At General Assembly, we know that embarking on a journey to become a product manager is a transformative experience. Being a product manager is a rewarding career path that combines strategic thinking, leadership, and problem-solving skills. 

Whether you’re transitioning from another role or starting a fresh, new career, this guide will help you navigate the steps to becoming a successful product manager. Let’s dive into the key skills you need and the actionable steps you should take to enter this dynamic field.

Essential Skills for Product Managers

Communication

Effective communication is crucial for product managers. You’ll need to gather feedback from stakeholders, convey your vision to the team, and ensure everyone is aligned with the product goals. Being a great listener and an articulate speaker will also help you succeed in this role.

To hone your communication skills, practice active listening, engage in public speaking opportunities, and learn to tailor your message to different audiences. Clear and concise communication can bridge the gap between diverse teams and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Leadership

As a product manager, you’re the driving force behind your product. You must motivate your team, make difficult decisions, and lead by example. Strong leadership skills will help you inspire your team to achieve their best work.

Developing leadership skills involves more than just giving orders. It requires empathy, the ability to inspire and motivate, and the capacity to make tough decisions under pressure. Consider taking leadership courses, seeking mentorship from experienced leaders, and actively seeking feedback to improve your leadership capabilities.

Analytical Skills

Data-driven decision-making is at the heart of product management. You need to analyze market trends, user feedback, and performance metrics to make informed choices that drive your product’s success. Proficiency in data analysis tools can give you an edge.

Enhance your analytical skills by familiarizing yourself with tools like Excel, SQL, and data visualization software. Take courses in statistics and data analysis, and practice analyzing real-world data to draw meaningful insights. The ability to interpret data accurately and use it to inform decisions is invaluable in product management.

Problem-Solving

Understanding and solving customer problems is a core responsibility of a product manager. You need to identify pain points, brainstorm solutions, and work with your team to implement them. Empathy and creativity are essential for effective problem-solving.

To improve your problem-solving skills, engage in exercises that challenge your critical thinking and creativity. Participate in hackathons, take part in design thinking workshops, and always approach problems with a user-centric mindset. The ability to see problems from the user’s perspective can lead to more innovative and effective solutions.

Project Management

Managing the product development process requires excellent project management skills. You must ensure that projects are completed on time and within budget while coordinating with various teams. Familiarity with project management methodologies like Agile can be beneficial.

Gain project management experience by leading projects in your current role or volunteering for additional responsibilities. Learn about different project management frameworks, such as Scrum and Kanban, and understand how to apply them in real-world scenarios. Effective project management ensures that your team remains productive and focused on delivering high-quality products.

Steps to Become a Product Manager

Gain Basic Product Management Knowledge

The first step to becoming a product manager is gaining foundational knowledge of the world of product management. You’ll want to learn and explore how product managers use leadership and versatility to launch products people love, as well as understand key tools and techniques for testing, designing, and improving products. Our Product Management 101 online course is the perfect opportunity to discover the role and responsibilities of a project manager and get a walkthrough of the fundamentals of the product management process.

Research Users and the Industry

Understanding your target audience and industry trends is vital. Conduct user research, stay updated with market developments, and analyze competitors. This knowledge will help you make informed decisions and identify opportunities for innovation.

To conduct effective user research, utilize surveys, interviews, and usability testing. Immerse yourself in industry publications, attend relevant conferences, and join professional networks. Staying informed about the latest trends and user needs positions you as a knowledgeable and forward-thinking product manager.

Learn About the Project Management Process

Familiarize yourself with the project management lifecycle. Learn about different methodologies, tools, and best practices. This knowledge will help you manage product development more effectively and ensure successful project delivery.

Consider obtaining certifications in project management. These credentials not only enhance your resume but also provide you with a structured approach to managing projects. Understanding the intricacies of project management is essential for coordinating cross-functional teams and ensuring that projects stay on track.

Take Product Management Courses

Enrolling in product management courses can provide you with structured learning and practical insights. Look for courses that cover essential topics like product strategy, user research, and roadmap planning. Certifications, like those from General Assembly, are recognized by most employers and can set you apart from your competition.

We offer comprehensive courses in product management. Our courses include real-world projects, allowing you to apply theoretical knowledge to practical scenarios, as well as many opportunities to network and connect with fellow students and industry pros.

