As the title says, how do/did you land your first job if you don’t have a technical background? I’ve been lately interviewing for a PM position in a mid-sized company <25 people. How would you land this job?
Get referred by someone who already works there.
I had a lot of experience in the restaurant space. Was a POS geek, ended up using a platform that I later pulled. During the breakup call with the platform, I had a ton of feedback for them about the product and ended up getting a job offer.
I started out more as a hybrid between account management and sales, taking on a very consultative approach to clients. Learned the product really well then ended up getting promoted to product manager from there.
It’s been amazing, and I’ve learned a ton, but still in hardcore catch-up phase trying to understand basics of system design/architecture, learning SQL, APIs, and so much more. It doesn’t help that there are no other PMs to learn from, but I work closely with the devs and ask lots of questions when I can.
I had taken a Udemy course on scrum mastery prior to starting that was helpful though.
@JesusRojas, I also came from the restaurant space! I had been managing bars/restaurants for like 8 years, was in school for business admin. The pandemic happened so the place I was working transitioned me into doing all their social media/marketing, so I’d still have a job while they were closed. I switched my major to tech management as that seemed a little less vague than just my business admin degree. I got a PM internship at an f100 company which was mostly luck. Years of honing people and communication skills have absolutely helped though. I’m also not completely un-technical, I did learn how to code (basic web dev stuff), which also has helped in understanding context in a lot of things. I also got a certificate in User Experience from the local community college. In short, I was kind of all over the place but generally have gotten good feedback that people like my background in business/UX/marketing.
If no experience, go get experience in a Junior PM/APM or BA role
@PaulineFrancis, How do you get a junior PM/APM role? Even those require experience nowadays
+1 for BA to product. That was the route I took personally. It’s also incredibly beneficial as I gained some practical “technical” skills (SQL/EXCEL/AWS/Data Visualization) which many of my peers lack.
Other roles first. Support, technical writing, UI. Then as opportunities arise jump in and get your feet wet.
Gain experience in an adjacent role in the same industry. Ideally one where you build a solid understanding of the problems customers face. Then transition to a PM role where the company is willing to invest in you learning PM stuff and the process of how software is built.
If by technical skills you mean hard skills like coding then those won’t be needed for the majority of PM jobs.
@NathanEndicott, This. I spent over 10 years in sales and transitioned over to product two years ago when the business was looking for someone with sales expertise and passion for capability development to help lead teams building new sales capabilities.
Having domain expertise has been immensely helpful and it’s been a fun challenge learning the product side.
If you’re in a big company a path could look something like this.
(Let’s say you’re in HR… youre an HR pro who loves HR software)
- Start to really geek out and get passionate about the technology behind what you do in your day job. Become a go-to SME, build relationships with and take on extra curriculars for the teams who run them.
(Now you’re an HR software operational owner who loves the tech projects enhancing it)
- Get a position running/operating that technology. Get passionate about how to enhance it and the broader tech strategy behind it. Take on being “the business” in as many tech projects you can and build relationships with the tech strategists.
(Now you manage a facet of the HR software product(s) and love reading about and implementing product management best practices to the degree you can)
- Take on a position in tech strategy or product management in your area. If you don’t think they take enough of a PM lens to it, take tons of training/certification and read tons of books and apply those concepts to your day to day job yourself - in fact, start that right away)
(Now you switch industries. And become a PM in SaaS for your HR vendor, other software, FAANG or wherever else you wish to)
- At this point you’re opportunities will have opened up. You’ll have both the resume, job title and the interview skills / experience to get a job and pivot to whatever flavor of PM you want to be.
What color is your parachute could be a good one to read the cliffnotes on. A crazy career move is often a collection of half moves that happen naturally because of your interests and exposures. You can’t really fake the passion and competence though. You’ll need to be passionate about technology and whatever youre doing at the time even if you’re not at your end goal yet.
Even though you are not asking how I did, I guess responding how I did is one of the ways to land it.
