Starting a new job is always challenging, but doing it in a completely new position takes it to another level. Considering how important the Product Manager’s job is for companies right now, you’re in for a treat. Don’t panic, we’re here to help.
We’ve spoken to countless product leaders at the very top of the their game (at #ProductCon, in our online events, and in our weekly Ask Me Anything sessions), and we’ve asked them the questions you need answers to.
If you’ve decided to that 2021 is the year you finally land that first Product Management job, we’re here to give you their advice. Here’s how to rock the job and hit the ground running!
1. Learn before you act
Fast-moving tech companies expect to see results for the investment they made in you. However, there’s no point in jumping into action without having a clear picture of the situation. If you dive in and try to start enacting big change before you’ve established yourself and got to know the team, you’re actually going to do more harm than good.
It’s also a very good way to turn your new teammates against you.
Don’t give in to the pressure and take your time to learn about your product, the competition, the market, your company’s short and long-term goals, your team’s strengths and weaknesses, and most of all about your customer.
Your first month at least is about asking questions, and listening to any advice and information that comes your way. Sure, the company expects you to perform and to contribute, but in the earliest stages of a new role, you have to be a sponge, soaking up as much knowledge as you can.
If you want to feel like you’re not just sitting on your hands, you can still be proactive. Take the initiative to set up meetings with your new team members, or ask to shadow certain teams that you may not have much experience in.
For example, if you don’t come from a UX/UI background, it’s worth spending a little extra time with the designer team. Not only can you learn more about something you’re not overly skilled in, but you’ll gain points with the designers!
Once you’ve soaked up everything you can about the company and the product, now you can start creating a strategy for what you want to do.
2. Think without constraints
The good thing about being new to the position is that you bring in a fresh outside look. You are free to look beyond the product’s current constraints and the current company resources.
Don’t be afraid of coming up with new ideas, or suggesting new avenues to take. That’s why they’ve hired you!
Sometimes, we can fall into the imposter syndrome trap of thinking that we need to do things a certain way because ‘that’s how it’s always been done here.’ You’ve been hired because you’re a fresh pair of eyes.
Yariv Adan, Product Lead at Google, gave some great advice on this when he appeared on our podcast.
He says, “My first 30 days actually were horrible. I joined at Google in 2007 and I thought “I’m going to be the product manager of Google!” You know, Search, Maps, and I think YouTube was just acquired, and so forth. And then I came and they put me on tape backups. I was shocked. So my early days were spent trying to get out of the role that they put me in.
But ever since I make sure that like the first early days of people on my team are slightly better. So there are two very critical things that I tell people. One, you come with an asset that is soon going to go away and that’s impossible to recreate, and that is fresh eyes. You need to really write down all the things that make no sense, or that are completely stupid or that you don’t understand, before you drink the Kool-Aid.
Then you become blinded to it like the rest of us and you, if you are not comfortable, save them until you feel more calm.
The other thing that I tell people is like, take your time to learn and ask questions. There is no stupid question in the first 30 days. After a few months, some questions are stupid and worrying. Don’t worry about delivering value or being proactive. We know you will be proactive. We did not hire you to be proactive in the first quarter.”
Even if you don’t bring your ideas to the table right away, be sure to keep taking notes. Then when you feel more sure of yourself, you can introduce them as fresh ideas.
3. Prioritize and simplify
Once you’ve done both things mentioned above, you’ll have a whole set of opportunities to pursue. Your job is to prioritize and simplify them in order to have a clear action plan for your next months.
There are two main reasons why this is important: First, your tech team will thank you for not overloading them with too much work and for giving them a clear understanding of what’s to come.
It’s about more than just the engineers, however. It’s quite rare that an aspect of software development will only involve the contributions of a single team. By simplifying your communications, requirements, and roadmap, you ensure that it’s accessible to everyone.
It’s a vital Product Manager skill, to be able to translate requirements between teams, since not everyone speaks the same language.
And second, prioritization allows you to achieve sequential small wins that keep your team motivated and compound towards the growth of your business. Prioritization can make or break a product, and it’s your job to keep the product development train moving in the right direction at the right speed.
You’ll have a lot of voices coming in from all sides. You’ll learn how to filter through those voices, and which ones to listen to and then. Plenty of stakeholders, internal and external, will have their prioritization opinions, but ultimately the buck stops with you.
4. Keep learning
Product Management is a very multi-faceted role. You might assume that once you’ve landed that first job, that your formal learning is done. You’ll now learn everything on the job, no need for courses or certifications.
That simply isn’t true.
There’s always something more to learn, and while it’s true that the most effective learning environment is a job, there’s always something else you could be learning.
A Product Management certification will team you A* advice from some of the world’s finest product talent. You’ll be led through a final project that will give you the confidence and hands-on experience in a collaborative environment with other passion product learners.
If you’re already a confident Product Manager, consider expanding your horizons with these hand-picked courses, all teaching the skills that can give you the edge as a PM.
5. Be adaptable
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that everything that change at the drop of a hat.
Being a Product Manager has always meant being adaptable, but that’s even more true now. When you’ve landed your first role, you’ve probably got a good idea in your head of what that role will entail. It’s bound to come with certain expectations.
You’ll need to be prepared for that role to potentially change. You might find yourself saying “this isn’t what I signed up for.“
Of course, if you arrive and find that you’ve actually been given a Project Manager job under the guise of Product Manager (yes, this really happens!) that’s a different story. You should still be in a role that properly identifies and uses your skills.
But the landscape of the business may change, they might find themselves needing to pivot in another direction. You could enter the role expecting to work on one product, and find yourself moved to another.
While you don’t have to stay in a role you’re not happy in, in these strange times it’s advisable to go in with an open mind and give the job a chance to surprise you!
Looking for your first product role? Make sure you check out our job portal!