Product School

How to Transition to Product Management From ANY Background

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Carlos González De Villaumbrosia

May 24, 2024 - 8 min read

Updated: May 24, 2024 - 8 min read

You’ve decided that you want to be a Product Manager. That’s great! The problem is, you’ve never worked in Product before and have no idea how to get your first ever Product Management role.

Fortunately, transitioning to product management is possible from any industry, whether you're a project manager, marketer, in sales, or an engineer. In this article, we'll cover the many paths that lead to becoming a product manager, along with transferrable skills and frequently asked questions about the transition.

How to Pivot into Product Management


We’ll dive deep into how every type of background experience can be leveraged to transition to product management. But first, a quick word of general advice.

Wherever you are in your career, there are two main ways to get a Product Management job:

  1. Make the move to product within your own company.

  2. Move to a role similar to yours in a company that has PMs.

The first option is great if you work for an organization that has PMs, even if they’re not working on your absolute dream products. This is because they already know you, already have an intimate knowledge of your skill set, and if they’re hiring PMs, internal transitions are usually preferable to spending resources on recruitment.

If you don’t work for a company that has PMs, the leap from non-PM at Company A to PM at Company B may be too large. For example, let’s say you’re a digital marketer at an agency. It’s recommended that you transfer to a marketing role at a company which has PMs, and then make the transition from there once they’ve gotten to know you.

Once you’re in a position to move into a PM role, there are a few steps you can take to make it happen:

Get certified as a PM: Getting certified as a PM is a great step to take, for a number of reasons. First of all, it fills in the gaps in your knowledge and exposes you to aspects of PM life that you may not have been aware of before. It also consolidates the knowledge you already have, and proves to the world that you have what it takes. If you’ve never worked in product before, it also shows how serious you are about making the move. It’s both an investment and a demonstration of your commitment.

If you aren't ready to get fully certified just yet, you can always get up to speed on your product skills with a free micro-certification!

Enroll in Product School's Product Strategy Micro-Certification (PSC)™️

The difference between a good and a great product lies in your Product Strategy, answering vital questions like: Who's the product for? What benefits does it offer? How does it further company objectives?

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Start a conversation: Even if you know you’re not ready to make the transition, find the decision-makers within your company and make it known that that’s your goal. They’ll be able to tell you what they’d need from you in order to get on the product ladder.

Shadow the product team: Some larger companies offer rotational programs that expose teams to how other teams work. Even in smaller companies, if your bosses are aware of and supportive of your product dreams, they should have no problem with you spending time with the product team. Even if you have to keep it on the down-low, great Product Leaders are always happy to foster the love of the craft, and would be happy to show you the ropes.

How to Transition from Project Manager to Product Manager

Product Management (PM) and Project Management (PM) are the two most commonly confused disciplines. Maybe because they sound so similar! In reality, the day-to-day lives of Product Managers and Project Managers are different.

That being said, there. is a lot of overlap in the soft skills department. Perhaps for this reason, Project to Product is one of the most commonly seen transitions. As a Project Manager, you already have the time management, team leadership, and project planning skills that are used in Product.

This is perhaps the ‘cleanest’ transition since the parallels between Product and Project are so well known. However, if you’ve not managed projects before in the digital software development space, you might need to take steps to familiarize yourself with the product context.

Product Roadmapping Micro-Certification (PRC)™️

Product School has partnered with Productboard to create a micro-certification on how to build and maintain effective Roadmaps. Enroll for free to learn how to communicate the product vision and strategy to your stakeholders and customers.

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Career Shift from Consultant to Product Manager

Moving from consultancy to Product Management is another common move, as you’re usually transitioning from things like business and technology, which are two of the three pillars of Product (the third being design).

If you’re always working with Product Managers, you’ll already know how your day-to-day compares to theirs. The key difference between the roles is people management, which you’ll have to do on a daily basis as a PM. If you can find leadership opportunities as a consultant, this will boost your skill set and help you make the move to PM.

Transition from Marketing to Product Management

Marketing and product go hand in hand nowadays, often in the form of the hybrid role of Product Marketing Manager. If you’re a marketer, there are several things you do all the time that are incredibly important for PMs. For starters, you’re already a wiz at user stories, user journeys, and user research.

Having a deep understanding of the customer and knowing how to talk to them is a great strength for any PM. Focusing on what you’ll bring to the PM role in terms of being the voice of the customer will set you up for success. Especially in very customer-centric companies and consumer products.

Becoming a Product Manager as an Engineer

While having technical knowledge isn’t an absolute prerequisite for landing a job in Product Management, the hybrid role of Technical Product Manager is one of the most in-demand types of product managers. It make sense—who works better with an engineering team than a former engineer?

Engineers cum PMs are adept at the more technical aspects of the product development process. Being an engineer opens up many doors in the product world, including in AI/ML product management, which requires a higher level of technical knowledge.

Transition from Design to Product Management

Design, being one of the major pillars of product, is a great background for PMs to have. Designers have a close understanding of user experience, wireframes, and how to design a product that people will enjoy using.

