How to Become a Product Manager: Skills, Requirements, and Career Guide
Are you a problem solver who loves building things? Do you have a passion for technology and a talent for communication? If so, you might be the perfect fit for a career in product management. Product managers play a crucial role in bringing new products to market and ensuring their success. They collaborate with cross-functional teams to define product strategy, design features and user experiences, and oversee the product development process from concept to launch.
If you're interested in becoming a product manager, this guide is for you. We'll walk you through the essential skills and requirements for the role, as well as the various career paths and opportunities available to product managers. We'll also provide tips on how to break into the industry and advance your career over time.
So, whether you're just starting out or looking to make a career change, read on to discover everything you need to know to become a successful product manager.
What is a Product Manager?
Product Managers are often nicknamed CEO's of their own areas, because they're expected to be absolute and complete subject matter experts (SMEs) for their product. PMs are tasked with identifying changes or features for the product that will help their users, communicating those in priority order to the business leadership, and tracking how they impact business goals. Product managers develop their own strategies to achieve this based on quantitative and qualitative data.
Product management is not usually an entry level role. Often it requires experience in one of the main 4 tech roles (UX designer, UX researcher, product analyst, project manager) to deeply understand the role the product manager plays. Becoming a product manager is not easy, but it is extremely rewarding to build products from the ground up and watch them succeed.
Product managers are often referred to as “generalists” because it requires lots of different skills and experiences to be effective. If the idea of juggling lots of moving parts and being responsible for a big section of a company sounds fun to you, read on!
Responsibilities of a Product Manager
What does a Product Manager do?
Two days are rarely the same as a product manager. Product Managers collaborate with each of the technical jobs to make sure everyone is equipped with the resources and guidance to do their best work.
Daily, a product manager can expect to collaborate with design and research to make sure the experience is being created as strategically as possible.
A product manager will work with developers to see the designs come to life on a website or application. They will also collaborate with analysts to monitor and analyze data to make sure their strategies are going according to plan. And finally, a product manager will work with a project manager by communicating timelines and making sure the team is aware of when business leadership is expecting the outputs.
Product Management Team Members
If you're unsure that product management is right for you, or looking for a sneaky way to break into the field (check this resource out too), check out the roles of a Product Analyst, UX Designer, UX Researcher, Project Manager, and maybe even get a little freaky and look at a frontend engineer. All of these are great onramps into product management, which is not normally an entry-level gig.
Do I need a degree to be a Product Manager?
Product Managers can come from all backgrounds. They're also a popular role for people with MBAs, though this is definitely not a requirement. Industry experience is actually much more relevant for a Product Manager, and it's popular as an inter-company movement.
Job descriptions will sometimes mention a requirement of something STEM related, but this is becoming less and less common. We recommend applying anyway, ESPECIALLY if you have industry experience. This is also a popular bootcamp role.
If you're new here to bridged, we're glad to meet you! We are huge fans of alternate forms of education, and recommend specific certifications to target skills. While this job works great with degrees, you have other options.
Associate Product Manager Programs
A popular way to break into product management right after college is to join an Associate Product Manager (APM) or Rotational Product Manager Program (RPM). Most major tech companies offer some sort of program spanning between 1-2 years, and often come with a full-time offer upon completion. Learn more about APMs here.
Our Favorite Product Management Certifications
Complete Guide to Becoming a Product Manager
LinkedIn Learning is free with a LinkedIn Premium subscription ($30/month). This class is great for beginners who want to learn more about product management basics.
Digital Product Management Specialization
UVA Sponsors a comprehensive specialization through Coursera. This program focuses on test and learn strategies, identifying and acting on customer insights, and running an effective product program.
Become a Product Manager: Learn the Skills and Get the Job
This class is great for learning how the role of a product manager changes based on company type and size. It also goes through lots of PM skills for a comprehensive class.
Salary and Career Potential
What is a Product Manager's salary?
Product Managers are usually not entry level positions, so their salaries reflect this. We've aggregated thousands of salaries across glassdoor and linkedin, and early career product managers can make anywhere between 90k-105k, depending on their location and skillsets.
