I’ve been building digital products for nearly a decade now. A few weeks ago, a friend messaged me for advice on becoming a product manager. We chatted on the phone and then I realised that I’m asked this question so often that it seemed a good idea to condense my thoughts into an article. So, I did, and this is it. Starting with the most common question…
1. Which Training Course Should I do? Do I Even Need to do one?
This is usually the first thing I’m asked. Truth be told, I’ve never done a product-specific one. I’ve done courses in related areas like software development, marketing and project management but hold almost no formal certifications.
Are training courses worth it? Of course, if you’re genuinely doing it to learn something. If the certification will get your foot in the door with a company, even better – though any good hiring manager will care more about cultural fit and the projects you’ve done, according to a specialist recruiter I spoke to.
If you choose a training course then Mind The Product runs workshops led by industry experts. These carry no formal qualification but you can pay to take an exam elsewhere if needed. Then there are courses run by companies like Roman Pichler, Product Focus, Tarigo and more.
You should assess what the course offers against what you hope to do in your role. For example, if your company is heavily invested in Scrum then you might want to consider a course tailored to that.
2. How can I Meet Product People and Learn From Them?
Online forums and communities are great for this. I often use them to keep on top of the latest trends, ask questions, and to give and receive feedback.
Mind The Product’s Slack channel is great for product management stuff and jobs (this isn’t an advert for Mind The Product, I promise) and I use MakerPad to hook in with indie founders, creators and entrepreneurs – I find I get a lot from the different perspectives. Product Management HQ also has a well-established Slack community, though I’ve not tried it.
It’s worth checking out your local meet-ups too. A ProductTank in Brighton was about the best one I’ve been to. Just be sure to find one that suits your experience. There are some that cater for newbies trying to break into the field, whereas others cater for people with more experience.
I also always recommend reading Marty Cagan’s Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love to see how top product companies work. Marty’s blog is pretty good too.
3. How do I Find a job?
The story of how I landed my first product role is far from trailblazing: I started with my old company in 2012 as a business analyst when my boss decided that we needed “one of these product managers”. I put my hand up… and here we are.
My point is, it can be as simple as having a conversation with your boss and sharing your aspirations. You may be surprised; hiring product owners and managers seems to be higher on people’s to-do lists nowadays (just see this job vacancy graph for the UK).
If this isn’t possible (or your boss says no!) then there are plenty of other options…
I found one of my freelance jobs through a major job board, but they are tough. I get so few responses to job applications that I rarely bother with them.
Then there are product-specific jobs boards like Mind The Product Jobs. YunoJuno has given me a ton of cool leads for freelance product roles too – they tend to pay lower rates but you’ve got to start somewhere, haven’t you?
If you’re interested in a job that lets you work from anywhere, sites like We Work Remotely have product-specific categories. And for start-ups, there are sites like AngelList.
Don’t underestimate the power of LinkedIn. I don’t touch its job board, but if you properly optimise your profile then you’ll start getting more people coming to you with great job opportunities.
I paid a professional copywriter £200 to do mine and have since had leads for Google, McLaren Technologies and more land in my inbox.
Most of my jobs have come through personal referrals.
This is where going for coffee with old colleagues, asking friends for introductions, and all that good stuff comes into play. It’s a long game – on average it’s been a year between me getting an introduction and a job opportunity coming up – but it’s how I got my last two jobs.
4. How can I Gain new Skills?
My number one tip for aspiring product people – especially if you are struggling to gain the skills you need in your current role – is to go out there and just create something. It’s easier and cheaper than ever with the rise of “no code” tools.
For example, I recently created a vegetarian meal planning app with zero coding using Bubble.io and a couple of free tools. I did everything from the UX design and “development” to marketing, getting user feedback and even copywriting. (Read how I made the app here.)
Granted, it might not make you an expert in any of these things but it’ll help you sympathise with the people in your team who are.
Plus, the whole Lean Startup thing is all the rage right now so it gives you a genuine reason to try it out and add those buzzwords to your LinkedIn profile.
If you’re still not sure where to start, go get a copy of Pieter Levels’ Bootstrappers Handbook and follow the exercises at the end of each chapter.
Back to the friend I mentioned earlier…
A few days after we spoke on the phone, my friend messaged me again to say that “it’s looking positive. Discovered all you need to do is ask sometimes”.
It turned out that her boss was more than happy to send her on a training course (and pay for it). I think it shows that it can be as simple as having that conversation, asking a friend for an introduction, or whatever.
There is no one-size-fits-all-approach and what worked for me might not work for you. Rather, it’s about finding what does work and running with that.