This is the fifth and final part of our series about breaking into product management:
Once you have the skills and credibility to get a role in product management, you need to find roles that you can apply for. Whilst this sounds like a fairly passive process, you can be much more proactive than first appears. Building a high quality network of other product managers will mean you:
- Hear about new roles opening up
- Can get advice and mentorship
- Get exposed to practical information and high quality resources
Furthermore, confidently developing and nurturing relationships is not only key to breaking into your first PM role, but is key to the job itself, so this is all good practice. There are three main ways to build your network:
- Getting involved in online communities
- Going to events in person
- Developing mentors
There are several online communities that serve product managers. These are great for asking specific questions, seeing what other people are talking about and finding in-person events to attend. They can also be a great source of reassurance if you are feeling down. Someone will have struggled with the same things as you before, and most of the communities are very welcoming and supportive.
Some online communities worth checking out include:
- Reddit’s product management channel has >100k users and is very active and welcoming.
- Product School has a Slack channel with >100k users
- The Hive Index has a directory of other popular product management communities
Additionally Medium, Twitter and HackerNoon have plenty of content and personalities, and often cover frequently asked questions in either long form pieces or threads.
10 Twitter accounts to follow to get you started:
- Shreyas Doshi
- Lenny Rachitsky
- Melissa Perri
- Teresa Torres
- Janna Bastow
- Gibson Biddle
- Sachin Rekhi
- Aakash Gupta
- Jason Knight
- Deb Liu
… or simply follow our list.
Meetups and free events are great for people just breaking into product management. You’ll typically get a talk from someone experienced in the craft, get to meet a bunch of like minded individuals, and be guaranteed there’ll be someone there recruiting – typically the speaker and/or whoever is sponsoring the event. It’s useful to get face time with recruiters and it’ll help with expanding your network. By going to one or two you’ll quickly pick up the events that everyone else is going to, and other resources and communities they have found valuable. Here’s a picture of me recruiting at a Meetup to prove the point:
Ways to break into Meetups:
- Follow the organizers and speakers on social media – they’ll likely mention other events they are doing in the future
- Check out ProductTank, Eventbrite and Meetup for local events.
- See what events are recommended in any online communities you are part of.
- Stick clear of paid for conferences until you have a clear idea of why you are going – they can be an expensive way of dipping your toe into the water
Developing some mentors is an extremely powerful way of advancing your career, as you’ll be able to get one-on-one time with them to get advice which is specific to you, and appropriate to the context they have developed over years. Finding a mentor can seem like a daunting task, but it’s much easier than it seems if you go about it the right way. Great mentors should be 1-2 levels ahead of you career-wise. If you’re getting your first PM job then a current PM will have much more relevant experience than a Director of Product, as the challenges you are facing will be so much closer to them, and the techniques they used will still be fresh in their minds.
You can find mentors through cold outreach, and get a good response rate on your messages (30-40%) as long as you do it the right way. Try the following elements (you can vary the order):
- Demonstrate your credibility – make it clear you’re someone with high potential that is worth investing time in. Make a personal connection for bonus points (e.g. shared school / background / interest).
- Flatter them – make them feel special by pointing out how much they specifically can help
- Smallest ask – ask them for something useful to you, but which they can answer in 2-3 minutes
I loved your blog post about UX research at Spotify. I’m currently a CS undergrad at Imperial and keen to become a PM. What is the best article you’ve seen on breaking into the industry?
- With some editing, you should be able to fit this into a Linkedin connection request (limited to 300 characters; the example above is 203 characters).
- If your response rate is lower than 20%, then rewrite your message and get some feedback on it from a friend.
Once you’ve got a response from someone:
- Thank them! Make it clear you appreciate their time.
- Leave it a little while, perhaps 1-6 months, and then follow up letting them know how helpful their last piece of advice was, and making a slightly larger request.
- Repeat this process, gently escalating what you are asking from them each time with a genuine ask for help, and you’ll soon build an authentic relationship.
If you have a network already in product management, it’s also worth asking them if anyone in their network is mentoring. A lot of more senior roles in technology do invest time in mentoring, are keen to help people get their foot on the ladder (after all, they did once), and might be actively looking to grow their networking pool. There might be internal company talks or events that you can wrangle an invite to. But be aware that this route is harder and longer than working your own network. However in general when looking to source a mentor, it’s good to ask around (smartly, as above) and keep on impressing on folks you’re keen.
“When you are looking for a job the best thing to do is to tell everyone, high and humble, and keep reminding them to please to look out for you. This advice is not guaranteed to find you a job” – Muriel Spark, A Far Cry From Kensington
You can maximize the number of opportunities you hear about, and get great advice on your journey into product management by building out a network of people already in the industry. Finding online communities and in-person events takes a little research, but shouldn’t be too difficult. The best advice and connections will come from mentors 1-2 steps ahead of you in their career, and you can develop these relationships with carefully phrased cold outreach messages.