Always looking for a way to improve a customer’s experience? You might want to consider applying for product manager jobs. Here, three pros share advice for getting started.
The hip new job that every business wants to have on board? Product manager.
Glassdoor.com recently named product management one of the highest-paying in-demand jobs, with a salary that can easily exceed $100,000.
The role can vary greatly based on the industry and specific organization, but the overall goal is to investigate and drive the product development process. And it’s not just a job for startups — established businesses are rethinking their methods of customer acquisition with the help of product managers.
As demand for this line of work continues to grow, it’s worth asking what today’s students and recent grads should do to prepare themselves for product manager jobs. Here are tips from three top-notch product managers: Aurelien Poma of Telefonica, Jason Wong from Atlassian, and Gregg Johnson of Salesforce. (Click here to tweet these tips.)
Getting started as a product manager
Product managers come from diverse backgrounds. These three are no exception with backgrounds ranging from community management to web development and software engineering. But their reasons for pursuing a career in product management were similar.
“I love how tangible and long-lasting it is to build software,” Johnson said. “There is something really rewarding about putting your heart and soul into something, and then seeing people use it on a daily basis.”
In his first product management roles, he dove in to understand the full scope of the projects he was working on.
“In my first product management gig in 1999, we were building algorithms for generating personalized financial advice on the Internet,” said Johnson. “I found the best way to work with our engineers was not to just write down a set of logic — but actually to prototype it so that I had a functional model. I taught myself Visual Basic and began coding on a daily basis to build and refine what was effectively our ‘specification’. That experience helped me understand the details of our algorithms with far more depth and nuance and build credibility with the engineering team with whom I was working.”
Most valuable skills for product managers
When it comes to be being a fantastic product manager, there’s no doubt having a technical background can be helpful. But when asked what the most valuable skills were, all three of them pointed to communication and other soft skills.
Product management ultimately means understanding and balancing the needs of the business alongside the customers –- both prospective and existing –- using the platform. “Represent the customer not in the room,” Wong said.
“The critical skill for me is to be able to understand what the team and communities need,” Poma said. “Then I have to prioritize these features, document them and organize them for our development team.”
It doesn’t stop there. Johnson said it’s equally important to effectively manage all stakeholders’ expectations.
“You need to manage expectations internally on a constant basis, to help people envision the future while also ensuring that the rest of the organization doesn’t get too far out ahead of your ability to deliver,” Johnson said. “And ultimately, at most companies, the engineers who design, build, test, and document your software don’t work for you directly — so your ability to motivate, energize, and challenge that team is absolutely critical to success.”
Planning for success in product management
As the role continues to evolve, success is all about your ability to jump in, get your hands dirty and adapt early and often.
Wong stressed the importance of keeping an open mind until you fully understand the scope of the problem you are solving.
“Understand what’s going on before you start making decisions,” Wong said. “Listen and don’t give too many opinions or be too up-front early on.”
Poma encouraged all product managers to stick to their values and remain honest through and through:
“I would always recommend people to be honest and transparent. It might not pay off straight away but it will in the long term. Always.”
Even beyond the world of product management, that’s some solid advice.
Are you hoping to land a job as a product manager? Why does this type of work appeal to you?
Jessica Malnik is a community builder, content creator and all-around digital strategist. Her work has been featured in a variety of online sites and publications, including Convince and Convert, PR Daily, Spin Sucks, SocialFresh, 12Most and CMXHub.