It’s exciting to think about getting hired for your first Product Management job. After all the interview prep, the weeks and months of trying to break into the industry, you finally got the position. What’s next? You have your entire career in front of you, and it’s up to you to decide where you want to take it. Here is how to create your 5-year career vision (scroll to the bottom for your template!).
Why should I set a career vision?
You wouldn’t start working on a product without a product vision and roadmap. Why should your career be any different?
No matter what, your career path will take some kind of form. But there’s a difference between having a career and having the career of your dreams. With a clear set of professional values, a strong understanding of what you look for in the workplace, and the self-knowledge of what opportunities and tasks light your fire, you can make that dream a reality.
Defining a career vision increases effort and commitment to your ideal career. It shines a light on the space between where you are and where you want to be, as well as outlining specific steps to help align your actions with your goals. Aristotle might have said it best:
“First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.”
Without a career vision, you’ll be poorly allocating your means and efforts.
Your 5 year career vision
To create a career vision, you’re going to have to ask a lot of questions. Some of these questions will be directed at other people—questions that help you define the nitty-gritty of what it really means to work in X position or company. But a lot of these questions will be to yourself. It’s time to get introspective, people.
Clearing your vision
There are many directions a career can go. Clearing your vision will help you work towards the direction that works for you.
That’s why we’re starting with high-level thinking. This is where you identify your professional values and your definition of success. Switch off the part of your brain that reminds you of why you can’t or shouldn’t do something, and let your imagination run wild—don’t restrict yourself with doubts or expectations.
Consider the future trajectory of your career. Where do you want to end up? What kind of accomplishments do you want to achieve along the way? What kind of professional do you want to be?
Look to yourself
To help you define this, consider the career you’ve had so far. Go through wins, and how you felt in those moments. Focus not only on wins that look good on paper, but on instances where you felt a sense of accomplishment or a high. This is a great indicator of the kind of role that will be fulfilling to you. If you haven’t had any of these moments in your professional life so far, you can also look for these moments in your academic career or in personal accomplishments.
Look over the list of accomplishments and write out the answers to these questions: What energizes me? What makes me feel proud? What kind of activities put me in a state of flow?
Look to others
Now think about professionals you admire, whether it be someone you’ve encountered at work or a public figure. Ask yourself what draws you to them. Is it their personality, position, achievements, skills that you admire? Their vast collection of funny socks?
Chances are there’s something to dig into there—whoever you’re drawn towards likely embodies a trait or value you have (or would like to have). If you admire the way they handle conflict, for example, you might value level-headedness under pressure, or willingness to hear different points of view. You can also do this with qualities you dislike.
Follow these threads and list the qualities you come up with. Once you have the final list, see if you can spot any themes that can guide you to your professional values.
Define your success
It’s easy to get caught up in external definitions of success. If you’re a Product Manager, that definition might include launching a product in the next big unicorn company or working in cutting-edge industries like AI or crypto.
But maybe what you actually value is having a work-life balance so you can spend time with loved ones, or to be meaningfully involved with your network, community, and team. Creating your own definition of success and cultivating your professional values will get you out of the trap of external validation. You’ll be confident that the decisions you make and the actions you take are leading you to a career that’s fulfilling for you, not someone else’s idea of what a fulfilling career is.
Identify your strengths and weaknesses
Everyone has skills they’ve cultivated over the years or have a knack for. List these out. (It may help to look back on the list of accomplishments you made. What skills helped you get these wins?) Then list out skills that you are weak in, but would like to strengthen.
PM career possibilities
One of the coolest parts of being a PM is being able to solve problems you’re genuinely interested in. PMs work across countless different industries, which gives you the opportunity to work in a space you’re passionate about.
So many of the PM career stories Product School shares start with someone who had a problem and decided to create a product to solve that problem. And that includes our own CEO Carlos! Product School wouldn’t exist without Carlos deciding he wanted to solve the problem he faced as an early PM, when he couldn’t find any formal Product Management training. You might not start out in the company or industry of your dreams, but at least you’ll know where to direct your efforts in the short and long term.
