Inside Product Manager Careers

Things you need to know, but nobody tells you

Biggest Surprises

"Explaining Contract Terms To Contract Signers...
I was surprised at how little people understand the details of the contracts that they sign. I had to constantly explain details of agreements to people who I expected to be smart enough to understand the issues presented, but who either were not smart enough to understand, or did not care." (Contracts Negotiator/Administrator; 2014)

Career: 13 years of experience, currently based in Arizona, female
School: Studied Business Administration And Economics at Duke University in North Carolina; completed Master degree in 1990

Best & Worst Things About This Career

Product Manager: "The best part of my job is that I am NEVER bored. I have a reason to try to learn a little about every part of our business, and in many years I could never learn it all. Every day is different, and every day I learn something new. The worst part of my job is the flip side of the best part. Although I have no people that report to me, I am ultimately responsible for an enormous amount of things getting done. Usually I am able to influence people without direct authority, but sometimes it is frustrating." (2011)

Group Product Manager: "The best parts are the challenge of coming up with creative ways to solve problems with limited resources, the opportunity to really make a difference for small business owners and working with a great bunch of enthusiastic people. The worst parts of the job are having a ton of work to do with not enough resources to do it all and dealing with what's known as "technical debt", which means you have programming work that you need to do but will provide no apparent improvements for your customers. This is caused by simply having code that was created many years ago that now needs to be updated to more current technology so it can be maintained or by having taken some short cuts when a feature was previously created and now the feature needs to be done the right way so it can be maintained and/or scaled so that more and more people can use the feature." (2011)

Product Manager: "The best part of my career is seeing a product sell. That means that I created a product that people wanted because the product was made correctly, priced correctly, and packaged correctly. The product is truly successful when there is sales growth year after year because more and more people are buying it. The worst part of my career is the long development time that ultimately ends up with no product. This could be a result of issues such as bad design, too high of a manufacturing cost, or safety issues." (2011)

Product Manager: "The best parts of my job are as follows: My role is evolving and changing constantly depending upon the needs of the market and the demands of our clients; I get to work with many different people and various departments within the company, and I can create actual change and/or bring about new ideas. The worst part of my job is dealing the internal politics that I encounter when trying to move an idea forward." (2011)

Software Product Manager: "The best part of the job is that I get to work with a lot of very smart people who are very good at their jobs. I work with software engineers, so I keep up on software technology. I work with marketing people and learn about new ways to market and sell the product. It's rarely boring and I'm constantly learning new things about areas outside of product management. There's not a lot about the job that I don't like. Sometimes, there are a lot of competing viewpoints about the best approach to creating the product and it's hard to sort through those. There's also a fair amount of writing in the job (to describe the features in the product so that the software engineers know what to build), and sometimes I'm ready to do something else besides writing." (2010)

Career Background

Product Manager

  Job Tasks
  Work Environment
  How to Prepare for the Job
  Job Outlook

Career Tips

"Know The Details And Be Able To Communicate...
If you want to be successful as a procurement professional you must be VERY DETAIL ORIENTED. You must also be a good communicator who can explain complicated details to people who need to understand them, but who may not be interested in learning." (Contracts Negotiator/Administrator; 2014)

"Build Relationships By Going Beyond Your Job Description...
Always help other people when you can. Even if it is small thing, and especially if it is not really "your job". That helps to build the kind of relationships that you need to succeed when you have all the responsibility and none of the authority. Be curious about everything and be generous in sharing what you know. Even though my job is not strictly technical, having an engineering background helps in working as closely as I do with engineers. Even if you don't intend to pursue a technical career, having the degree can open many doors." (Product Manager; 2011)

"Communication Skills Key...
Take courses in writing (if possible ones in journalism and advertising, so you learn how to write clearly, concisely and persuasively) and in public speaking. Communication skills are by far the most important part if this job. Learn to love group projects. You need to learn how to operate effectively as a part of a team and to get things accomplished when you yourself aren't doing big chunks of the work and sometimes don't understand the detail of what others are working on. Take some basic computer science courses so even if you're not an engineer you can at least fake knowing how to program something well enough to prevent engineers from snowing you." (Group Product Manager; 2011)

"Keep An Eye On The Competition...
Understanding a company's manufacturing process will give you greater insight of all the pieces in a product and the complexity of putting all those pieces together. Always analyze what your competitors are (or are not) doing. Being aware of your competitors will help find what is successful and what is not. Competitors are anyone whose product is chosen over your own, including the name brands and even the no-name brands. Product management is not a 9-to-5 type of job. This requires long hours and patience since creating ready to sell products does not happen overnight." (Product Manager; 2011)

(1) Our industry is very specific and can be difficult to break into. Try to create a network of contacts and continue to build upon that in order to get your foot in the door. On the whole, people tend to switch roles within this industry often, and you will meet them again and again. Therefore, if there isn't an opening now, there could be in the near future. (2) Get your passport and try to travel as much as possible. If you haven't traveled, you will within this job so be sure to have an open mind to new countries and cultures. Learning a language is also helpful. (3) Try to adapt well to change. Data like exchange rates and inflation are constantly moving, and companies are continually trying to figure out better, faster, cheaper ways to move people internationally." (Product Manager; 2011)

"Not The First Job To Get...
Product management requires that you know at least a little about a lot of areas. Most people who go into product management have done other work first. I've found that what prepared me best for product management were classes and then a job in software engineering, and finally spending some time in "the field" -- in a job, that is, that forced me to work with customers on a daily basis, whether selling to them or providing them with technical support. Most product managers have backgrounds either as software engineers or in providing technical support to customers. It would be hard to be a good product manager without some technical background." (Software Product Manager; 2010)