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How to Become a Product Manager Without Experience

You’re looking to get a Product Manager job, but you don’t have any experience. If no one will hire you, how will you ever gain the experience they’re looking for? It’s a frustrating catch-22 that many people face on the job hunt across all professions. Still, there are ways to land that first job in product. How, you ask? That’s where we come in.

6 Different Ways to Get a Product Manager Job With No Experience

There is no one right way to become a Product Manager without experience. Many companies will look for potential candidates coming right out of college, while others will hire internally. Ultimately, the path to securing a Product Manager position relies on your ability to take charge of a product and have an aptitude for problem-solving. Let’s take a look at some of the paths most Product Managers use to get started: 

1. Study and Research

As with every career path, Product Managers perform best when they have a firm grasp of the duties, tools, and strategies involved. Some of these can be learned on the job, but Product Managers need to build a good foundation through learning.

It’s worth investing in quality product management training if you’re a complete fresher in the industry. Alternatively, those with a bit more familiarity can improve on their weak points with specific tutorials, webinars, and other learning resources available online.

There’s also plenty of reading to be done on product management: learn what important voices in the industry are saying and learn from them.

2. Internal Transition 

If you work for a startup, you may already be taking on some Product Manager tasks, without the title. Startups tend to have fluidity in terms of who does what, and this can be a great opportunity to put on your Product Manager hat. However, to make a formal transition at the company you currently work for, there needs to be a transition process in place. Because of this, aspiring PMs at startups might be at a disadvantage.

If your company has an established transition process, you can make your internal transition by: 

  • Finding a project you can own from beginning to end. Make sure you’re involved in everything from market research to prototyping to launch. Document your process and present it to management. This is also a great experience to add to your product management portfolio. 
  • Volunteering to take on Product Manager-related tasks as a side job at work. No available tasks at hand? Identify problems that no one is working on that you can solve. You can then highlight them to your manager. If you get the go-ahead, take a methodical approach using PM frameworks to come up with a solution. 
  • Build a record of project management and leading cross-functional collaboration. 

3. Apply for Junior Product Manager Roles 

If you have some experience with product management tasks in another position — say you have worked as a Project Manager or in a product design role — your experience is valid enough to apply for a Junior Product Manager or Associate Product Manager role at another company.

One of the best places to start looking for these jobs is with larger companies, as they tend to have their systems already set out so you won’t be diving into the deep end. They are also likely to have more experienced Product Managers who you can learn from.

4. Start a Company 

There’s no better way to learn the product development process than to be in the driver’s seat. Entrepreneurship is hardly ever undertaken with the goal to land in product management, but many CEOs find themselves taking up Product Manager positions once their companies have been acquired.

Building and selling your own product is a great way to gain product management experience, not to mention the additional skills one picks up along the way. 

5. Join a Startup 

Don’t have an entrepreneurship idea of your own? Partner up with someone who does. You can use your skills to start as a Product Manager or take it up as one of the many hats you will be wearing. Startups often have a burning need for talent but are limited by budgets and scope of work.

6. Get Product Management Career Coaching 

All of the above points may seem overwhelming if you already have a day job occupying most of your time. Or maybe you just want some extra support. That’s where a product management program comes in.

A product management program is a great way to acquire the realistic skills, techniques, and training needed to transition into a career in product management. A product management program like Product Gym’s also provides career coaching that includes goal setting and job hunting strategies. It’s a great all-in-one solution for people who want to make a career change.

Why Should You Work With a Career Coach?

Career coaches provide a range of services to help you navigate your career path as an aspiring or first-time Product Manager. Some of these services are tangible and easy to unpack, like reviewing your resume and providing pieces of strategic advice when it comes to interview questions and salary negotiation.

But product management career coaches can also help you in more hard-to-describe ways. For example, a career coach might guide you as you pinpoint which companies or industries you want to target as a Product Manager according to culture fit and what you’re passionate about. They can also help you build your confidence, crush imposter syndrome, and develop a growth mindset.

Become a Product Manager Without Experience: 5 Easy Steps

No matter which path you choose, there are five steps you need to follow to land the Product Manager role without experience. It will take time and resilience, but we’ve seen these steps work for countless Product Gym members. Let’s get started.

Step 1: Identify the types of companies you are most likely to end up at

While you may not have experience working as a Product Manager, you do have experience in your current industry. Finding a Product Manager position within your industry will strengthen your chances of landing the job. What you may lack in product management experience you make up for with industry experience. You’re familiar with the customers and you know what problems the company is trying to solve with their product. All of this will help you in your Product Manager role. 

Another option for those looking to get a Product Manager job with no experience is to find a smaller company, with less than 100 people, looking for a Product Manager. Every company defines the Product Manager role differently. With big tech companies that are highly in demand for PMs, like Microsoft or Amazon, your lack of experience might be a deal breaker.

