What is the path to breaking into Product Management after self-learning and how easy it is to break into Product Management career?
Let us first understand the criticality of the Product Manager role and what are the expectations of a hiring manager. Product Manager roles are very critical to an organization as they own a product, so a bad hire costs them a lot and therefore every potential hiring manager will start looking for a good Product Manager. But how does a hiring manager can measure the reputation of any potential candidate as a good product manager? Invariably most of them pick the easy route at least to filter candidates for interviews from heaps of resume they receive for a job. Hiring managers are also risk-averse as the risk of hiring a bad Product Manager is really costly, much costlier than hiring a bad engineer. So hiring manager look for easy choices and pick candidates with an MBA degree from a premier institution or with prior PM experience from a reputed organization. Candidates with such profiles already come with a reputation of being a potential good Product Manager.
I don’t blame hiring manager for such policy. The probability of recruiting a bad candidate with such a policy is very minimal and it serves the purpose. In the case of self-learned Product Manager, there is a need to establish a reputation as being a potential good Product Manager. Otherwise, there is hardly any chance to even get called for an interview. It is up to self-learning Product Manager to walk the extra mile to create such a reputation. Honestly, there does not exist any single way to increase the reputation of any candidate as being a potential good Product Manager. MBA degree not only increases the reputation of a candidate but also throw lots of opportunities through a vast alumni network. So, another aspect that a self-learned Product Manager has to work is on networking to be aware of opportunities in product management.
Firstly, I would suggest for a self-learned Product Manager to pick an industry/domain that (s)he would target for a product management position. I would suggest picking an industry where (s)he already has experience. Product Management skills are mostly independent of industry/domain, but domain experience is definitely required. During career transition into PM roles, things might get little difficult even if the domain is also new. In a known domain, Product Manager can spend his/her initial day’s refining product management skills that were acquired through self-learning.
Domain experience from the perspective of the Product Manager is different from that of an engineer. When I indicated domain/industry experience, Product Manager should be able to create a mental map of where does the industry exists, what are its challenges, where is it poised to head, who are the players. But how does a prospective Product Manager showcase domain experience? Probably, writing articles about opportunities that the industry could offer. Those articles should highlight that you are aware of the industry and the potential it could offer. Please be aware that for certain industries (especially high tech), domain experience is much valued than real Product Management experience.
Yet, you still need someone to take you to the doorsteps of Product Management opportunity. So nothing works better than networking. If someone can vouch for your credibility, it increases your reputation of being a good Product Manager. So look for connects who can at least give you the initial push. It might often get tough to get a PM role in an organization that is alien to you without any referral.
As you start knocking PM opportunities, I can bet your initial 1 or 2 interviews might fail badly but then you will learn what is someone expecting from you. I would always ensure that I will never have my 1st or 2nd interview with the company that I would like to work if I am interviewing after a long time I would rather not take any chances with the company that I would like to work. But please be aware without those connects, it is tough to get the initial call for an interview. Another ideal option is to look for a transition within your company. Your organization knows you better than anyone else if you have a supportive manager put your intentions loud and clear. Unless you ask something, you will not get it.
Another aspect that is really important during the entire process of career transition is that highlight your strengths and draft a cover letter on how your experiences can help you deliver in your new role. Never be too honest to highlight explicitly that you don’t have PM experience but you will be able to learn on the job. Too much honesty is no good, I did that mistake. Hiring managers think that you are not confident once you drop those words. So your resume and cover letter should provide enough confidence that you are THE PERSON for the job.