career and expand into different product areas as the company grows and succeeds. Most Product Manager skills are transferable to different product areas, but the wrong company can stunt your career trajectory, limit your opportunity and learning, and cause you unnecessary stress.
When I started my current role, I had never even heard of the space (we do SOC2 and ISO27001 compliance)! I actually believe it is a red flag if you are being grilled for industry-specific information during your interview, and this can indicate an immature product team. A strong product team can certainly walk through a case study interview question with you based on their product area but will be open to explaining anything you do not understand. You in turn should understand that a good product team does not expect you to be an expert on everything and ask as many questions as you can so that you do come to an understanding sufficient to strategize and answer their questions.
What to Ask
A few questions I like to ask during the interview process to get a better gauge of how the company culture and the product area will influence my role are:
- What product or portion of the product will I be responsible for in this role?
- Who will be the primary stakeholders I work with?
- Who are the primary customers of this product?
- What does a typical day to day look like for a Product Manager at your company? What about a Product Manager working on this product team specifically?
- What does communication look like on the product team at your company?
- Which of your company values is your favorite and how do you see it demonstrated?
- What is your favorite part about working at this company, and what is something that has room for improvement?
What Makes a PM Job Right for You?
The company you are working for and the product you are working on are two major factors in the actual day-to-day experience for your role as a Product Manager. While both of these have a variety of things to consider, the decision ultimately comes down to what you value in your role. You can and should utilize the interview process to come to an understanding of these factors so that you can land the best possible position for yourself.
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