Unlike some career paths, there are no higher education courses specifically designed to prepare students for a career in Product Management. However, there are a number of steps you can take while a student to prepare you for a career in Product Management.
As a graduate you are likely to share a similar set of qualifications to your peers. Consequently you need to find ways to differentiate yourself from other candidates.
Because Product Management is a multidisciplinary leadership role, participate in activities that broaden your creative, technical, and entrepreneurial skills, and demonstrate initiative. For example, contribute to a student newspaper, enter a photography competition, participate in a Startup Weekend, join a debating society, start a Student Enterprise, or act as President or Treasurer for a University Society.
Develop your technical skills
As Product Managers spend a lot of time working closely with software developers, the larger technology companies tends to focus their Product Manager recruiting on students studying Computer Science or Software Engineering.
Although formal qualifications in these fields are not essential to becoming a Product Manager, a foundational set of technical skills will open up more opportunities. If your degree is in other fields, you can develop these skills in a number of ways.
A Masters degree is the most intensive (and expensive) option. In addition to those in Computer Science, there are an increasing number focused on Entrepreneurship, such as the UCL Technology Entrepreneurship MSc, which develop a lot of skills relevant for a Product Manager.
Another option is a 12 to 16 week developer "bootcamp", such as those offered by Makers Academy, General Assembly, or Founders & Coders. In addition to building valuable skills, attending a bootcamp also demonstrates initiative, and will help set you apart from other candidates.
There are also a number of sites that offer online training in software development, including Code Academy, Khan Academy, and Udacity. Be sure to publish your work online, such as on GitHub, and participate in online communties such as Stack Overflow, in order to demonstrate your skills and experience.
Consider an internship
Some technology companies, including Google and Shazam, offer Product Manager internships in the U.K. An internship is a full time paid position offered to students for 3 months, during the summer break between academic years. Interns that perform well may be offered a full time position, or a fast track application process after graduation.
Find the right full time position
If you are soon to graduate, and are interested in full time Product Manager roles, you should focus your search on positions described as Associate Product Manager, Junior Product Manager, or Graduate Product Manager. Because graduates do not normally have Product Management experience, you should apply for roles that are targeting graduates, and will therefore provide you with the training and mentoring you will need.
Larger companies offer dedicated graduate recruitment and training programs for aspiring Product Managers. Examples include the Google APM program, and the Facebook RPM program. These programs run for 18 to 24 months, and include rotations through multiple product teams, specialised training, and travel opportunities.
Companies that do not hire graduates directly into Product Manager roles may instead hire into other entry level positions from which they offer a career path into Product Management. It's not uncommon for Product Managers to move into the role having started their career as a Product Analyst, Software Engineer, Designer, Business Analyst, or Project Manager.
Be aware that because the role of Product Manager is still relatively new (particularly in the U.K.), the nature and expectations of the role can vary considerably from one company to the next. In some cases the role of Product Manager, as described on this site, may exist under an alternative title. For example at Microsoft, the role described here as a Product Manager is known as a "Program Manager".
The nature of the product that you manage (mobile app, backend infrastructure, physical product), and the audience to which it is offered (consumers, businesses, or developers) has a large impact on your day to day activities. When applying for a Product Manager position, familiarise yourself with the product concerned, and ensure that it suits your interests and skill set. Note however that large technology companies may not recruit Product Managers for specific positions, but instead place successful applicants into product teams only once they have joined.
Prepare for your interviews
Interviews for Product Manager positions can span a wide variety of topics, including product design, analytical skills, technical skills, and business strategy. There are a lot of great resources online that provide examples and advice for tackling a Product Manager interview, particuarly on Quora. In addition, How to hire a Product Manager by Ken Norton is essential reading, while Cracking the PM Interview offers a more comprehensive and detailed guide. You can practice interview questions using thepminterview.com.
When participating in an interview, try to remember the following:
- Stay calm and take a breath. After hearing each question, pause to plan your answer. Don't be afraid to ask for a moment to think.
- Ask clarifying questions. An important aspect of Product Management is understanding the problem space in full. Be aware of any assumptions you are making and check them with the interviewer.
- Have a conversation. Remember that this is not an exam. The interviewer is trying to determine whether you will be good to work with, so it's important that you build up a rapport with them.
- Think out loud. Talk the interviewer through your thought process. Show them how you go about tackling problems. This will also ensure they can help you if you have misunderstood the question.
- Show your strengths. Look for opportunities to demonstrate what you can offer, and embrace them. Be passionate about topics that interest you.
- Enjoy yourself. Remember that the interviewer is not your adversary. It's tough to hire great Product Managers, so they want you to do well. If you don't enjoy the interview, you probably won't enjoy working at the company!