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What to Expect as an Associate Product Manager

Many Product Manager roles require at least a few years of experience. Many people, especially recent graduates, fail to qualify for most of these roles. But where they may fail to qualify for PM roles, there are Associate Product Manager positions they’re perfect for. An Associate Product Manager program is probably one of the best options out there to get into the product management field with no prior experience. But if the path is different from becoming a Product Manager, how do you become an Associate Product Manager?

In this post, we’ll dig into what the Associate Product Manager job looks like, how to determine whether or not it’s right for you, and if so, how to become an Associate Product Manager. We’ll also give you an idea of what to expect on the job.

What Is an Associate Product Manager Program?

Never heard of an APM before? Landing an Associate Product Manager job is one of the most common paths to becoming a Product Manager. It’s an especially helpful transition if you’re coming into the industry with no previous experience.

If you are new to the concept of Associate Product Manager programs and want to learn more, check out this first-hand account:

In this video, Chris Beck — a Product Gym senior member and current Product Manager at GoodRX — relays his experience getting into product management through an Associate Product Manager program.

Is an Associate Product Manager Job Right For You?

There are some great benefits to becoming an APM. More often than not, you will be paired with Director of Products, or Product Leads. This gives you hands-on experience, mentorship, and weekly check-ins with people with great influence. The APM program is great for you if you’re ready for a cross-functional role — one where you’re selling yourself and optimizing your personal branding.

Remember: you may be ready for an Associate PM role, but you’re not always going to get the first role you apply for. That’s a general rule that applies just as much to Associate Product Manager jobs as it does to any other. Don’t be discouraged; stay resilient. Make sure that you’re learning from your previous errors from interviews you had and keep in contact with the organization so that you can get feedback.

Going into he APM job hunt, it’s also important to temper expectations of the wage you’ll be receiving. You don’t want to sell yourself short, but setting your expectations too high could limit the APM roles available to you.

Is an APM Program Right for New Grads?

Can you go right from graduation into an APM program? An Associate Product Manager role is a great option for new grads. However, because of your lack of experience in the workforce, you’ll need to take care to appeal to the organization you’re applying for.

There’s this belief that you need a degree rooted in technology, but that is not the case. You need the ability to empathize and have a human-driven approach. How you frame your experience, your education, and your extra-curricular activities all add to how appealing you are as an Associate Product Manager hire.

How to Become an Associate Product Manager

There are three main ways you can become an Associate Product Manager:

1. Make an Internal Transition

If making an internal transition is a possibility, then this could be the most efficient way of achieving the APM role. The job hunt can be similar to the pressures and constraints of an actual job, so if you can work towards an internal transition instead of an external search, you are saving yourself the hassle.

The main advantage of the internal transition is the familiarity. In many ways, you’re already a subject matter expert in your industry. You know the company values, the problem that your product is trying to solve, your customers, and how your team works together.

However, the downside of this method is that someone can be promised this internal move, but then it never happens. If you move into an Associate Product Manager role, it means your company needs to hire someone to replace you in your current role. This can be a major barrier to your internal transition.

So what can you do to avoid it? Ensure you’re removing any friction by informing your employer of your intention and desire to move into an APM role. If that means finding someone to fulfil your role, then do that work. You must ensure that this internal move is beneficial for both you and the company you work for, or they won’t agree to it.

Most importantly, set yourself a deadline. There’s only so long you should continue to do the same work and use the same method without making any progress. If you hit your deadline and you’re still where you started, it’s time to try and become an Associate Product Manager another way. 

2. Apply and Interview for Associate Product Manager Roles

If the internal move is not an option, then the traditional job hunt is your next best choice. You’ll need to perfect your cover letter, optimize your resume and LinkedIn profile, and prepare your personal elevator pitch.

You should know that when it comes to Associate Product Manager jobs, there are fewer positions available in comparison to the number of PM roles available. You may need to do some digging into companies and research into job boards to find a good amount of positions to apply for.

