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Lessons On The Road To A Full Time PM Job

By Chijioke Egbulefu

Trying to get a PM job has been a daunting challenge for me, especially this year. 

To get to where we want, we sometimes go through a long and tortuous road that is characterised by rejections and setbacks that feel like failures.

The major challenges have been:

1. Employers almost always want someone who already has hands-on experience of Product Management. Well, I’m crossing over.

2. Fear. Fear fueled by a constant reminder that I’ll be judged first and foremost on my lack of experience; which leads to more fear and fumbles.

Hiring Managers will most often hire someone with more hands-on experience. Very understandable but this also makes it difficult for a person who’s trying to cross over from other roles into Product Management to land a  job. Making it a given that you have to work doubly hard not just to convince them that you can do this job but that you also have the required skills to do the job on your own, with little to no supervision, especially in these days of remote work.

Personally, I know I’ve considered quitting my job all together and getting a PM intern position somewhere, even if it’s for free (but for the love of money… lol). I’ve also considered working with a product team on the side on weekends. I just want anything to help me fill the experience gap. This is something I’m very much interested in. 

Fear motivates as much as money. It can also be a great hindrance. You can use fear to your advantage or have it work against you. 

Doubt can lead to fear and fear can lead to doubt and if left unchecked, this can lead to an endless loop of disastrous consequences.

One thing has remained true though: The more interviews you go to, the better you get at it. If you’re intentional about your own growth, you pick one thing from each along the way and watch yourself become a better person and interviewee.

This also rings true: That some folks are just terrible at interviews doesn’t mean they won’t deliver on the job when they get it. But the pressure of answering questions within a 30-minute time frame, that could probably determine the rest of your life, can be a lot. They fret. They fumble. They mess it up. I feel the interviewers should find a way to make the interviewee feel more comfortable. And, interviewees will have to accept that interviews are here to stay and find a way to get through them. Practice makes perfect and overcomes fear. 

Now, is Product Management that hard? Honestly, I don’t think so. It’s the most dynamic field in the world and all backgrounds are welcome. 

One way to look at it is to view all your previous job experiences as parts of your personal portfolio with certain skill sets. You know how designers and developers have portfolios? Exactly.

Don’t discount the experience(s) you already have. This is so important. You should bring all your past experiences and the knowledge you’ve gained when you start a new job. Even though it’s a vastly different field, you would be surprised at how much you can apply. 

Passion could differ from experience. Your passion could be for the fintech space. Your experiences could be in education. How do you bridge this gap? Training, study, internships or outrightly working for free to gain enough hard and soft skills to strike out comfortably.

Personally for me, I think my undoing has been my insistence on reminding myself everytime that I do not have PM experience, which when you critically look at it, might be a lie. A critical look at different roles I’ve held in the past will unearth lots of skills that are easily transferable into Product Management.  

Product Management is also an achievement-focused field. So when building your portfolio, don’t forget to put your achievements front and center. Your previous roles are not achievements in themselves. Find the line between the two.

The last thing I discovered is that most PMs I know stumbled into the role or were drafted into it. There are no deliberate programs to actually groom PMs in Nigeria, that I know of, Similar to the  Associate Product Manager programs at Twitter and Google which give aspiring PMs the opportunity to learn while doing and gather very valuable experience along the way intentionally. 

Without these, hiring managers are  led to poaching talents and transitioners find it extremely difficult to get good and rewarding PM jobs. Because the truth is, practice beats theory every time. Going to a product school may not be enough especially if you don’t already have a real PM job. 

Tech companies around here may need to start Associate PM programs so that there is a talent pool of PMs that aren’t just sound in theory but in practice too with the relevant hands-on experience to launch a full-time PM career. The recruitment process for this will be significantly different from when you’re hiring for experienced PMs of course. This solves the experience problem and the poaching problem.  

Well, I thought to share and encourage someone along the way. If Product Management is what you really want to do but you’re on the verge of giving up, don’t. Let your fears inspire you and work in your favor. To be better. To Practice. To do the extra. Who knows, your testimony might inspire someone else out there. 

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