Career Path of a Product Manager
Product management career paths can be super confusing, so we've written a whole piece on this here. But here's the short version for you:
- Product Manager, or Associate Product Manager: Spend about 2-4 years at each level here.
- Senior Product Manager: Spend about 3-5 years here.
- Group, Staff or Principal Product Manager: Spend about 5-10 years here.
- Director of Product: This one is tricky, but most folks spend roughly 4-6 years here.
Job Requirements and Skills
Popular Job Description of a Product Manager
We've used AI to aggregate the top job descriptions used by hiring managers looking for Product Managers. When putting your resume together, try to mimic these listings. To learn more about this process, check out our partner Jobscan for a comprehensive resume review.
- Conduct market research and analysis to identify customer needs, trends, and opportunities
- Define product requirements and specifications, and work with design and engineering teams to create prototypes and MVPs
- Develop and execute a product roadmap that aligns with business goals and strategy
- Communicate product vision, strategy, and progress to internal and external stakeholders
- Collaborate with cross-functional teams to ensure the successful launch of products, including go-to-market planning, pricing, and positioning
- Analyze product performance and customer feedback to continuously improve and iterate products
Top Technical Skills of a Product Manager
We've compiled thousands of job descriptions for Product Managers to record the most common requirements to save you time. While preparing for interviews, keep in mind specific times you've demonstrated these skills.
- Requirements gathering across teams and verticals
- Enhancing Product-Market Fit
- Track record of successful product execution
- Creation of design briefs and collaboration with UX/UI teams
- Knowledge of Analytics tools like Google Analytics or Amplitude
- Use of data to inform prioritization of team and company actions
- Roadmap creation and evangelisation internally and externally
- Writing user stories for development efforts
- Documenting product requirements and efforts in Confluence
- Familiarity of AB Testing + Optimization processes
- Deep knowledge of scrum processes in Agile like sprints, point systems, and refinements
- Ability to conduct and monitor user research in both qualitative and quantitative methods.
Top Functional Skills of a Product Manager
We recommend getting familiar with different types of customer questions if you plan to pursue a career in product management. If finding these answers seems interesting to you, read on!
- Excellent communication and leadership skills, with the ability to influence and collaborate with cross-functional teams
- Soft skills and team bonding
- Strong analytical, problem-solving, and strategic thinking skills
Top Tools of a Product Manager
We've also compiled the most common tools listed in job description. If you're serious about becoming an product manager, get familiar with these and be ready to talk about them.
For Data Collection
- Google Analytics
- Adobe Analytics
For Team Collaboration
For Design Engagement
- Figma (or FigJam)
For Engineering Management
Key Traits of a Successful Product Manager
Comfort with Ambiguity- Product managers often work in fast-paced and dynamic environments, where priorities and requirements can change rapidly. To be successful, product managers must be comfortable with uncertainty and able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. They must be self-motivated to solve ambiguous problems, and have the ability to manage their time and workload effectively.
Qualitative & Quantitative Research - Gathering data and insights is crucial to product management, as it helps inform product decisions and strategy. Qualitative research involves conducting user interviews, focus groups, and surveys to gain a deep understanding of user needs, preferences, and pain points. Quantitative research involves analyzing metrics and data to track user behavior, engagement, and other key performance indicators. Product managers need to be proficient in both types of research to make informed decisions.
Quick Decision Making - Product managers are often required to make fast, informed decisions to keep projects moving forward. They need to be able to weigh the pros and cons of different options quickly and decisively, while remaining calm under pressure.
Curiosity - Product managers need to have a natural curiosity and desire to explore and understand potential problems with their products. They need to be able to identify friction points and areas for improvement, and continuously look for ways to optimize and enhance their products.
Analytics Platforms - To be effective in quantitative research, product managers need to be proficient in using analytics platforms such as Google Analytics, Mixpanel, or Amplitude. They need to be able to extract insights from data, and use those insights to inform product decisions.
