Raquel M Smith

How to Position Yourself to Move into Product Management

I’ve had a number of aspiring PMs reach out to me recently to get advice about breaking into product management.

The first thing I typically talk about is positioning. You can be a phenomenal candidate for product management, but without proper positioning it is going to be difficult to break into the role.

Positioning, in this sense, is placing yourself in a good spot that will make the transition to product management easier and more feasible.

Positioning within a company

It’s easiest to get into product management by moving within a company to occupy more of a product role as opposed to applying blindly to a ton of open PM roles at different companies.

Most jobs are found via networking. Oftentimes your strongest network is found at your current job. They know you and they know the work you do. Hopefully they see that you do good work, and that’s a strong proposition for hiring into a different role.

Positioning & company size

It’s much easier to move from a sales / customer success / engineering role to a product role at a small company since roles tend to be more fluid at such companies, or at a large company with a track record of helping people move into product management.

Large companies that only hire experienced PMs into their very structured PM organization are going to be more difficult to do a more gradual migration over to product management.

You may need to make a lateral career move – eg. applying for the same position you’re now in – to get into a company that is going to be more conducive to opening up doors into product management over the long term.

Positioning & patience

It’s easy to get impatient, but careers are decades-long endeavors. Do the necessary steps and give it time.

“Giving it time” doesn’t mean “don’t do anything.” It means planning out a trajectory, understanding the steps involved, and actively but patiently working to make those steps happen.

Those steps might look like:

  1. Determine whether your current company will support a gradual move to product management.
  2. If not, move to a company that will, potentially in a role that you are currently more qualified for.
  3. Once in a spot where gradual moves to PM are more likely, intentionally seek out projects that enable you to flex your PM muscles. Make it clear to your peers and superiors that you are capable of great things as a PM.
  4. Ask your supervisor what it might take to be in more of a PM role. Do what he or she says, if it seems reasonable.

Those who burn out on the effort to get into PM are typically those who either 1) aren’t suited for the role, or 2) didn’t lay out the steps required and instead tried to “run before they could walk.”

Moving within a company was how I got my first product role. I showed an aptitude for critical thinking and problem solving and had a history of good work. Moving me into that role was easier than hiring from outside. People – and companies – will take the path of least resistance. Position yourself to BE that path of least resistance.

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