But, smaller companies and a company of this size likely have lower expectations of what the Product Manager should be able to do. Additionally, they may not have the budget for a Product Manager with years of experience. Identify the companies within your industry that you are interested in and look into smaller companies as well. 

Step 2: Communicate how your experience is relevant to a Product Manager role

Instead of asking how to become a Product Manager with no experience, ask yourself what experience you already have that can help you as a Product Manager. Just because you’ve never been a Product Manager before does not necessarily mean that you don’t have any experience. It’s all in the way you communicate your transferable experience in your resume and interviews. Here are four steps to follow to position your transferable skills on your Product Manager resume:

  1. Update your resume to include keywords and industry lingo.
  2. Do your research by reading 50 to 100 Product Manager job descriptions and finding 25 to 40 bullets that relate to your experience.
  3. Rewrite the skills section of your resume to sound more in line with Product Manager job descriptions.
  4. Be careful not to stretch your background too much. Remember, you will need to elaborate on your skills in the interview. Think about how you will apply them to the Product Manager position before including them in your resume. 

Step 3: Develop your skills through case studies rather than certifications

Despite what you may think, product management experience does not have to come from a job as a Product Manager. In fact, working on case studies is one of the fastest ways to gain experience. Certifications are great learning tools as well, but you should wait and get those when you are working for a company that will pay for them. 

You can find people in Facebook groups or on LinkedIn who are looking for help with their product management case study. By working on one to two Product Manager case studies per week you will be more prepared for the case study portion of your interview. There are only so many variations of the same case study floating around these days. If you help enough people with their case studies, you will be better prepared when it is time to complete your own.

Typically, in a Product Manager job interview you will have three days to return your case study. The average Product Manager candidate completes at least 12 case studies before getting their first offer with no experience.

Step 4: Prepare your interview responses

Maximizing your interview prep is your best chance to become a Product Manager without experience. At Product Gym, we have loads of resources to help you prepare for your interview, including a review of the most common Product Manager interview questions and how to answer them. Practicing your interview responses ahead of time and getting feedback will ensure that you cover all of the key points the interviewee is looking for

Prepare for your interview the same way you would prepare for a big exam. Come up with a game plan for how you plan to memorize your key points and prepared responses. Only study a few questions per week, starting with first and second round Product Manager interview questions. As you make it through each interview round, start preparing for the next set of relevant questions.

Step 5: Set a deadline for your goal 

Setting a deadline is what turns a dream of becoming a Product Manager into a tangible goal. Think about how long it will realistically take you to review job descriptions, update your resume, complete case studies, and prepare answers for your interview questions. Factor in the time it takes to apply for each position and get through the interview process. Then, set your deadline for when you want to be starting your new position as a Product Manager.

If you don’t reach your goal by your deadline, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Product Gym offers all kinds of free resources and community support to help you get a Product Manager job with no experience. Schedule a free call with one of our career coaches to learn how Product Gym can help you land the product management career you’re looking for.

5 Common Backgrounds to Transition From into Product Management

Perhaps you’re not starting from scratch. If you have a role that is product-management adjacent, you might be leveraging different skills and strategies to make a career transition. Many professional backgrounds have directly relatable skills. Here are just some examples:

1. UX Design 

Coming from a UX design background can be an easy transition to make when taking up the responsibilities of a Product Manager. As a UX designer, you are tasked with maintaining tight schedules for deliverables and understanding how design impacts the user experience. Changing over to a Product Manager position will require an understanding of how product design impacts user experience, albeit at a strategic level.

2. Sales & Marketing 

Product Managers coming from sales or marketing can benefit greatly from their skills in those roles. Knowing how to convey a product’s value to a broad audience and creating marketing tools to target new clients can assist in formulating a cohesive product roadmap.

3. Data Analysis

Having data analytical skills is a core requirement for being successful as a Product Manager. With a background in data analysis, you can quickly sift through and evaluate data derived from product use, customer-centric design, competitors, price points, market share, and industry trends.

As a Product Manager, understanding and compiling vast amounts of data is necessary when formulating an effective roadmap.  

4. Engineering

For those becoming a Product Manager with a technical background, you will have the advantage of being able to liaison between engineers and stakeholders who may not understand all the technical jargon that the former uses. 

However, transitioning from engineering to product management necessitates a shift in attitude and a new way of looking at a product. As an engineer, you would have been tasked with conceptualizing new features and relaying these ideas to team members. However, as a Product Manager, you can use your acquired knowledge to communicate with engineers, focusing on prioritization.  

5. Project Management 

Aha!’ CEO Brian de Haaff said that to be a good Product Manager, you have to be a great project manager. While the two different job titles may confuse those unaware there’s a difference, coming into a Product Manager position from a project manager has a host of benefits. 