Once you identify what problem you want to solve, there are a few other things to take into consideration. There are many paths.
Here are a few other things to take into consideration:
- Do you want to work at a startup, or an established company?
- Do you want to work in a technical PM role? If yes, identify what skills you need to get there.
- What is your personal Product Management philosophy? How do you approach problems? This will inform what kind of company culture you look for.
- What stage of the product process do you most like working in? Research, development, launch, measurement, growth?
- What aspects of Product Management do you most enjoy? Team building, development, strategy?
- How far up the PM career ladder do you want to go? This is related to the previous point. The default answer might be “I want to go as far up the ladder as possible.” But if you enjoy development more than strategy and stakeholder management, you’ll be more fulfilled as a Senior PM than as a VP of Product.
After you answer these questions, you’ll have a better sense of what kind of Product manager you want to be. You might know exactly what you want. Let’s say, a Product Lead working on AI at Meta.
Or else you might just have a sense of what energizes you in the product space: you’re excited about a particular industry or technology. Maybe it’s a type of role or task—let’s say you love team building, or customer insights. It’s okay if the vision in your mind’s eye isn’t exact. If you can answer at least some of these questions, then you have a direction to go in.
And here’s our ultimate tip: once you’ve identified what you want to do, find people who are in that role, and reach out to them on LinkedIn. Inform yourself on the reality of that role.
Not everyone will answer, but don’t get discouraged! Keep contacting people until someone does. You’ll get to hear their first hand experience and understand what it’s actually like to work in that role. You’ll learn what skills you need to get there, and if it’s really the role for you.
So far we’ve been thinking big and considering all possibilities. But we all have obligations and needs, and a career that sounds good on paper might not work for you in reality. Think through the following:
- Family obligations. If you have a partner, children, or people in your immediate circle of care who will be affected by your career decisions, factor them in now. Consider location, work hours, and financial stability. If you want to be close to your aging parents or are thinking about the best place to raise your children, this will affect the geographic location of the positions you take. If you’d like to spend more time with your kids, this could make you think twice about taking a highly demanding position that requires extra hours.
- Workplace culture. Do you prefer a formal workplace or more casual? WFH or in person? What communication style or organizational structure works for you? If you’re an adaptable person this might not matter so much to you. But if you know you work best in a certain kind of environment, keep an eye out for those workplace environments that will set you up for success.
- Health & well-being. Consider your personal needs. Does this change the consideration for location or work-life balance? You might be willing to work 60 hour weeks because starting a company is what will bring value to your life and career. Or you might not. You have to understand what motivates you and brings you meaning in order to align your vision with that.
Your 5 year career vision
And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for: the career vision. This is a short statement summarizing all the thinking you’ve just done. Now that you’ve identified your deep interests, natural talents, areas to improve, and needs, you can imagine a version of yourself in 5 years that embodies all of those things. Here’s an example of how you can structure this statement:
In 5 years I will be [position] at [company/type of company]. I will be solving [X problem that I am passionate about] and in a work environment that [your ideal work environment] with people who [your ideal work culture]. Success to me will mean:
Revisit this vision periodically. Print it out and hang it on the wall if you want that visual reminder. Schedule in quarterly or yearly check-ins to see if this vision still rings true, the progress you’ve made towards it, and any course corrections you have to make.
How to act on your vision
You did it! You’ve created your career vision. Now comes the most important part—taking and sustaining action. Action on your vision consists of 2 different types of goals: big picture goals and microgoals.
Big picture goals consist of things like your 5 year vision, and milestones you hope to achieve along the way. Examples of big picture goals include getting a promotion, breaking into product, or launching a successful product.
