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Product Manager Qualifications: What Do You Need as a First-Time PM?

Understanding the Product Manager qualifications you need to start your career can be a daunting task. Not only is the role itself often not well defined, but the path to build your Product Management career is not defined either. There is no degree in Product Management (at least that I have heard of).

However, if working as a Product Manager is something that you have decided you want to do, there are certainly qualifications that you can work towards — regardless of the current role or experience you have. In this article, we will be touching on a few of those qualifications and the truth behind the requirements to break into product management. 

What Education Do You Need to Be a Product Manager?

The number one mistake that I see people making is thinking that there is a certain degree or field of study that will definitely lead to a Product Manager role. That is simply not the case.

The main degree folks think you may need to be qualified to become a Product Manager is a Master of Business Administration or MBA. While you will expand your knowledge and develop expertise that may help you as a Product Manager with any advanced degree, the only educational requirement for a Product Manager role is usually simply a Bachelor’s Degree.

There are a few exceptions. Some larger companies do actually require MBA degrees; Amazon for example highly favors MBA graduates for their Product Manager positions. Another exception you may encounter is requiring a technical Bachelor’s Degree, in Computer Science for example, to apply for the role. This could be the case for some Technical Product Manager roles or roles where the product is a bit more technical than other products.

I know for myself, when I decided I wanted to pursue Product Management, I initially debated applying to MBA programs and taking that route. Ultimately, I decided against it after talking to friends about their own experiences and weighing the costs of an MBA program. MBA and other advanced degree programs can be extremely costly, and I took that into consideration when making my cost-benefit analysis to just pursue Product Management with industry experience as opposed to additional educational experience.

What Work Experience Does it Take to be Qualified?

Another common area of confusion is understanding what work experience you may need to start your career in Product Management. Like a lot of career paths, there is not a one size fits all approach to breaking into Product Management.

The most important factor is developing the relevant skills in your current role — or through internships if you are a student — to build up experience. There are times that positions do require a specific number of years in a specific role to apply for the position. However, for your first Product Manager role, it would probably be best if you apply to junior roles calling for up to two years of experience.

I know a lot of people often encounter the chicken and egg problem when trying to start in product management. Even roles that only require one year of Product Manager experience can appear difficult to land if you have never had Product Manager experience. The solution here is to demonstrate that you have the skills required for the role, and have developed those skills over the course of your career so far. Product Management work can and is often done in roles that do not have that exact title.

In the same vein, what exactly Product Managers do in their roles differs drastically between companies and industries. Therefore, do not worry about not having the Product Manager title on your resume when trying to land your first Product Manager role. 

What Mindset Should You Have Going In?

There are a few common misconceptions about what it is actually like to work as a Product Manager that you will want to make sure you manage before you start interviewing and definitely before you start working in the role.

For example, the Product Manager is not the “CEO” of the product. CEOs often have full dominion over decisions that are made. If that is your sole approach to the role, you won’t be in a great place after a few months of working with your team. The Product Manager is the one responsible for bringing together stakeholders and driving collaborative decisions to make sure that the best product possible gets built.

The Product Manager role is often a thankless role. Often, when everything goes perfectly with a product release, no one says congratulations or thank you to you and you are actually the one sending those thank yous to everyone else who made the success possible. However, when things go wrong, it somehow is on your shoulders. I think of this as true leadership. A true leader has ownership, and so problems are yours to manage while success is something you share with the team. Being a Product Manager means being a leader, not just a boss.

Product Management is interesting, challenging, and engaging. It is also a lot of hard work and responsibility. The entire team, organization, and sometimes company is depending on your leadership to drive the outcomes of the product. With a mindset of humility, collaboration, dedication, and positivity, you can definitely conquer this role and be a great Product Manager.

What Product Manager Qualifications Are “Nice to Have” but Not Necessary?

As we discussed previously, there are a lot of skills and experience that can be a great addition to your application or interviews but are not disqualifying if you do not have them. 

Of course, there are a lot of positions that certainly will lend themselves better than others to developing Product Manager skills and experience on the role. Working in the technology industry is certainly a plus. Working in product related roles such as Engineering, Marketing, Data Scientist, Project Manager, Designer, etc. may give you more insight into the role and more product related experience. However, I have seen many folks from customer-facing roles such as Sales and Customer Success absolutely crush their Product Manager goals because “soft” skills like communication, leadership, customer awareness, and stakeholder management are almost as if not more crucial to being a successful Product Manager than product related skills. 

There are generally pros and cons to each position and type of background, and the most important thing to do is to highlight your strengths and the ways you have developed Product Manager skills, while being self-aware of your weaknesses to potentially develop those more in your current role or to show commitment to learning and growing in those areas in your interviews.

Do You Have the Product Manager Qualifications You’ll Need?

Overall, there is a reason that the Product Management role is so coveted. It is a challenging but engaging role where you get to step into the role of a leader for your team every day. Although there is not a standardized path to achieve this role, the information above is a great start to crafting your own path to Product Management. Programs such as Product Gym not only expand on the information in this article but provide you with tactical strategies and a roadmap to navigate through the vagueness of a role like this. If you want concrete help, definitely get in touch with Product Gym and take advantage of their lifetime membership access.

 

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