This became an obvious question to me during last year's Product Camp when I was approached by an attendee looking for advice on how to get a product management job. I mentored him over a period of weeks, helping him update his resume to better reflect his PM skills and experience, how to work with recruiters, etc. He eventually landed a PM gig a few months later and is happy in his new role. This got me thinking about all the other attendees looking to get into the profession, my own circuitous path and those of some others I know.
My Own (Brief) Story
Not to bore anyone too much, but here's my own story. For years I thought that I was a sales guy, though I hated cold calling and sucked at hard-core negotiation. What I found, though, was I was good at channel sales - where you get people who don't work for you to work for you - and creating the marketing and sales materials my channel partners needed to be successful. I knew that's what they needed because I often created my own materials when I was selling.
My last year carrying a quota was eventful. They raised my quota 3 (!) times during the year and I was still 180% of the final number. After the third quarter in a row coming home from Urgent Care with bronchitis, my wife said very clearly, "Don't get me wrong. I love the money but I'd much rather have you around to spend it with me." Quite fortuitously, the company shut down the channel role I had and moved me into a role they called Solutions Architect. I wound up doing all sorts of Product Marketing stuff for a very technical team and discovered that was really my calling. I've been doing it ever since.
Another very effective product marketer whom I had the pleasure to work with had a different route to the profession. When I first met her she was in the training group of a software company I joined. She spent most of her time writing sales training materials, working closely with the PMM group and eventually creating new materials on her own. She was an elementary school teacher by trade who moved into training when her job got cut. She also found her calling in product marketing and is now doing well at a large media company in their interactive division.
Your Stories, Please
So now it's your turn. Please tell me how you got into product marketing or product management and what skills or experience helped you make the jump. I plan to use this as background information and advice for my session attendees. (If it gets enough votes. Hint, hint!)