Hi, I’m Sam! I have been a product manager for years and now I work as an industry mentor for the product, strategy, and operations track at Pathrise, where I help people land their dream job. Check out this article where I answer the question: What does a product manager do?
There are no standard product manager job descriptions, which means that current and aspiring product managers come from a wide range of backgrounds. Some have advanced knowledge in software engineering or UX design. Alternatively, others have expertise in business, economics, or sometimes something else entirely.
Because responsibilities for product manager roles are determined by company size, industry, and the product itself, it can be difficult to understand what product managers actually do. To help dispel any confusion you might be experiencing, we have outlined the most common backgrounds and skills that recruiters, hiring managers, and startups are looking for in potential hires so that you can become a project manager by landing a great job.
What educational background do you need to land a job as a product manager?
Many product managers have degrees in engineering, design, or business. Some common majors are computer science, product design, human-computer interaction, mechanical engineering, economics, and business administration. Others have studied marketing, public relations, statistics, advertising, management, psychology, and the humanities. Quite a few product managers have advanced degrees, especially MBAs.
Some companies, like Google, ask candidates to demonstrate their technical skills by taking an exam as a part of the application. Other companies and roles simply require that aspiring product managers demonstrate an understanding of important engineering, design, and business concepts.
Many aspiring product managers begin their tech career by working in operations, sales, customer support, or marketing. Some people jumpstart their product management career by interning at a major tech company or enrolling in a bootcamp (such as Product School or General Assembly) that teaches them the necessary skills to land a job as an associate product manager. By pursuing these additional experiences, people can add new experiences to their product manager resume and better prepare for interviews.
If you are currently looking for a job, make sure that you check out the best job boards for product managers. We have also created a list of 130 project manager interview questions so that you can approach your interviews with confidence.
What does a product manager do?
Product managers work at the intersection of design, engineering, and business. People who pursue product management careers help create a strategy, vision, and timeline for a specific product/project. They communicate with the product’s various stakeholders. These include customers, users, clients, designers, engineers, marketers, the sales team, and even the CEO. Product managers have expertise across many disciplines, which means that they must be ready to learn something new everyday.
Some product managers focus on driving the product to market, whereas others emphasize the engineering components. But no matter what the role entails, successful product managers strike a healthy balance between the two competing focuses.
What roles should I be looking for?
Job descriptions and responsibilities for product manager roles vary widely from company to company. In general, you should be looking for job positions with the following titles:
- Associate product manager
- Junior product manager
- Group product manager
- Product manager
Double check that your specific background and skill set match the qualifications that are listed in the job posting before you submit your application. To give you a better understanding of what skills and tools you need to land a job as a product manager, we have unpacked the role’s various responsibilities so that you can discover what product managers do on a daily basis.
Manage ideas and tasks
Product managers should have a good grasp of idea management and feature prioritization. This is because one of their main responsibilities is to allocate resources effectively and efficiently. They help decide which features are created, improved, or shelved. Product managers also work on how to incorporate feedback and user requests into new iterations of the product. As they rank features by importance, they consider trade-offs, such as cost and time.
Product managers make sure that no stone is left unturned as the team builds and launches a product. They must have strong attention to detail. Missing a small issue can lead to a major error. They are experts in task management and always keep a close eye on the team’s deliverables, both digital and physical. To ensure that the team stays on schedule and that the product is ready by launch day, product managers must have a good sense of how long it will take to build certain components.
Relevant tools: Asana, Jira, PivotalTracker, Rally, Trello, Scrum, Agile
Communicate with stakeholders
Even product managers without technical backgrounds must be able to talk about technical specifications with software engineers, developers, product designers, and for startups, founders and CEOs. If they fail to understand their teammates’ world and field, product managers risk losing their trust.
Working with the marketing, sales, and customer support teams, product managers also assist with managing discovery, public relations, advertising, shipping, and sales. Because they encounter so many different stakeholders, aspiring product managers must effectively manage various viewpoints. When making important business decisions, they need to remain self-aware and objective. Another important element of the role is effectively incorporating stakeholders’ ideas into the product.
Effective product managers are emotionally intelligent and approach complex interactions with tact. They are prepared to push their teammates to succeed, as well as fight for features that they think will benefit the user and improve the product. In addition to serving as a leader, product managers take orders, facilitate relationships, and work as an intermediary between many parties.
Relevant tools: Aha!, Confluence, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom
Evaluate user needs
Aside from creating a project roadmap, product managers think about how the product responds to the needs of the market. Like product designers, product managers conduct customer interviews and user testing. Using A/B tests, surveys, focus groups, and other methods, they identify users’ needs, behaviors, and design preferences. In addition, they create jobs-to-be-done frameworks and personas. These help them discover what a specific group or demographic wants in a certain product or feature.
Relevant tools: Helio, Clicktale, Hotjar, Optimizely, SessionStack, UserTesting, Validately, IdeaScale, Qualtrics, SurveyMonkey, UserVoice
Wireframe and prototype
While these are tasks that UX designers generally do, wireframing and prototyping are an essential step in the product management process as well. Low-fidelity wireframes help product managers and designers envision the path that users will take when using the product. High-fidelity prototypes closely resemble the final product, which allows product managers to run additional users tests and iterate further before taking the product to market.
Relevant tools: Balsamiq, PowerMockUp, Mockplus, UXPin, Solidify, Adobe XD (Experience Design), Origami Studio, Axure Webflow, Framer, Atomic
Assess the market
Like digital marketers and data scientists, product managers are responsible for making market assessments. They help set the pricing and revenue model for a specific product, as well as define and track success metrics. With an eye on the market, product managers conduct competitor research and think about consumer choices, ratings, reviews, and recommendations. Product managers are also instrumental in determining when to take their product to a new market, including international ones.
Relevant tools: Amplitude, Domo, Geckoboard, Google Analytics, Pendo, Mixpnale, Tableau
After conducting their initial user research and analyzing important market trends, product managers oversee that the company is converting their target audience into users and in most cases, paying customers. While conversion is important, product managers place a great deal of emphasis on retention rates as well. Many companies offer a trial period before they ask customers to commit to their product. During this time, product managers closely monitor which features are most liked by users. As soon as a product has a good number of users, product management teams can seek out further feedback and decide which features should be incorporated into future iterations. In doing so, product managers help the company succeed by delivering a product that meets users’ needs.
Relevant tools: Hopscotch, Inline Manual, Intercom, UserIQ, WalkMe
Pathrise is a career accelerator that works with students and professionals 1-on-1 so they can land their dream job in tech. If you are interested in optimizing your product management job search by working 1-on-1 with a mentor, become a Pathrise fellow.