Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Breaking into the product professions - Self as Product

 Karol M McCloskey

This is the fourth and final entry on getting into product marketing and product managment (herein after referred to as 'the product professions').

Part 1 is here
Part 2 is here
Part 3 is here
And here is the SlideShare link for my session at Silicon Valley Product Camp back in March.
DISCLAIMER: This NOT a guarantee of success nor is it an easy checklist leading to a quick job offer. Your results may vary and others (I hope) will chime in on their best practices and techniques. It is a general guideline of how to move yourself through the process with some metrics and check points along the way. It does not replace your inherent desire, skill or suitability for any particular product professional job.

For this installment, I've asked Karol McCloskey, @prdmkgblackbelt, to sit in and give her perspective on getting into the product prfessions.  Her bio is below.

Self as Product

Are you making a dent in the universe where you work? You’re not! So you’re thinking about making a change to product management or product marketing…great idea.

No one, except maybe Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, grows up wanting to be a product manager or product marketing manager. (See Tim’s great video on this topic.) It’s a fact that current product professionals got to our roles by different routes. Yet each path has a similarity. I discovered many found ourselves thinking like product people: extremely interested in the “new” thing, in breaking ground and thinking like an entrepreneur. We are passionate about solving problems. We all work hard and we’re just plain curious. If that’s you, read on for next steps.

I find it awesome that you will use product marketing and product management skills in order to get a job as a product professional. Market yourself as a product. Positioning is the key element. Uncover and communicate the unique values your background brings to your new career.

You will be asked by potential hiring managers why you want to change careers and you’ll need to think through those answers to be convincing (there’s real truth to a good elevator speech) and to write a product-oriented resume. If you blog, or have a web site, show evidence that you are making a change. “Evidence” includes conversing/tweeting with bloggers you follow, professional groups you’ve joined (local and global), volunteer activities (ProductCamps, B2BCamps) and certifications you have or are working on (Agile, NPDP, PMP). Demonstrate that you are executing a product plan.

OK – now that you’ve set the stage, what’s next?

The best advice shared with me is to look internally. Self-honesty is a must. Some of us are extroverted, others not so much. Important to know which one describes “you.”

Your action plan will depend on your strengths. Knowing what you do best and what you love will help you plan what you want to do. Do you have programming or development skills, can you work magic with a PowerPoint deck; are you able to communicate ideas and persuade others, can you think strategically and operate tactically?  Each of these skills is more or less useful in the many product roles today. Do what you love to do.

Next, look at the different roles in product creation (management, marketing, launch, ideation, etc.) and many different industries vis a vis your uniqueness.  Do you work best in teams, in large companies or start-ups? Review the industries you have experience in – define what you bring to the game of product management. Understand and articulate the skills which make you a good candidate for a product role.  Hint: This is a first pass, you’ll get to refine this many times.

Now that you’ve tallied up [again] your unique benefits/offerings, let’s move on to tactics. How do you get your first position in product?

Understand the market/learn to speak the language. Become focused and engaged with the product community. Join LinkedIn product or marketing focused groups. Become active in the conversations; ask to link-in with professionals in your targeted role, ask questions. If you Tweet, follow thought leaders (and converse with other like-minded product managers and marketers you admire (for example: @cagan @sehlhorst @SmartSoftMarket @diego_lomanto @crankypm @PMDude @aprildunford). Meet people. Have coffee, share insights, network.

Craft/communicate your unique selling proposition. Find a trusted guide and or mentor and work on positioning. Take marketing classes or watch video. Write your product-focused resume and get it critiqued. Practice your “pitch” – make sure you offer solutions to a hiring manager’s dilemmas. Remember YOU are the PRODUCT which offers BENEFITS to the BUYER (aka hiring mgr).

Demonstrate your skills. Volunteer for ProductCamp events. Join with product managers in professional organizations. Get known, be seen and be available. Keep working the plan and network towards your goal of launching Self as Product.

Pay-it-forward. Make time to chat with another “explorer” – give to get isn’t just a slogan, it’s a passion.
Would like to hear about your successes and ideas on how to promote Self as Product. Drop me a line!

Karol M McCloskey, NPDP
Product professional and explorer
Longtime techno-catalyst and marketer - passionate about product and innovation, I am happy exploring
product marketing best practices. It was the blend of seeing the innovation at Xerox Parc firsthand
while working with the PC that made me believe technology doesn’t have to be so hard to use. What’s
not to like about that? I welcome your feedback and support while I continue this journey.


  1. Nice post and thanks for the mention.

    I would like to suggest another tip. Attend a startup weekend.

    They are being run around the world, are very educational and a lot of fun.

    Whether you are new to product management / product marketing or a veteran, you will learn a lot.

    In a weekend you can condense a 1-year+ project roadmap with vision, customer interviews, requirements, prioritization, validation, messaging, pricing, distribution, pivoting and on and on...

    Not only do you get to learn, but it is a great topic to talk about your experience at an interview. It shows your passion, willingness to learn and bring something new to the company

    1. Thanks, Giles, and an excellent suggestion. Our point is that there are many routes to the professions and there are many things you can do or participate in that help move you closer to the goal.

      Thanks for the comment and the Tweet.