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GuidesProduct developmentNavigating the product manager career path

Navigating the product manager career path

Last updated

1 May 2024


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Mary Mikhail

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Product management is a highly desirable profession that involves a blend of business management, marketing, and technology.

Although you don’t necessarily need an advanced degree to start on this career path, there are steps you should take to gain the experience you need for success. Read on to find out what they are.

What is a product manager?

Product managers are responsible for managing the entire lifecycle of a company’s product development for both physical and digital products.

They analyze market and consumer data to identify opportunities and evaluate competitor products before starting the development process. They are also responsible for defining all the product’s requirements and ensuring that it meets all specifications during the development phase.

Once the product is released, the product manager closely monitors customer response and continues to enhance and improve the product.

How to become a product manager

Product managers play a critical role in shaping the lifecycle of the products we use. This position oversees the product’s journey from its initial proposal to its final destination with the customer, so product managers often need to fully understand a product’s mission and marketplace.

A product manager’s role is fast-paced. They are usually organized, diligent, and innovative individuals.

If you are considering becoming a product manager, the following checklist is a good place to start.

Understand the main skills

Product management is a unique area that combines various aspects of IT, engineering, marketing, sales, finance, logistics, and public relations. For these reasons, aspiring product managers must understand the primary skills that define success in the field. Here they are:

  • Being able to communicate effectively with teams and bring together various types of plans cohesively

  • Cross-industry skills such as organization, critical thinking, active listening, attention to detail, self-motivation, and prioritization

  • Being able to tune into customer needs to create products that stand out in a competitive market

Get an education

Employers prefer product management candidates with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in marketing, business, finance, or a related field.

Can I become a product manager without an MBA?

A product manager role is a highly sought-after and financially rewarding career path in the US. Although an MBA degree is not a necessity, having an advanced degree can give you an edge when applying for this position. Pursuing an MBA in product management can also accelerate your career growth and help you progress up the corporate ladder faster than with a bachelor’s degree alone.

Obtain certifications

Although not every company requires a product management certificate, certificate programs can give you the leverage to land competitive product management jobs.

These certification programs offer a structured learning path that allows you to receive guidance from other product managers, gain critical skills, build a portfolio of projects, and earn a certification from a credible institution.

Continuous self-education

No matter if you’re starting out as a product manager or switching from another position, you’ll want to build on and expand your skills and knowledge.

To obtain these skills, you can listen to podcasts, read books, or check out blogs that can help you explore product management concepts and terminology related to building roadmaps, product development, and the product life cycle.

Another way to harness these skills is to complete industry-related projects that help simulate real-world issues. These projects can also help lay the foundation for a comprehensive project portfolio that you can use in job interviews.

Look for employment

Before you begin your job search as a product manager, you’ll need to highlight your skills in your resume and cover letter. This will help you navigate the job market and find positions that match your skill set.

When you schedule job interviews, make sure you are well-prepared. Research the company thoroughly and prepare a list of questions to ask during the interview. Enter the interview with confidence to demonstrate to the company that you are ready to contribute to their success.

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What is the product manager’s career path?

Product management has a clear professional hierarchy with plenty of opportunities to grow, starting from the associate product manager level.

Below are some standard product manager job titles and descriptions.

Associate product manager

The associate product manager position is an entry-level job that provides an opportunity to gain knowledge and experience in the field. These professionals generally report to product managers, who assign them tasks.

As for their day-to-day responsibilities, associate product managers handle everything that a product manager does but on a smaller scale. While they may not set the product strategy, they are responsible for prioritizing their projects and keeping their managers and peers informed of updates.

What does an associate product manager do?

Associate product managers have the crucial responsibility of prioritizing tasks while adhering to specific constraints. They don’t necessarily decide which tasks to perform, but they do make important decisions around scoping and prioritization of the tasks or projects assigned to them.

Associate product managers collaborate with other members of the product team and adjacent teams, such as engineering and user experience (UX), on a daily basis.

Average associate product manager salary

In the US, the average annual salary for an associate product manager is around $80,000. However, this can change depending on the location, the type of work, and other circumstances.

Getting promoted from associate product manager

To get promoted from associate product manager, you’ll need to be on top of all your activities and have established yourself as the “go-to” person. You will also need to have developed a solid working relationship with other teams, such as engineering and marketing.

If you’re ready for a promotion, you should be comfortable delegating tasks to others and have established strong prioritization skills.

Product manager

Product managers have a pivotal role in steering products through their entire lifecycle. They are accountable for overseeing project features, developing a roadmap, setting up strategies for both development and release, and ensuring timely delivery.

This position also entails working collaboratively with different teams, including engineering, UX, and marketing.

What does a product manager do?

Although product managers usually oversee a variety of tasks, they will typically spend most of their time doing the following:

  • Understanding user needs

  • Monitoring the market

  • Developing competitive analysis

  • Defining the overall vision for their product

  • Ensuring stakeholders are aligned around the vision and product roadmap

  • Prioritizing product capabilities and features

Average product manager salary

The average salary for a product manager is around $110,000 per year. However, this amount will depend on the company, the circumstances of the position, and the candidate’s qualifications.

Getting promoted from product manager

Before you can be promoted from a product manager role, management will need to be confident that you are doing a good job. This involves helping the team thrive and accomplish its goals.

You’ll want to be able to prove your solid understanding of the product you manage and the benefits it offers customers. Furthermore, UX, engineering, and marketing teams should be able to trust and respect you.

