Journey Into Product Management

Author: Mitali Pattnaik

Published to LinkedIn on 29th January 2018

Last week I had the honor of speaking on a panel hosted by Advancing Women in Product along with Deepika YerraguntaMargaret-Ann Seger, and Akshay Kannan. The ‘Journey Into Product Management‘ event had many aspiring PMs in the audience looking to transition into Product from roles in sales, marketing, operations, finance, and engineering. As a “PM lifer” I have been slow to realize how much confusion and misconception there is around the product management function, how one gets into a PM role, and what makes PMs successful.

I shared my experience and advice but learned a lot more from my co-panelists. Here is a collection of advice from the panel about transitioning into product from a different function:

  • 1) Start with exploring PM roles at your current company. Think of it as limiting the number of variables – you are already switching roles, it may be harder to switch companies at the same time. At your current company you have the advantage of being familiar with the business, the people, the customers, and the company culture.


  • 2) If you are considering other companies, look for places where your prior experience is an asset, not a liability. If you are a sales person moving into product, consider a sales enablement startup where your experience will be valued. Simply going down the Top 40 list of tech companies and startups is never a good idea in your job search. But it is especially ineffective if you do not have prior product management experience.


  • 3) Just start doing the job. Find a PM lead at your company who you want to work with or for, and see if she will let you pick up some small projects on the side. Very few people will turn away free labor. This is the best way to get a feel for the job and decide whether it is really what you want. It will also make you a lot more confident going into your PM interviews whether at your current company or elsewhere.


  • 4) If you’re early in your career and this is an option for you, definitely find companies with APM programs. APM programs at Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other lager tech companies are a great way to get a great grounding in product management, learn from multiple leaders, and work on a variety of products.


  • 5) Pick companies where your personal values align with the company’s core values. Regardless of your role you will not be happy or successful in the long run if you don’t have a strong alignment with the company’s culture and values. The best values are those that help you make decisions and break ties. One of our core values at LinkedIn is Members First. If we are trying to decide on a product that benefits the company or our advertisers vs. one that benefits members but may not be ideal for revenue, we will always go with the latter. Members first.


  • 6) Persistence pays off. One of our panelists spoke about trying to get into a PM role at her company for years before she got her chance when another PM went on maternity leave and she was asked to fill in. Fast forward a few years and she is running product for Alexa voice AI at Amazon. Don’t give up. If you don’t get through your first round of PM interviews, or if you don’t see doors opening up keep trying.


  • 7) Prepare and practice. As with any skill, interviewing for product roles takes preparation and practice. Particularly if you do not already have PM experience and cannot rely on that to get you through, you need to prepare for your interviews and practice as much as possible. Ask PMs at your company and other companies to share their favorite interview questions with you and if possible, do a mock interview with you.

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