Collaboration - Product management is a collaborative role that involves working closely with cross-functional teams, including engineering, design, marketing, and sales. Product managers need to be able to bring out the best in their teammates and remove any blockers that may be hindering progress.
Empathy - User empathy is a huge part of building a helpful and cohesive product. You need to be able to understand where the users are coming from, and create solutions to address their problems. User empathy is essential for building products that truly meet user needs and solve their problems. Product managers need to be able to understand user perspectives and design solutions that are intuitive, user-friendly, and helpful. They also need to be able to communicate the value of their products in a way that resonates with users.
Get Product Management Experience
Learning on the job is one of the fastest ways to get familiar with new topics, and showing is much better than telling. Think about a net-new or existing product at one of your favorite companies. Think about different problems they might face, and think about how you might validate your hypotheses. What data would you need? Maybe design a rough wireframe for one of your designs.
Expert mode: use a website creator to write about something you're passionate about, and use Youtube videos or our recommended classes to learn how to implement free Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager. Then monitor your data and conduct some user research on your friends of what they'd expect to see with your product. Create a list of tasks to improve your product and have it ready for interviews.
Congrats! You've created your first roadmap. This is great content for a mini "portfolio" to talk about on interviews.
Relevant Product Management Experience
- STEM majors- anything math, science, or technology related
- MBA grads. The strategic thinking around problems and solutions lends nicely.
- Industry knowledge!
- 1-2 years in another technical profession- product analytics, ux research/design, or project management.
Some popular product management activities to get experience:
- Research! Think about what features are needed for your product. How many users will they affect? How much money could it make?
- Analytics! Working on identifying "user friction," ie. where do users have issues with the product? What's the most common path to conversion for users?
- Presentation! Think about how you'd show off your proposed product improvements--even if it's a fake product. Make a deck. Write about company "problems" and your proposed solutions. Show off how you used quantitative and qualitative data to make conclusions. (This is actually part of the interview process for many big companies. Be ahead of the curve.
Role Differentiators with Other Product Roles
Difference between Product Manager & Project Manager
Product managers are not normally entry-level roles, and require experience in another related field (design, project, research or analytics usually). Product managers work with a cross functional team to build or optimize their area, and ultimately take responsibility for the end result.
Product managers often have one or more a project managers on their team to make sure team tasks are done quickly and efficiently. Project managers can (and usually are) entry to mid-level roles. Project managers often can climb into product or program management, and is a very common stepping stone to break in.
We recommend breaking into project management if you wish to eventually become a product manager.
Difference between Product Manager & Product Marketing Manager
Another popular field of confusion is the difference between a product manager and a product marketing manager.
In short, product managers are in charge of owning the features and overall status of the product, and control prioritization of improvements and engineering efforts.
Product Marketing Managers have some overlap with product managers depending on company size and structure. But a good rule of thumb is that product marketing managers are primarily responsible for getting a customer to adopt and use the product. Some Product Marketing Manager tasks include campaign ideation and creation, competitive research, pricing analysis, and anything else that could impact how users find the product.
Recap: product managers build and release the product and it's accompanying features, while a product marketing manager is responsible for bringing the right users to the product and getting them to engage.
Difference between Product Manager & Product Analyst
Product Analysts are often stepping-stone roles to become Product Managers. Product Analysts & Product Managers work side-by-side. Product analysts supply the data and insights for the product manager to make informed decisions around the product.
Because so many product managers used to be analysts, some companies expect a product manager to perform both roles.
Types of Product Management to Learn
There are several different types of product managers. Sometimes at a small company, one PM will run several aspects, but if you go to a larger company it'll be expected that you niche down.
Technical Product Manager
A technical product manager is responsible for overseeing the development of complex and technical products. They work closely with engineering teams to define technical requirements and ensure that the product is built to meet the desired specifications.
Growth Product Manager
A growth product manager is focused on driving user acquisition, retention, and revenue growth in several types of markets. They use data analysis and experimentation to identify and implement strategies to improve key performance metrics.
