Why You Should Hire an Associate Product Manager

APM (Associate Product Manager) Programs were a mainstay of the tech industry, especially in Silicon Valley, and were a reliable entry point for aspiring Product Managers. However, thanks to the pande…yeah that thing…most of the biggest and most prestigious APM programs got put on hold.

Even before the world went nuts, the APM job role got a little bit lost. It seemed as though companies were reluctant to add an APM role to their org chart, and many candidates found themselves hitting the experience role. “Entry level” APM roles popped up all over LinkedIn, all asking for at least 2-4 years of PM experience.

With the tech industry picking itself back up after the events of 2020, it’s high time we give APMs the TLC they deserve. If you’re a product leader, you should absolutely consider hiring an APM into your organization. We’ll go over what you should expect from an APM, what you should offer them in return, and why they can be pivotal for your product.

Are you an aspiring Product Manager looking for advice on getting an APM role? Check out: Everything You Need to Know About APM Programs

What Is an Associate Product Manager (APM)?

An APM role is the first step on the Product Management career ladder. APM programs enjoyed a heyday in the United States, especially in San Francisco. Also known as Rotational Product Managers (RPMs), the role is created as a way of giving recent graduates and young professionals a hands-on education in Product Management.

APMs aren’t just there to watch and learn, they’re valuable team members who can expect to do anything from building ML models to interviewing users. In large organizations they can be rotated through several different teams, to give them exposure to as much of the PM world as possible.

In a typical program, such as Google’s, an APM is given several entry-level PM tasks that teach them the ropes and introduce them to how product teams operate. It can be a long term commitment, usually going up to 2 years, but they can also last a semester of college or a summer.

Applications aren’t only open to new grads and students. APM positions have been instrumental in many a professional’s transition into Product, regardless of age.

What an APM Can Do For You

What the programs provide to the APMs they hire is obvious, as they get training, mentorship, and their first critical step in their PM career. But what can an APM do for you?

APMs can provide crucial support for Product Management teams, especially at pivotal moments in a product’s lifecycle, when you need as many hands on deck as possible. If your more senior Product Managers are in desperate need of support, but hiring a fully experienced Product Manager would lead to having too many cooks in the kitchen, an APM can pick up some of the day to day activities of a PM. This can be a huge relief and lighten the load.

APMs come from more diverse backgrounds, and can therefore help to diversify the perspective of your product team. If you’re building a product for everyone, then it needs to be built by everyone. Even if your product serves a very particular niche, it’s likely that your current Product Manager employees have already drunk the Kool-Aid. Having a steady stream of APMs makes sure you’re always in reach of a fresh perspective.

When to Hire an APM

If you have the budget to add to your team, and you’re ready to give your existing Product Managers some extra support, that’s when you should consider hiring an APM.

But creating an APM program isn’t as straightforward as hiring someone and throwing them in the deep end. APMs expect mentorship and on-the-job training, especially as they’ll be taking on tasks they’ve never done before. Yes, they’ll be of great assistance to your teams, and even have the potential to join them as a fully-fledged Product Manager after their program has ended. 

But onboarding, training, and looking after an APM is no small thing to add to your team’s plates. Once you’ve identified the teammates who would most likely be taking care of an APM, talk to them about how much bandwidth they have. This will help you understand whether an APM program will be more of a help or a hindrance.

Hiring Candidates with No Product Management Experience

There remains, sometimes unnecessarily, an apprehension towards hiring people with no previous PM experience. This has led to a rather frustrating chicken-and-egg problem. How are you supposed to get Product Management experience, if you need experience to get a job?

Only hiring PMs who have previous experience is a requirement for some companies depending on the makeup of their current team and the stage their company is currently in.

But for many PM roles, what’s more important are the skills needed to get the job done. As Product Management sits at the intersection of so many disciplines, many diverse professionals from all kinds of backgrounds have the potential to be incredible Product Managers.

When it comes to hiring APMs, you should be looking for people who are taking their very first steps into Product (that’s kind of the whole point after all!), so you should instead be looking for core skills and attributes.

You might also be interested in: Product Managers and Technical Skills…What’s The Deal?

Things to Look For in APM Candidates

The number one thing you need to look for is passion. One of the risks you run when posting an entry level position, is that some will see it as an opportunity to try Product on for size. While there’s nothing wrong with that, there are those out there who are hungry for a job in Product Management, and those are the ones who will benefit the most from the role. They’re also the ones who have the most potential to grow into incredible Product Managers.

You should also be looking for an entrepreneurial spirit. If someone doesn’t have PM experience, do they have startup experience? Have they ever built something for themselves?

Then of course there are some of the typical job roles that transition very nicely into Product Management, as the skill sets dovetail together. People with experience in Engineering, Design, Project Management, Marketing, and Business Analysis will have something to bring to a PM role.

But while hard skills are nice, it’s the soft skills that really make for an excellent Product Manager. Great Product Managers are strong team players, are able to work well under pressure, and are excellent at balancing competing priorities and working to deadlines. They’re leaders, who are capable of influencing without authority, and use storytelling to get alignment from their teammates. Looking for someone with these core skills will help you find the all-star APM candidates that’ll bring the most to your organization.

APMs will be doing a wide variety of tasks, so someone with a can-do attitude, who is willing to take feedback and constructive criticism with a smile on their face, and who is hungry to roll up their sleeves and get to work will be just as valuable as anyone with previous PM experience.

Elements of a Successful APM Program

Compensation

Let’s get the money talk out of the way first. The average salary for an APM in the USA is $82,000 in 2021, according to Glassdoor. One of the mistakes some smaller companies make is treating APMs like an internship. The biggest offenders ask for years of PM experience, whilst offering only the minimum compensation. That’s the wrong way to approach an APM program.

APMs should not be considered as drains on your resources, but talented and valuable professionals who are there to do good work. 

Structure

Having a decided structure for your APMs and how that position works within your organization will provide clarity for everyone involved. Unlike other full-time employees who are hired indefinitely, you may need to set a decided end-date for your APMs.

There are a few key decisions to make when building your APM program structure.

  • Who will be responsible for the APMs?
  • How long will an APM program last?
  • What compensation can we offer?
  • Do APMs get the same benefits as FT employees? (Company laptop, healthcare, etc)
  • How will we measure the success of an APM?
  • Will they rotate through different teams or stick with the same one?
  • Are we in a position to hire the APMs we like as full-time PMs?

Make sure the expectations of an APM role are clearly set out. It’ll help your APM candidates understand what’s expected of them, and it helps your existing teammates understand their new resource.

On-the-job

A successful program will play to the strengths of the candidate, but broaden their horizons by offering a cross-functional experience. For example, if your candidate is a UX Designer looking to make the transition, you can absolutely capitalize on their design knowledge and show them how design skills can benefit a PM role. But if you have them with you for a year, don’t keep them stuck with the designers the entire time. Give them the opportunity to develop and flex the other product muscles they may have by also allowing them to work with sales, engineering, and marketing.

How Can I Find APM Candidates?

Once you’re seton opening your team’s hearts up to a new APM, you need to figure out how on earth to find them!

Of course, you can always put a job posting up in the usual places (AngelList, Glassdoor, LinkedIn, etc), but as we’ve said before, you’re primarily looking for passionate people. So we recommend going straight into Product Manager communities and looking for them there.

For example, the cream of the crop of aspiring Product Managers will be attending the Product Career Fair, where you’ll be able to meet them via our networking sessions. You can also post your shiny new APM job posting in our Slack community.

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