As with the internal transition route, give yourself a time limit. Whether that be six months or twelve, if you’re not successful, it’s time to get some help. Our career coaches are always available to answer your product management job hunt questions. Schedule a free coaching session if you need a hand getting your job hunt off the ground.

3. Aim for a Product Manager Role

As we mentioned, there are fewer APM roles to apply for compared to the Product Manager roles you’ll find out there. If you have been unsuccessful with trying to become an Associate Product Manager, ask yourself if being an APM is really the right career move for you.

You could be limiting your competencies and possibilities by aiming for such a specific role. Do you have the previous experience, the education, or the skills to be undertaking a Product Manager role? You might be surprised to learn that you’re underselling yourself. If you’re waffling between Associate vs Product Manager roles, take 5 minutes to check out this video by Chris Beck:

What Does an Associate Product Manager Do?

Prepare yourself for your transition into an Associate Product Manager program by getting familiar with the demads of the role. There are five main elements you should expect when you’re looking to become an Associate Product Manager:

  1. Understanding Product Requirements
  2. Researching the Product
  3. Questioning the Process
  4. Creating Internal Resources
  5. Maintaining Close Contact with Senior Leadership

1. Product Requirements

The first expectation, and perhaps the most important one, is understanding and communicating product requirements.

As an APM, you will have a more detailed view of the product than your Product Lead. It will be your responsibility to figure out the details and how they fit into the bigger picture. You will be expected to know what situations your user may encounter or the possible problems that the product might run into.

This is an excellent opportunity for you to learn the inner technical workings of product. You’ll gain the tools and knowledge to work with an engineering team to deliver and enhance the product at a lower level.

2. Researching

The second factor to expect is researching the product. You may think research is more of a Product Lead task, but your knowledge about the product should always be on point: you are the second set of eyes.

Research doesn’t have to be only external and customer-facing. Many internal scenarios require an in-depth thought procedure. This is where you come in as an Associate Product Manager since you will be expected to know the nitty-gritty of the product.

Examples of your research items might include how many more queries would be added to the product to incorporate a new feature or how many more users would be acquired with a given modification.

Research is an excellent opportunity for you to work your critical thinking muscles. Your inquiry will focus on how a particular feature might impact the way customers interact with it.

3. Questioning

This leads to the third item on your list, which is questioning. Because you are the second set of eyes on the product, your team will look up to you as the person who knows the product inside out.

Being the subject matter expert on the product is an excellent opportunity for you to shine, especially among the senior leadership. They will turn to you when they need to assess the success of the product. Your questions will determine the product roadmap and lead the building process.

4. Internal Resources

Your questioning process will lead to internal resources creation, which will be the primary material for sales and marketing. You’ll need to create internal resources so that the salespeople and customer service reps can evangelize the product that you’ve designed. Furthermore, your resources will help clients can get the most value out of what you create.

Creating these resources in a clear and concise way is also critical because you want the whole team to understand the product thoroughly. You should also be able to pinpoint your audience and have a clear understanding of the how and why of the product. This way, the resources you create will be positioned for the target market.

5. Close Contact with Senior Leadership

As a resource creator and subject matter expert, you should expect to be in very close contact with your product head. This last expectation is common to Product Managers as well. As an Associate Product Manager, this brief amount of time you spend with the seniors is precious.

Not only will you be asked for your research, observations, and suggestions, you will also have the opportunity to ask questions and receive mentorship from them. This is the golden opportunity to get feedback, and so the main activity you should be doing here is listening! Your seniors will assess your product management practices and suggest improvements.

Land Your Associate Product Manager Role

Starting a job with a great understanding of what to expect from the role is essential, and it will put you ahead of your colleagues. Now that you know what to expect from an Associate Product Manager role, get out there and start working towards your career goals!

Still, have questions about APM programs? Schedule a free consultation with us today to learn more about the product industry, product management job hunting, and how to land the job offer. We’d love to answer any questions you may still have.