I get asked all the time on how folks can transition into a product management career from say engineering, QA, sales etc. Here is my short answer – think like a graphics designer. If you have interviewed graphics designers, they always come in with a portfolio that shows the work they have done – wireframes, fully rendered designs, flash animations and different variations of it. Such portfolios gives the hiring manager or recruiter a true sense of the creative skills of the graphics designer. The discussion then quickly turns into what they want to do going forward, cultural fit etc.
If you are in engineering, QA or sales and want to move into product management, try doing what product managers do on your own time. Can you do a competitive analysis of your industry – this should not be difficult – after all you know who your competitors are. Search online to find anything and everything about them – their products, their business model, their customer support channels, what people are saying about their products, their marketing channels etc. Can you then put together a presentation on the competitive landscape?
Use every opportunity to get close to your customers. Participate in some customer calls with the help of your software product manager so that you can listen in to what customers are saying. How about writing a requirements document for a product feature that you think will enhance the product. Ignore for the time being whether there is a market for the feature, just write the document anyways.
Not only will this help you put together a software product management portfolio, but it will also give you a taste of what product management is all about. Product management is not for everyone, so why not taste it before you transition into it and then realize it is not your cup of tea.
If you want to be even more creative, then pick an industry that is not where you work. If you work in the semi-conductor industry, then pick the eCommerce industry. After all, I am sure you have bought something on Amazon or eBay or other like sites. Given that all of these are public companies, you will also have access to a ton of financial information.
Create a portfolio of what you have done and then make a case in your current company for a product position. Always do this in your current company – your current employer usually is more approachable for career transitions especially if you have demonstrated success in your current job. No one wants to lose a good employee.
So next time, you are thinking of sending me an email asking how you should transition, think about graphics designers first! I am always happy to get your emails and to help, but it is not as difficult as you may think!
Agree? Thoughts, comments?
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