how to become a product manager (2024 Guide)

What Is the Career Path for a Product Manager?

BrainStation’s Product Manager career guide is intended to help you take the first steps toward a lucrative career in product management. Read on for an overview of product management career paths.

Become a Product Manager

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Product Managers are increasingly important to the product development process, and have been called the “unsung heroes of the tech world” and the “glue that binds user experience with technical and business requirements.”

Because they come from such a wide range of educational and work backgrounds, there’s no single pathway to becoming a Product Manager. And, as it’s a more senior position, many people migrate to product management in mid-career. In fact, according to the BrainStation Digital Skills Survey, 88 percent of Product Managers started their careers in a different field, such as marketing, engineering, business analysis, or general management.

So there’s no hard and fast rule—although, typically, someone entering product management will have some experience in UX, tech, or business. To help make the transition to Product Manager, it’s good to build a portfolio that can demonstrate your technical abilities. But that said, virtually any experience can be leveraged into product management once it has been supplemented with the additional skills a Product Manager needs.

How to Become a Product Manager

To help guide that journey, it may be helpful to think about developing your talents in three main ways.

Know your industry and develop a diverse skill set

Most Product Managers agree on one thing: it’s not an entry-level job. Many of the skills a good Product Manager requires—including management ability, problem-solving, interdepartmental teamwork, and decision-making—are born of workplace experience. It’s no surprise, then, that according to the BrainStation Digital Skills Survey, over 80 percent of respondents working in product management fill an intermediate position or higher.

In fact, leadership and interpersonal skills are perhaps the most vital requirements for the job. It’s often said that Product Managers work at the intersection of three fields—user experience, tech, and business—which may explain why so many Product Managers say they’ve been doing the work of a Product Manager since long before they acquired the title.

This is good news for those looking to make a career change. The role requires a number of transferable skills, with the ability to work cross-functionally among the most important. That facility for working with technically minded people and internal stakeholders, and a sense of how to move a product along, are at the top of the Product Manager’s skills pyramid, alongside a solid sense of industry trends and customer needs, and an ability to use problem-solving savvy to develop something people will want to buy, use, and support.

Commit to continuous learning

As we mentioned, there’s no university degree that can make you a Product Manager, no one-stop shop where you can instantly acquire all the skills you’ll need. Rather, you’ll need to be strategic and pursue the kinds of career opportunities that will ultimately lead to product management, taking on projects that will give you exposure to new sectors and opportunities to learn new skills. Part of this is about building out a broad base of technical aptitudes, and part of it is simply to gain an understanding of various facets of the industry through exposure.

Then, you’ll need to shore up those skills with additional focused learning. It may not be immediately obvious how the knowledge you’ve gained can be applied directly to the product development process. Certificate courses like BrainStation’s Product Management certification course will teach you how to focus your knowledge of the marketplace and intuition for trends into actionable product strategies.

Network your way to the top

It’s possible to find plenty of Product Manager roles on online job boards. But, many Product Managers say that networking inside and outside of one’s own company—be it inviting a colleague you admire out for coffee or attending a mentorship event—can also be a good way to break into the field.

In fact, networking may be the number one way to get word of your abilities—especially the hard-to-quantify ones—out there. Going to meetups, actively seeking out the right mentor, and soliciting insight on where your skills and experience (and resume) are weakest are crucial to burnishing your profile—and spreading the word about it.

Fortunately, there are plenty of solid meetup opportunities for budding Product Managers in most major cities. Use these as a two-fold opportunity for both networking and self-improvement. But remember the bottom line is that, while making industry connections and diversifying your skill set will help set you apart from the pack, there is no singular route to landing a job, and opportunities may be lurking where you least expect them—or where you make them.