Becoming a product manager sucks.
Being one is pretty great, but the road there can be quite intriguing.

After talking to dozens of aspiring PMs in recent weeks, I decided to try and help bridge the gap between the inexperienced future PM and the position they so desperately want.

I think I know how.

 

TL;DR

Looking for your first job in product management?
Fill this Google Form and I’ll try to help-
goo.gl/forms/bgNv2R9MBJPBdOvk2

More context below.

I recently did an analysis of 1,000 product managers in the US, to find out what do product managers study and what’s the common career path for becoming a product manager.

You can read the full thing here, but there are 2 main takeaways regarding how to become a product manager:

  1. Less than half of product managers have a technical education.
  2. Only 11% of Product Managers started their careers in product management.

Let’s focus for a minute on #2.

Only 11%. That’s super low. That means that only 1 out of 9 PMs started their careers as PMs. Here are the most common first jobs among product managers that I saw in my analysis:

25% Developers
11% Product managers
8% Analysts
6% Marketing managers
3% Founded their own companies
3% Researchers
2% Customer support
2% Salespeople
2% Consultants
1% Project managers

first jobs

Theoretically, when looking at these numbers, it seems there’s room for optimism. It seems that the aspiring PMs can rest assure that all roads can lead to product.

But it’s not that simple.

For example, when searching for product management jobs on Linkedin, there are practically no open jobs that don’t require prior work experience.

Here are the open positions I was offered, broken by level of experience and geography:

After I published the post, I was approached by dozens of wannabe PMs, all with the same question- “Now what? How can I actually become a PM?”.

Smart people. Motivated people. All with no experience, and they’re stuck.

stuck

They’re stuck because almost all product management positions demand work experience.

Something in the system just doesn’t make sense.

If everyone’s just looking for experienced PMs, what can the inexperienced future PM do, other than bribe, blackmail or whore their way in?

It appears that not much, but here are the ways I’ve seen-

Three ways to get your first product management job:

1.Know someone who knows someone who’d be willing to give you a chance.

(BUT you need to know someone)

2. Work at a company doing something else, then convince them to give you a chance in product. It’s less of a risk for them if they at least know you personally.

(BUT it’s a big risk to only rely on your current company to be willing to make a PM out of you. It’s even a bigger risk to move to a new company, hoping that one day they’ll be willing to move you to product)

3. Start your own business or startup, be your own product person and gain experience (that’s what I did)

(BUT don’t ever start a business only to one day become a PM for hire. I don’t need to explain why, right?)

If you have more tips on getting the first product management job with no experience, do share with us in the comments below!

Another thing worth mentioning is that I know there are product management classes here and there, but I highly doubt it can replace the demand for work experience, in the current way companies look for product people.

So we’re back to square one- what can the aspiring PM do?

Before we go into that, allow to first share with you what I look for in a product manager when I interview for my team, ordered by importance-

1. A fully functioning brain
It’s the one thing you can’t compensate for. Working with super smart people, who get it fast is the single most important thing to me. I need someone who’s sharp.

2. Motivation
You need to love what you do. You need to care and to make everyone involved care. You need to be excited about the matter at hand. Excited about creating something new. It’s easy to tell right away if the person who’s speaking to you is all in, and it affects everyone around them for the best.

3. Always be learning
You need to be curious. Doesn’t matter if you’ve been doing this kind of work of 3 weeks or 14 years. Embrace the fact you don’t know nearly enough. Always read, always ask, always improve.

4. Independence
You need to be the master of your domain, and you need to act like one. I’ll always be there to help and point to the right direction as much as needed, but the ultimate goal is to make me feel useless. I need someone I could, with time, trust 100% to get things done.

5. Know your users
You need to get the pains and needs of our users. That’s super critical for you to later know what to prioritize and how to build things. You need to either have experience in our kind of product (either as a client or as a product person), or to convince me you’re that much of a genius that you could learn it. Fast.

6. Know how to be a PM
Understand the work processes, know what’s the best way to get something done, how to speak to stakeholders, how to get feedback from clients, how to write a PRD, how to structure a product roadmap and how to break it down into the right size pieces.

 

The irony is, that most companies usually demand work experience only regarding #6. Which is BY FAR THE LEAST IMPORTANT (IMHO…).

Not only that, but as a potential candidate, there’s no way for you to search for a job based on any of the other criteria.

That’s just plain stupid.

It’s time to fight stupidity.

After getting so many emails from talented people who just want a shot at becoming a product manager, I decided I want to try and help.

I decided to do the following-

1.Write this post (done).

2. Ask of you, people who want to be PMs but have no work experience as PMs, to fill the simple google form below, where I ask you about everything other than your experience as PMs – goo.gl/forms/bgNv2R9MBJPBdOvk2

3. I will contact you and ask you some questions to get to know you better.

4. Armed with candidates I personally believe in, I will approach companies looking for PMs, explain them why they’re doing it all wrong, and try to connect you guys to them. Instead of focusing on what you lack, it’s time for the conversation to be about what you do bring to the table.

Sounds simple enough.
Probably won’t be.
Worth giving it a shot.

 

So, just one more time-

Looking for your first job in product management?
Fill this Google Form and I’ll try to help-
goo.gl/forms/bgNv2R9MBJPBdOvk2

Looking to hire a product manager and you’re smart enough to try a new approach to filtering candidates?
Fill this Google Form and I’ll be in touch – goo.gl/forms/XycEIUwdk4r9KTG92

 

One final request-
Please also share this with your friends and colleagues.
The more people we have on board, the more power we have to make a change.

Thank you.