Microgoals are the ongoing daily actions that serve as building blocks towards those big picture goals. The best way to reach your career vision is to break it down into manageable, actionable tasks, and microgoals help you do this. It’s hard to comprehend what 5 years means; it’s easier to plan out the day, week, or month immediately in front of you.
Set big picture goals
Pull up your 5 year career vision statement. 5 years is a long time, and there will be other milestones along the way. Identify what big shifts or experiences will indicate growth towards your vision over this time period.
For example: if your ultimate career vision is to be a Product Manager at Google (a company that expects technical understanding from all of its Product Managers), your 5 year goal could be to become a Technical PM (at any company). A big picture goal could be to complete a coding course, or to lead your first technical project.
Map out your microgoals
It’s easy to get bogged down in the everyday and keep your head buried in the immediate fires—you’re so busy working that you don’t have time to pursue your career. Microgoals ensure that you’re making time to work towards your vision by incorporating goal-oriented behavior into your regular routine. The frequency at which you perform each goal will vary, but the one thing these goals have in common is that you’ve planned them into your schedule.
Pull up your list of big picture goals and compare it to your list of strengths and weaknesses. Identify which skills are necessary for reaching your ideal career vision, and specify how they’ll help you get there. And remember, microgoals are about reaching your vision step by step, so don’t try and develop these all at the same time. Use a prioritization framework to define the process and timeframe of how and when you’ll pursue these skills.
Skills are developed through education or experience. Create structure in your schedule for both. Go into your career with a growth mindset, understanding that there’s always more to learn and improve. On the education side: What courses do you need to take? What will you read to stay on top of the latest developments in your field? For experience: identify what behavior in the workplace will help develop the hard or soft skill you’re focusing on.
Soft skills are especially valuable for Product Managers, but are also the hardest to track. If you’re focusing on improving a soft skill like communication, teamwork, or leadership, get really specific. Define your success metric. Maybe it’s taking note of your teammates’ emotional state when giving feedback, or tracking how often they come to you for support/advice. Though tracking soft skills isn’t an exact science, it can have a huge impact on the kind of professional and person you are.
Taking action is a challenge. Sustaining action over a long period of time is even harder. That’s why it’s so important to have a clear vision—in moments of doubt or fatigue you’ll be able to remind yourself of the why behind all of your hard work. Remember, slow and steady wins the race.
Here are some tips to sustain your goal-oriented behavior over the long term:
- Expect challenges. Product Management is a challenging field. Expect that it will be hard at some points. If you’re still at the beginning of your PM career, be realistic about the barriers to entry. What do you do when you feel like giving up? Envision yourself taking steps to overcome these challenges.
- Expect distraction. There will be days where you don’t want to work towards your vision. Working towards your goals will seem overwhelming, or like a waste of time, or like something that you can “do tomorrow.” Prepare for this feeling. How will you remind yourself of the purpose behind your actions?
- Focus on what you can control. You can’t control hiring decisions, the market, the behaviors of your coworkers, or other external events. You can’t make someone hire or promote you, but you can prepare for your interview, work hard, and seek out opportunities for growth.
- Build in accountability. Communicate your vision and goals to someone in your life. Whether it be family, friends, an online community, or your team, find someone to talk it through with. You can give them updates, ask for feedback, and get encouragement.
- Expect imperfection. It’s good to be ambitious, but don’t beat yourself up if you have a day, or week, or month(s) where you don’t make as much progress towards your goals as you had planned. It’s not helpful. Instead, try to understand why you’re not making that progress, and try again. Start smaller; change your approach. Trust that there’s a process that will work for you.
Product Management is a challenging but rewarding job. The best way to have a great career is to define what “great” means to you, and to work towards it intentionally. Your vision isn’t just about achieving a status or salary in 5 years–it’s about meaning and values. Your vision may change, new and unexpected opportunities may present themselves. You can’t plan exactly where you’re going to end up in 5 years. But even if you don’t know exactly where you’re going, you’ll always know that you’re going in the right direction.
Where to Find the Templates
In G Suite
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