I had around 8 years of user acquisition and performance marketing in general. Started to shift towards innovation and back-office tools while still in the marketing team (measurement, analytics, new integrations, new advertising opportunities, new formats, tools built internally for the team…)
After a couple of years, I approached the CPO and asked for an opportunity, and it was well received. Had a 3-month period to prove myself and then got the full-time position as PM.
I’ve always kept an eye out for “leapfrog” positions during my career to help me get to the roles I wanted. For example, let’s say you work at a bank, but knew you wanted to work in technology. Find a banking start up that needs retail banking expertise. Get your foot in the door. Then, it’s just a matter of skill acquisition/applying to external jobs that get you closer to the desired role.
I took an ops role at an early-stage startup. You learn all sides of the business at this stage. After earning some trust with the leaders, I made it known that I was interested in product. We didn’t have a PM on the team and so I sort of turned my ops role into a cross functional PM role (by compiling a list of needs on the business and customer sides and meeting regularly with a dev). Eventually, we grew and the need for a PM grew, and I was able to easily shift into a role I had slowly been gaining access to. After that it was a complete shit show and now, I question myself at least once a week. It’s a love-hate relationship.
The best way is to move to an adjacent role in the product org (Product analyst if you can) and then move to a PM role from there.
That is not an option for everyone, only a select few make it. There are a lot of startups that are solving for this now, upraised is one of them that helps you get the knowledge as well as the job
I consider myself a non-technical PM. I moved into Product because of deep industry experience related to the product. I’ve also built up a lot of design/UX experience from doing wireframes for years as I didn’t have a product designer. I feel that industry experience for a complex product (generally mean B2B or B2G), is really the key to moving into a product role. I then went back and have over time filled in PM basic knowledge through courses, training, and books.
Project Manager to Delivery Manager to Scrum Master to Product Owner to Program Director to Product Director. Anywhere from marketing agencies to huge Fortune 25 companies to startups. I got around and never turned down a chance to get outside of my comfort zone and try something new. My first title was associate project manager.
It took about eight years to get to product owner and another 5 to hit product director. It can be done. Just be ready to put in the work and learn.
They say PM is like the CEO of a product. CEOs don’t necessarily need to be technical, but they need to be experts in their space and have the ability to get work done. More specifically, you need to “have the ability” to become an expert in the space. That said, showcasing your ability to learn quickly is very important. PMs do things no one else wants to or can do. You have broad visibility into so many things and it’s your job to listen to customers and be able to provide good data to help influence your product.
PMing for me allowed me to pull out all my skills from our family restaurants, my failed businesses, small jobs, general knowledge based on my interests, past tech experience, and so much more.
I’ve never met two PMs with the same exact background so there’s a lot of room for diversity.
Get some good books on PM and study, do practice/mock interviews, and try to get some level of technical knowledge and experience in the domain/role your looking to interview for.
@DhirajMehta, Thank you! This is encouraging. I’m kinda “a Jack of all trades” person, dabbled in a bit of everything. PM is a job that suits me, but I find it hard to land a job considering all jobs posting require a substantial amount of work experience.
This leads me to my next recommendation then… interview as much as possible. Work on your resume, interview skills, and technical capabilities. If you can get a few low level PM interviews lined up, it will surely help you prepare for the more difficult interviews. I feel like it’s not something you can just pick up without feeling the pain and pressure to get a sense of the questions and identifying your gaps. Get as much feedback as possible. Iterate, adapt, try again, and repeat til your successful.
Tryexponent.com is a pretty good resource, I’m sure there are others. If you know any PMs directly or through others, go talk to them, mock interview, get a feel for it.
I don’t think this role is for everyone, but for someone who is comfortable with ambiguity and can take ownership and responsibility, it’s a really one of the coolest roles out there imo.
I started elsewhere in the company—in my case, technical support—and learned all I could about our problem space(s), our customers, our product, etc. I didn’t just answer phone calls, I got involved in our user community and built a little brand outside of pure support. Then I befriended a few of the product managers who were willing to take me under their wings and teach me a bit about how product management works at our company. With those things in place, all it really took was patience, waiting for the right opportunity to open up.