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Transitioning to PM
Other than folks who started as an APM in their first job out of college, most folks cross over to PM. Think about that. Most PMs didn’t start as PMs. I get a lot of questions from readers about how to transition to the role, and the first thing I remind them of (because they’re usually discouraged by how long it’s taking) is how common the journey is. But what are the common paths to take?
This isn’t a post about the usual hiring competencies / interview questions for a PM - there’s plenty of literature on that. What I’ve highlighted above is the 3 abilities that a PM can bring to the table that an organization would value disproportionately; to the point where a role change would make sense.
domain knowledge - this is the most common route…you have so much subject matter expertise that you handle on customer needs / prospect expectations / market positioning / competitive landscape puts you in a position to leverage those insights…think of a developer who moves over to PM developer product, or a healthcare professional who becomes a PM for healthcare tech
cross function - so much of PM-ing is cross-functional leadership without authority…there are roles (e.g. GM) where you actually manage multiple function, and that mindset of balancing different perspectives to think about the customer delivery in a 360 way is highly valuable…you see this in large companies with horizontal pods, where 1 leader is setup to manage eng / QA / ops and be accountable for business outcomes…such a role can be a jumping off point to an individual contributor PM role
change agent - at the heart of being a PM is a transformation gene, the ability to have a PoV on where things are vs where they could / should be, and aligning a bunch of partners to work in concert to achieve that future state vision…the opportunities for new-to-PM-ing folks of this ilk are available in industries and companies going through disruption (because of technology / policy / etc)
The above outlook is how a company willing to take a chance on someone who hasn’t officialy been a PM before might be thinking. But how can you position yourself to be a candidate that resonates?
The intersecting capabilities above can net out into 3 different PM archetypes:
operator = domain knowledge x cross function
influencer = cross function x change agent
innovater = domain knowledge x change agent
If you can position yourself as proficient in operating in one of these modes, you’re demonstrating your PM potential. By the way, your current role is often the best place to identify the need and showcase your potential, which is why many PM moves happen at existing companies vs external transitions.
Hopefully this is helpful (and encouraging) to everyone looking to shift to PM!
I’d love to hear from readers on ways they’ve branched into the role - please chime in via comments👇. And if you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing.
further reading / references
the above is a playbook for getting in front of hiring managers, but if you’re looking for a guide to navigating an actual interview, check out Cracking the PM Interview (which I contributed to about a decade ago!)
childish drawing / interpretation