Platform Product Manager
A platform product manager is responsible for building products that provide a foundation for other products or services to be built upon. They need to be able to design flexible and scalable platforms that can be customized for different use cases.
eCommerce Product Manager
An eCommerce product manager is focused on building products for online retail markets. They need to have a deep understanding of eCommerce platforms and technologies, and design products that provide a seamless and secure online shopping experience.
AI/ML Product Manager
An AI/ML product manager is responsible for building products that leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies. They need to have a strong understanding of data science and analytics, and be able to design products that deliver accurate and relevant insights.
Get Experience as a Product Management Volunteer
While it's tough to get 0-1 experience, there are organizations out there to help. Bookmark these orgs to search for UX/UI work to add to your product portfolio.
- Volunteer organizations: Someone way smarter than us came up with the idea to connect newbie designers with non-profit organizations who could use the help. Some of our favorites include Catchafire and UX Rescue. This is also a plus because it's a tax writeoff... but we aren't qualified to be giving financial advice!
- Hackathon teams: If you live in a city, odds are there are tech hackathon groups you can find with a quick google search. Even better if you're a student and near a university. If you live somewhere without a lot of tech folks, peruse hackathon.io apply for jobs!
- Spec work (that turns to real work): A popular term in the freelance industry is "Spec work often turns into real work." This is true for lots of different areas, but especially in UX. Go to local businesses and ask if you can help them solve some digital problems on their website. This can be a win-win-- you can get meaty projects for your portfolio, and maybe even get paid for some of it. Good luck!
Craft a Memorable Product Management Portfolio
We loved these tips here at Linkedin for getting familiar with the process of making a product management portfolio. While it's not required to have a portfolio (like it is in ux design/research), product managers who put in the work usually come out ahead because it shows hiring managers they have the ability to execute.
My Experience Acting as a Product Manager
Juan and I are both product managers by day, and Bridged is our passion project to help people like you break into tech. So, gather 'round for story time!
I started my career as a product analytics intern, which was already a stroke of luck. I mean, I was a theoretical mathematics student almost ready to dive into the world of math-heavy consulting jobs (yawn!). But as you may already know from my writing, I found my niche in AB testing and experience optimization because I loved crunching numbers. At that time, I was working for an agency that specialized in DTC e-commerce, and I quickly realized that AB testing, feature optimization, and measurement strategy were all key skills for a growth product manager.
I had to convince my boss to let me take on the role, which wasn't easy. It took almost a year of begging and pleading to officially become a PM, but that's actually pretty normal in our industry. In fact, most of the product managers I know have had to take a roundabout path to get where they are. Many of us had to start in transition jobs before we could make it to product management. So, what I'm trying to say is that the road to becoming a product manager can be quite windy, but it's worth the effort.
If you're interested in pursuing a career in product management, don't be discouraged by the twists and turns. Just like me and many others, you can make your way to your dream job with perseverance and resilience. Remember to focus on building the skills you need (maybe try Bridged?), whether it's research, communication, collaboration, or strategic thinking. And most importantly, stay curious and kind.
Get Started with a Bridged Recommendation
Review: Product Management Specialization by University of Virginia
Product management is a dynamic and rewarding field that requires a versatile skillset and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Whether you're interested in building products for consumers, enterprises, or digital platforms, there are a variety of product management roles to explore.
To become a successful product manager, you'll need to master a range of skills, including research, communication, collaboration, and strategic thinking. You'll need to be comfortable with ambiguity and able to make quick decisions under pressure. You'll also need to be empathetic and able to put yourself in the shoes of your users to design products that truly meet their needs.
By following the tips and best practices outlined in this guide, you can develop the knowledge and skills needed to kickstart your career as a product manager. Whether you're just starting out or looking to take your career to the next level, there's never been a better time to enter the exciting world of product management. So what are you waiting for?
Here at Bridged we are huge fans of stacking micro-certifications to achieve desired career results. We're building a product to make your career planning fun and affordable, and we'd love to talk to YOU! Was this article helpful? Did you land an interview for a product management role?
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Check out our sources!
Glassdoor Team. “Salary: Product Manager (February, 2023) | Glassdoor.” Glassdoor, 1 Feb. 2023.