Depending on how tech-centric your circle is, it seems like everyone wants to become a product manager. And it makes sense. Product managers help shape the direction of a product and are squarely at the intersection of creativity, technical understanding, business, and customers. It’s broad and deep—and you have the opportunity to hone a spectrum of skills.
Here’s how I approached getting a job in product: I applied the same lessons I gleaned from product management books and articles to my search. I understood my target persona, differentiated myself, and iterated as I went to market. Think of yourself as a product and relentlessly dogfood lessons. Put theory to work.
You = Product
In a hyperconnected world, it’s easy to lose sight of your own goal. The opinions of others and the biased prescriptive statements masquerading as advice can cloud your own perspective of what matters. In approaching my career, my first order of business was to be clear on what my goals are and the underlying reason for them. I also made sure to maintain an air of tangibility and jot down limiting factors—or what I assume are limiting factors.
My goal (and why): I wanted to be a product manager at a big tech company so I can learn product management skills in a disciplined way, contribute to products that reach millions of users, and meet some phenomenal individuals.
My hypothesis: I can get just about any job I want by applying lessons from product management.
My constraints: I had no MBA or a significant network to start off with.
Theory + Experimentation + Iteration
Based on my goal, my hypothesis on accomplishing it, and constraints, I made a plan and executed relentlessly.
Identified My Target Audience
I wanted to be a PM at only Company X so I narrowed my target audience—hiring managers—to a very specific set of job titles: Director or Senior Manager of Product Management at Company X. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
A key product management lesson in building or launching products: to succeed in a crowded market, your product must be differentiated. How are you uniquely delivering value or capturing attention? Now, I didn’t set out to check a series of boxes to accomplish this. Rather, I unabashedly entertained my curiosity. I built products, even if I was doing it without a title to my name. I focused on delivering value and understanding what people want. I focused intensely on one subject at a time. I was not shy in reaching out to leaders, peers, or students to learn.
I wanted to learn how to launch products so I started this quest by studying 14 books. These books gave way for a basic framework and unanswered questions. There was something lacking from these books. I wanted a perspective with a dose of reality. Soon after, I reached out to dozens of product management and marketing leaders on LinkedIn and listened to them. Over a course of 6 to 7 months, on weekends and weekday nights, I compiled my learnings in the form of a book and published it.
To get social proof and add fuel to this cycle of learning, I asked for reviews from the vice presidents of product management and marketing at Salesforce, Cisco, Automation Anywhere, and many more organizations in technology. They gratefully provided feedback, testimonials, and learnings.
Product Marketing, Simplified went from being an idea in my head to being one of the top books in its category, selling a thousand copies so far.
By relentlessly pursuing my curiosity in a directed way, I was able to expand my network, learn a tremendous amount, and build credibility by doing something different.
Went to Market
Rejection hurts. But viewing the search as a logical process—as a marketing funnel—failure and success are simply outputs and not personal criticisms.
To start this process, I sent X cold messages to my target audience to test the waters. I identified my response rate and how many of my cold messages converted to a first phone call. I refined my message and iterated with feedback. While composing the next cold email, I’d remind myself: “Srini, that’s far too long. If you were the one receiving this message, how would you react?” Through iteration, I defined the attributes of an ideal cold email: concise, clear, differentiated, and actionable. Like any good message.
After about XX messages that included links to my resume and book—and several interview rounds—I had a couple of offers with great teams at the largest names in tech.
First Principles > Conventional Wisdom
To become a product manager, I didn’t instantly set out to get a certificate or an MBA degree because that’s what conventional wisdom dictates. Instead, I approached this goal with first principles. And in this case, I approached the search with product management principles. I pursued my curiosity, built products, listened, iterated, and differentiated myself. I proved my hypothesis and got a product management job by relentlessly dogfooding product lessons.