If you’re a product designer, chances are that you’ve already worked alongside PMs. That means you’re in a perfect position to observe what they do. See if you can get involved in some of the decision-making process, or shadow your company’s product team. That’ll give you a clearer idea of what skills you need to work on to become the perfect PM.

Moving from Sales to Product Management

Sales and Product Management are closely aligned, as both focus on understanding and meeting customer needs. Your skills in communication, negotiation, and relationship building are crucial for a Product Manager (PM).

In sales, you gather valuable insights about customer needs, which is essential for prioritizing features and making strategic decisions as a PM. Your experience in driving revenue and understanding market dynamics also aligns with setting product strategies.

The key difference is shifting from a short-term, results-driven mindset to a long-term, strategic approach. As a PM, balancing immediate customer needs with the overall product vision is crucial. Gaining experience in strategic planning and cross-functional collaboration will also be valuable.

Reach out to a PM in your company or industry and see if you can buy them a coffee and pick their brain. You'll find you have more in common than you might expect!

Quick-fire Round: Transferable Skills


These are just the most common paths to transition to product management, as they’re the roles within tech companies that work alongside other product people. In reality, PMs come from the widest range of backgrounds there is!

If you use your imagination, there’s a link between the PM skill set, and almost any skill set there is!

Customer service: Understanding how to solve customer/user problems with empathy and understanding.

Architecture: Experience with project planning and a strong understanding of design/logic.

Interior design: Experience working with customers and giving them what they need and not just what they want. A great eye for aesthetics.

Sales: Ability to meet targets and work under pressure. Works great with the sales team.

Lifeguard: Great at keeping an eye on a million things at once. Mission driven.

Personal trainer: Full of empathy for customers. Driven to help people solve their problems/reach their goals.

Freelancer: Excellent time management skills. Strong individual contributor. Self-starter.

Teacher: Crowd control! The voice of reason in a chaotic room.

Journalist: Great storyteller. Strong investigative skills.

And that’s just a portion of the possible backgrounds that make up the product community!

There Are Many Product Manager Backgrounds

You’ve heard the expression ‘all roads lead to Rome.’ Well, many paths lead to product! Products are built for everyone, so they need to be built by everyone. Having a variety of perspectives, and a variety of strengths and weaknesses actually builds up a product team.

Building digital products is an art and a science, so if half of your team are artists and the other half are scientists, you’re in good form!

We’re about to dive into how a variety of disciplines can set you up for success as a Product Manager, but they’re only a selection of the most common transition paths. If you don’t see your current discipline on the list, don’t feel stuck!

Anyone with the right attitude, curiosity, and willingness to learn can become a Product Manager.

Updated: May 24, 2024

Transition to Product Management FAQs

The great thing about Product Management is that you don’t need any specific inherent talents to become a PM. The role is quite varied, and there’s room for people with a huge variety of strengths and weaknesses. One PM in the team can come from a design background and have a great eye for aesthetics, but be a little weak in their data analysis skills. Another PM in the team could be a fantastic data analyst, but not have any marketing experience.

The main PM skill set is actually quite simple: you need human skills. You need great communication, especially cross-collaborative communication. You need a great amount of empathy, and the ability to look outside of your echo chamber. Product Managers are curious, driven to solve their user’s problems, and thrive on leading a team.

If you’re fresh out of college, you might try getting into an APM program rather than going straight for a job. Getting a product job with no product experience isn’t impossible, but getting a product job with no professional experience whatsoever is much more difficult!

Alternatively, you could build something for yourself while you work towards getting on the PM career ladder. Working on a side project shows off your entrepreneurial spirit, gives you something to stand out from the crowd, and lets you test out your product skills. Nothing teaches you how to build a digital product like…building a digital product!

While there are many companies (mostly FAANG) who can afford to be picky and ask that only existing PMs apply for the role, there are plenty more companies who value character over experience. If you’ve gathered the right personal skills and demonstrated the right attitude (including the eagerness to learn the skills you’re missing) you’ve got a great chance of landing a PM role.

Need some help getting started? Check out our free microcertifications!

Stress is relative, so while you may have seen your company’s Product Managers running around like headless chickens, chances are they’re thriving on it and wouldn’t have it any other way. In general, we don’t like to use the word ‘hard’ when talking about product. Challenging, certainly. But where’s the fun in a job that doesn’t challenge you?

Product Management may seem ‘hard’ from the outside because it’s fast-paced. Product Managers are known for bouncing in and out of meetings, and they have to make a conscious effort to carve out time for their individual contributions. The buck usually stops with the product team, meaning that a PM carries whether a product will succeed or not on their shoulders.

Product is a balancing act. You need to balance your own time, and the time you dedicate to your teams. You need to balance the demands of the customer, and the demands of the business. And when there’s ten loud voices in the room, you need to be the balancing voice of reason, and find the compromise.

Therein lies the challenge of Product Management! But where there’s challenge, there’s reward.

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