Climbing the product career ladder

Part 1: A guide for associates, juniors, and product managers

Want to level up your product management career? Download this free guide for invaluable advice on how to climb the product management career ladder. Part one of this three-part series focuses on associates, juniors, and product managers.


In this guide, we’ll look at what’s expected at each level, what common challenges you may face, what skills you need in order to grow, and the key practical steps you can take to move up the career ladder.


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Part two (for senior, product lead, and product director roles) and part three (for head, VP of product, and CPO roles) are coming soon.



You can access the first three chapters on this page, or download the full guide here.

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It’s human nature to set goals when starting a new role or career, and many of you will currently be evaluating how you want your career to progress over the coming years. This three-part series aims to show product managers, wherever they currently are on the career ladder, how to reach the next rung.


The starting point for this series is a post written by Mind the Product Co-Founder and former Chairman, Martin Eriksson, in 2018 – Product management job titles and hierarchy. Martin sought to bring some clarity to the confusion around product management job titles, seniority, and hierarchy and his post has proved a consistently popular reference for the Mind the Product community.


With that post in mind, this series looks first at associate, junior, and product manager jobs, then at senior, product lead, and product director roles, and finally at head, VP of product, and CPO roles. We’ll look at what’s expected at each level, what challenges you might be faced with, what skills you need to succeed, and any practical steps you can take to move up the career ladder.


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Associate and junior product management roles

Starting out can be tough, but there are different ways to land a first job


This first guide has proved to be the hardest to pull together. While the product management discipline might be 20-plus years old, it seems that generally, businesses want to hire product managers, rather than start them off.


It seems that graduate awareness of product management as a potential career isn’t all that it might be, as Thor Mitchell, Head of Product, Developer Platform at Miro, explains. His interest in recruiting graduates as proto-product managers started around 2015 when he returned to the UK after a long stint working for Google in Silicon Valley where he’d worked with a number of “phenomenal” associate product managers. He was at a startup, looking to build a team, and had his pick of universities. He spoke to lots of highly talented STEM graduates but found that a product manager role didn’t resonate with them. “I had no trouble finding an experienced product manager, but found it really hard to recruit for entry-level jobs. Back then, no graduates knew what product management was. They didn’t recognise the job title when it turned up in a listing.”


Awareness of product management among UK universities has improved somewhat since then – Thor has done his bit to raise awareness by forging strong links with the Saïd Business School in Oxford, and Imperial College London, for example. He’s also given talks at ProductTanks, published a number of blog posts, and been interviewed on our podcast as part of this effort.




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Graduate trainee schemes and internships

If you’re at the start of your product career, where do you begin?


More specifically, if you’re just leaving university, where do you go? It can be tough to find a first role as a product manager if you’re straight out of university with no experience under your belt.


There are some internship and trainee schemes around for graduates. Some of the big tech companies run excellent graduate training schemes and paid internships, though they’re not necessarily for product management – you can find details of some of those who say they run product management schemes in this post, 11 product management graduate schemes. The best known, Google’s highly-regarded two-year graduate training scheme – the Associate Product Manager Program that Thor Mitchell mentions – has been running for over 20 years, but, according to Google’s published information, the programme only takes on only about 45 graduates a year, and we have so far been unable to discover how far it extends outside the US.


This post from Nikita Mallya, What I learned after bombing my Google APM interview will give you an insight into the Google hiring process, and this post, Google APM Interview: the Only Post You’ll Need to Read, is useful reading for anyone considering an application to Google or any other internship.


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Training testimonials

Does an MBA make a difference?

A career in product management is now a popular choice for business school graduates, as the Wall Street Journal and other business publications have noticed. Likewise, a few years ago US business schools began to wake up to the potential of the discipline and they are now awash with courses aimed at giving students a clearer path to product management careers in tech companies.


But MBAs are expensive to acquire and go in and out of fashion in tech companies. “You tend to find, especially with business school candidates, that they’ve bought into the mythology of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple, and they are the only companies they need to consider,” says Thor. “So I tell them that they’re making their lives very difficult if they confine their applications to these companies – the roles are incredibly competitive, and they’ve only got one shot at them, as these companies only hire graduates at certain times of the year.” Graduate schemes typically have a set period for applications, often kicking off in the September of the previous year.

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Download this free guide for invaluable advice on how to climb the product management career ladder. Part one of this three-part series focuses on associates, juniors, and product managers.

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Download the full guide

Download this free guide for invaluable advice on how to climb the product management career ladder. Part one of this three-part series focuses on associates, juniors, and product managers.

Download now