Look for Ways to Solve Problems in Your Current Role

Even if you’re not in a product management position, you can develop relevant skills by tackling problems in your current job. Volunteer for cross-functional projects, lead initiatives, and seek opportunities to apply your analytical and leadership skills.

Proactively identifying and solving problems in your current role demonstrates initiative and problem-solving abilities. Look for inefficiencies in processes, gather feedback from colleagues, and propose solutions that benefit the organization. Taking ownership of projects and driving them to success can position you as a natural fit for product management roles.

Create a Portfolio

As with most tech roles — a solid portfolio is a must. Showcase your product management skills and experience by creating a compelling portfolio. Include projects where you’ve led teams, solved complex problems, or successfully launched products. Highlight your contributions and the impact of your work. Even if you’re just looking to break into the field, having a portfolio shouldn’t be overlooked. 

Your portfolio should demonstrate your ability to manage the entire product lifecycle, from ideation to launch. Include case studies that detail the challenges you faced, the strategies you employed, and the outcomes of your efforts. A well-crafted portfolio not only highlights your skills, but also tells the story of your professional journey. Even if that journey is just beginning, be sure to tell it well.

Complete a Product Management Internship

Gaining hands-on experience through an internship can be invaluable. Look for internships that offer exposure to different aspects of product management. This experience will help you build a network, learn from seasoned professionals, and enhance your resume.

Internships provide a unique opportunity to work alongside experienced product managers and gain practical insights into the role. Seek internships at companies that align with your career goals and offer robust mentorship programs. The connections you make during your internship can be instrumental in securing a full-time position in product management.

Building Your Career as a Product Manager

Networking

Building a strong professional network is essential for career growth. Attend industry events, join product management communities, and connect with other professionals on LinkedIn. Networking can open doors to job opportunities and provide valuable insights.

Join online forums and local meetups focused on product management. Participate in discussions, share your knowledge, and learn from others. Building relationships with industry peers can lead to job referrals, collaborations, and mentorship opportunities that accelerate your career growth.

Continuous Learning

The field of product management is constantly evolving. Stay updated with the latest trends, tools, and best practices by reading books, blogs, and attending workshops. Continuous learning will help you stay ahead in your career.

Follow thought leaders in product management on social media and subscribe to industry newsletters. Participate in webinars and online courses to keep your skills current. The willingness to learn and adapt is crucial for staying relevant in a rapidly changing field.

Gaining Real-World Experience

Start by taking on smaller projects or roles that allow you to develop your product management skills. As you gain experience, aim for more challenging and high-impact projects. Building a track record of successful product launches will boost your credibility.

Look for opportunities within your organization to lead product initiatives. If such opportunities are limited, consider taking on freelance projects or contributing to open-source projects. Real-world experience, regardless of the scale, is invaluable for demonstrating your capabilities as a product manager.

Mentorship

Seek out mentors who can provide guidance and support as you navigate your career in product management. Mentors can offer valuable insights, share their experiences, and help you avoid common pitfalls.

Identify potential mentors through professional networks, industry events, or within your organization. Approach them with specific questions and a clear understanding of what you hope to gain from the mentorship. Building a strong mentor-mentee relationship can provide you with the knowledge and confidence to excel in your role.

Certifications and Advanced Degrees

While not always necessary, obtaining certifications or advanced degrees can enhance your qualifications and make you a more competitive candidate. Consider pursuing certifications in product management, project management, or relevant technical fields.

Pursuing continuing education opportunities can provide a deeper understanding of business strategy and management principles. Evaluate your career goals and determine whether additional education aligns with your aspirations. Certifications and degrees can complement your experience and demonstrate your commitment to professional development.

Staying Adaptable

The tech industry is dynamic, and the role of a product manager can vary significantly across organizations. Stay adaptable and open to learning new skills and technologies.

Embrace change and be willing to pivot your strategies based on new information. Adaptability is a key trait for product managers, as it allows you to navigate uncertainties and drive continuous improvement. Staying flexible and responsive to industry trends will position you as a forward-thinking leader in product management.

Becoming a product manager is a fulfilling career path that offers the opportunity to shape products and drive innovation. By developing the essential skills, gaining relevant experience, and continuously learning, you can pave the way for a successful career in product management. Take the first step today and start building your journey toward becoming a product manager with one of our Product Management Fundamentals Workshops.