As a project manager, you most likely worked alongside a Product Manager, giving you insight into what is expected from a particular part of a product’s roadmap. By understanding your previous role to complete a project on schedule and budget, you can better plan for the future project managers underneath you.

How to Communicate Your Value Without Product Management Experience 

At the end of the day, how do you show a recruiter that you’re a good bet, despite your lack of experience in a Product Manager role?  Here are some tried and tested tips:

  • Build on your strengths. Having a strong skill set away from product management can help you stand out among your competition. In the role, these skills will compensate for what you are lacking and ease the learning curve.
  • Polish up your interviewing skills. A good impression is vital, especially when you need to win over the interviewer. 
  • Polish up your portfolio. Tailor your portfolio to show that you have successfully navigated Product Manager-like roles in your previous jobs, even if you haven’t held the title of Product Manager per se.  
  • Find out why a company is hiring. When you understand the pain points of the organization you are applying to, you can position your strengths to suit the position. 
  • Pose your outsider knowledge as an asset. Product Managers know all too well how fresh perspectives can improve a product, so make sure to highlight how your unique experience can enhance their team.
  • Do your homework. A recruiter will want to know what you are doing to get familiar with the role. Showing them that you are abreast with industry and company news and connected to people in the industry shows that you are passionate and willing to put in the work.

For more tips on how to position your past experience and pitch yourself, check out this video:

By transitioning into the role of a Product Manager from a different vertical or a different department, you also need to contend with the questions about the career change. This is where you can easily communicate your cross-department skills and how you can apply them to the new position. This illustrates the skillset you’re bringing with you and informs the interviewer that you know what will be expected of you.

Product Manager Career Path FAQs

1. Can You Transition into Product Management Without Experience? 

Yes, you can break into product management and become a Product Manager even if you have no product management experience.

As a Product Manager, you’ll be nearest to the action: directing the decision-making process and leading a product from conception to completion. This may seem like a tall order if you have no product management experience and haven’t been involved in the pipeline before. But it’s not impossible if you have the insight, organizational aptitude, and vision to improve a company’s product line.

Many successful Product Managers today also took the leap from different fields and disciplines. Just as there are a great variety of products out there, the variety of skill sets needed at different companies varies. Common paths into product management include: 

  • Project management 
  • Marketing 
  • Product design 
  • Engineering 
  • Consultancy 

2. Do You Need an MBA to Become a Product Manager?

You do not need an MBA to become a successful Product Manager. Having one can definitely help you have a framework for recognizing the effect of product decisions on the bottom line. However, getting an MBA is not the only way to acquire a business and financial framework. 

Obtaining an MBA will help you generate some skills and will provide networking opportunities. While these are decisive advantages of having an MBA, they’re not all-inclusive of the duties of a Product Manager.

As a Product Manager, many of your responsibilities will extend far beyond the scope of what an MBA provides. To the interviewer, having the right skills is usually more valuable than having a certification.

3. Is Product Management Right For Me?

Product management is often portrayed as a glamorous job with a high salary, especially in recent years with startup culture booming across the world. But beyond that, it is often a challenging and nerve-wracking job.

PMs are responsible for everything from decision-making to holding a team together. They’re held more responsible for product success than their teammates. In other words, before you try to break into product management, take an honest assessment of your motivations and consider whether you have the strengths to be good at the job. This leads us to…

4. What Skills Do You Need to Become a Product Manager Without Experience?

Here are some of the hard skills that those looking to break into product management should have: 

And then there are the soft skills. These are often underappreciated but are key to success as a Product Manager with no experience: 

5. Do You Need to Know How to Code to Become a Product Manager?

Short answer? No. Knowing how to code never hurts anyone’s career aspirations. Still, without writing a single line of code, a Product Manager can confidently bring a product from concept to market. It’s more important that you have the ability to direct and manage engineers and designers through the work pipeline while ensuring that the product is responding to the users’ needs.

Coding and prototyping can be a boon to your team. But it won’t be nearly as helpful as prioritizing tasks and collaborating clearly between teams across multiple lines of communication. That said, you must be familiar enough with the technology to have a technical discussion and translate it into layman’s terms for business people who may be stakeholders but aren’t as technically savvy.

Become a Product Manager With No Experience

How do you identify which skills you can use to market yourself? Better still, do you know which type of Product Manager role you want to pursue, and in which industry? We hope this guide provided you with a roadmap to getting started, but we know breaking into product management with no previous experience can still feel like a daunting task.

That’s why we’re offering free career coaching sessions to walk you through it. Our coaches are veteran Product Managers and former technical recruiters that specialized in recruiting for Product Manager positions. Reach out to us for your free coaching session: we’d love to answer any questions you still have.

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