The 4 Top Concerns About Getting Into Product Management and Why They Don’t Matter

The 4 Top Concerns About Getting Into Product Management and Why They Don’t Matter

Ben Staples

Ben Staples

Senior Product Manager, Nordstrom

So you’ve decided to become a Product Manager but have some concerns. Well my smart friend, you are not alone. Look on any Quora or Reddit community and you’ll find similar questions.

Here are some of the top concerns people have come to me with and why you shouldn’t worry about them:

Concern #1: I am not technical enough

One of my biggest concerns was, how do I make the switch from the marketing to the technical side of the organization when I don’t have any technology experience.

There are a few key points to remember here:

A. Not all PM roles are technical or need to be.

Yes, many tech organizations will only hire product managers that are former engineers who are sometimes even relied on to code. Other companies split Product Managers into two groups, technical and non technical.

Your key to success is understanding how each organization thinks about product, and for the specific role or opening, what kind of Product person are they looking for?

B. What is your background that makes YOU the special person your mother always told you you were?

For me, understanding how to truly re-frame my brand into key differentiators took a pretty intense conversation with my incredibly supportive manager at the time Stuti Jhunjhunwala. Stuti got me to realize it isn’t about what you don’t have, but really about what you uniquely bring to the table that distinguishes you from other candidates.

I had spent the weeks leading up to the interview for my very first Product role worried about how little I knew, and frantically trying to understand how all of technology works.

In reality what I should have been doing was thinking about my core competencies, and understanding what the hiring team was looking for so I could link the two together.

Not to brag, but when you’ve got a kick-ass ability to quickly build logical and easy to follow business cases, don’t discount that. Know how to read a P&L and effectively convey that message to your organization? Understand the business’s customer better than anyone and are you willing to be a strong voice and advocate for them in the organization? FLAUNT. THAT. STUFF. What do you have that others don’t?

C. You can always learn more and should use your passions to guide you.

If you are constantly curious about technology and find yourself always looking to learn more like me, pursue it. Learn more and become a bigger and bigger asset.

If however you find learning about your gaps in knowledge boring, dis-interesting, or painful to pursue, don’t worry and move on to something else to find your passion.

Concern #2: I don’t have any Product experience

If no one will hire you because you don’t have any experience, how are you expected to get any?! It’s true, you’re not going to be able to land your first Product role as the VP of product at a fortune 500 company with zero experience. That is not realistic.

But you can find opportunities. Don’t like a situation you’re in? Take massive action and do something about it.

Pull a play out of google’s handbook and take on a 20% project like I did. Get more experience in the field of your dreams while still delivering in your core role. Working a little more for the invaluable benefit of LEARNING never killed anyone.

Explore other roles or titles. In many organizations, Product Managers will have Associate Product Managers, Product Owners, Associate Product Owners or Business Analysts reporting into them or working on the same team. Often the requirements for these roles ask for a lot less experience wise than the Product Manager title, and you showing a strong interest in the product space will be a great indication to future teams that you are going to be passionate about the role.

Concern #3: I really want to get into product, but I don’t want to switch companies

The great news is, you don’t have to. And better yet, putting your feelers out for opportunities at your existing company can be a great litmus test to understand how open your organization / manager is to career positive change. This is one of the best ways to determine whether or not you’re working at a place that really cares about you.

Of course, getting into Product without switching companies will not always be possible. If however Product is your true passion and you want to find a way to get in with the highest chances, moving to a team or organization that offers promotion potential will definitely help!


Concern #4: I’m not in an agile organization, but it seems like I need agile experience if I want to be a PM, how do I do that?

This is the only one of these concerns that I personally don’t have experience with. Vistaprint was a waterfall based organization when I first joined, but the goal of transforming fully to agile quickly became essential for the company. Vistaprint quickly increased investment into their agile transformation, hiring agile coaches and starting to have different workshops and leaders pushing for change.

If you love your organization and don’t want to look for a change externally, you may need to find a Product adjacent role that will give you better chances in the future for a transition. Roles like this will mostly focus on either Project Manager or Program Manager titles.

Be careful; many program management organizations will be incredibly waterfall focused and teach principles that can often be counter to agile principles around timing for delivery, scope of work, etc. While these can all be adjusted to fit agile methodologies like scrum, making a distinction between the two could be very difficult to maintain over time.

About Ben Staples

Ben is a business results driven Product Manager responsible for the product page on Nordstrom.com (~25% of $15B in North America). Previously he was responsible for Trunk Club’s Native iOS/Android Apps (58% of $200m in the US) and Vistaprint’s cart & checkout experience ($1.7B globally).

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