Senior product manager

Senior product managers tend to have more experience than product managers. This role is often responsible for leading junior-level product managers, overseeing complex and high-profile product launches, and acting as a liaison between the team and upper management.

What does a senior product manager do?

Senior product managers usually perform the same duties as associate and mid-level product managers. However, the difference is that their duties come with more impact and visibility as they work with higher-impact products.

They can also lead other product managers and work with product leaders to contribute to and execute product strategy.

At this level, senior product managers also start to liaise with executive teams and understand how their product(s) fit within the overall company portfolio.

Average senior product manager salary

Senior product managers make around $142,000 per year on average.

Getting promoted from senior product manager

Senior product managers can advance to a director-level role if they achieve two goals:

  1. Become a valuable source of advice for other product managers.

  2. Become an advocate for the product team to senior leadership.

However, those wanting to move up must also consistently display curiosity and passion. They should have a deep interest in the product, customers, and the production process itself.

Director of product management

A director of product management is a high-ranking role that requires strong leadership skills rather than just product management expertise. The ideal candidate should have extensive management experience and must be able to work closely with top executives.

Directors of product management are responsible for developing and executing strategies for a particular product or an entire product line. They must also be able to communicate the rationale behind a product and its value within the company’s portfolio.

What does the director of product management do?

In general, a director of product management is responsible for the following:

  • Crafting the vision for a product or product line and setting its roadmap

  • Ensuring that critical features are developed and delivered to customers from start to finish

  • Translating product strategy into user stories, requirements, and prototypes

  • Collaborating with stakeholders to understand problems and desired outcomes and developing solutions

  • Engaging with customers and key accounts

  • Managing or mentoring junior product managers

Average director of product management salary

The average annual salary for a director of product management is around $184,000. However, with bonuses, this salary can reach up to $300,000.

Getting promoted from director of product management

People get promoted from director to vice president of project management for many reasons. In general, solid performance is the main reason for promotion. Directors who consistently deliver strong results, can manage a larger group, or have a specialized skill that is becoming more important to the company are usually considered for a promotion.

Vice president of product management

The vice president of product management role involves overseeing critical tasks such as budgeting, marketing, and resource allocation. They are responsible for adapting strategy and tactics related to a product in order to achieve the company’s objectives and enhance profitability.

In addition, these professionals need to clearly articulate their company’s vision for each product and ensure product teams are effectively delivering to support overall company goals.

What does the vice president of product management do?

A vice president of product management is less involved with the hands-on aspects of product development processes. They deal more with budgeting for the product organization, ensuring that strategic product decisions align with business objectives, and collaborating with other company executives.

Average vice president of product management salary

The average salary of a vice president of product management tends to be around $212,000. However, this salary can surpass $300,000.

Getting promoted from vice president of product management

Chief product officer (CPO) may be the next step for an experienced vice president of product management. To be eligible for the position, you typically need to have at least 10 years of experience in product analytics and management and related experience in fields such as communications, marketing, and UX.

CPOs generally advance through these positions before assuming a C-suite role.

Chief product officer

The CPO is a high-ranking executive who directly reports to the company’s CEO. Their main job is to ensure the company’s product strategies align with its long-term goals and culture. To accomplish this, the CPO is often responsible for overseeing all aspects of product design and launch. They also oversee the product analytics and management team.

What does the chief product officer do?

The chief product officer role is an expanded version of the VP of product position. Alternatively, it may involve overseeing multiple VPs of product who report to one product leader.

At this level, the focus is on managing a product portfolio. This involves ensuring that resources, budget, and research are allocated to areas that will provide optimized benefits for the company.

As the CPO, you will be tracking numbers months out while making strategic decisions years in advance.

This role will also set aspirational product goals that inspire and motivate your team. These goals should outline what the team will achieve and what success will look like for the quarter, year, and beyond.

Average chief product officer salary

The average base salary for a chief product officer ranges from $260,000 to $325,000, with a mean base salary of $291,000.

However, salaries can vary significantly based on factors such as education, certifications, additional skills, and the number of years of experience in a particular profession.

Other product roles

To work in the product manager career path, you’ll need to understand that there are many options outside of the above-mentioned roles. However, while the roles may look different, many of the same methodologies are used, such as strategizing, understanding problems, testing, validating, and prioritizing.

Other product roles generally include the following:

  • Product owner: the product owner is primarily responsible for partnering with the development team to maximize the value they deliver. They do this by ensuring that the team’s backlog is aligned with stakeholders’ and customers’ needs.

  • Platform product manager: platform product managers prioritize and support multiple consumer-facing products, providing a cohesive vision and direction across products.

What are the different types of product managers?

There are several types of product managers. While their responsibilities may overlap to an extent, as companies grow, roles become more specialized and focused on different aspects of a product life cycle.

Growth product manager

A growth product manager’s primary goal is to maximize growth opportunities for the company and amplify business expansion. To do this, they use the features of the products they manage as sales tools.

Their tasks also involve conducting market and customer research, gathering customer feedback, and monitoring user behavior.

Technical product manager

A technical product manager (TPM) is a product management role that mainly focuses on overseeing the management and development of products. This role has a strong engineering or technical component.

In general, technical product managers have an extensive technical background, which allows them to work with engineers and developers. Their technical skills allow them to communicate with technical teams efficiently, even if they are not directly involved in the development process.

Meanwhile, they are also adept at explaining challenging concepts to non-technical stakeholders and developing realistic release timelines.

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