Becoming a Product Manager

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As professionals who oversee products from idea to execution, product managers play a key role both in their organizations and in the business world as a whole. They are responsible for both the developments and marketing of products, guiding them from the whiteboard stage and on to store shelves.

While the field is notable for its diversity – ten product managers might define their jobs in ten different ways – the role frequently includes the following responsibilities:

  • Researching and analyzing information that will inform the product’s development, such as the intended customer base, products from competitors, and compatibility with the organization’s business model
  • Guiding product and packaging design
  • Addressing licensing issues
  • Ensuring product safety
  • Determining production costs and setting prices
  • Managing timelines and scheduling
  • Sourcing parts and supplies and negotiating costs
  • Tracking and sharing product details with engineers, distributors, sales representatives, and upper management
  • Giving final approval for products to be produced

In some cases, Product Managers may oversee the outbound marketing of their products, although other firms have a separate Product Marketing Manager role that handles pitching the product to the general public.

Product Managers need to combine analytical skills with a high degree of creativity. They need to be able to read and assimilate large amounts of data about markets and customers, while staying organized and focused. On an interpersonal level, they should be outgoing and able to adapt to change.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, interpersonal, communication, motivational and project management skills are critical. Basic computer skills, such as the ability to handle databases, spreadsheets and presentation software, are also important.

The ideal product manager is interested in and conversant with principles from the worlds of business, technology or engineering, and user experience. The roles in the job are broad and varied, and require frequent switching among tasks. The position is ideal for people who enjoy solving problems and being intellectually stimulated while also helping to turn a profit.

Education

Prospective Product Managers can prepare for their career by taking a broad range of high school classes in math, business, languages, and the arts. However, most employers will require at least a bachelor’s degree, often in business administration, marketing, or a related area. In some cases, employers may prefer an MBA.

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track data for Product Managers, they note that 84% of Marketing Managers – the job they define as being most similar – have at least a bachelor’s degree.

Internships during college are an excellent way to gain useful experience and contacts that may lead to employment after graduation.

Job Outlook

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track employment data for product managers, they define marketing managers as the most similar role for which they do gather data. The BLS projects that jobs for marketing managers are expected to grow 14% from 2010 to 2020 as organizations seek to maintain and grow their market share.

According to the BLS, the states with the highest levels of employment for marketing managers were California, Texas, New York, Illinois, and New Jersey. The metropolitan areas with the highest level of employment for marketing managers were:

  • New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA
  • Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI

Salaries

As of 2011 the median hourly wage for a marketing manager was $55.78, while the annual salary was $116,010, according to the BLS. However, salaries vary: the bottom tenth percentile earned $60,230 per year while the top quarter earned $155,050.

The states with top-paid marketing managers were as follows, according to the BLS:

  • New York: $163,480 median annual wage
  • New Jersey: $146,970
  • Delaware: $146,610
  • California: $142,750
  • Virginia: $142,100

According to PayScale.com, salaries for product managers can range from 43,000-104,000.

Certification

The Association of International Product Marketing and Management (AIPMM), the world’s largest association of product, brand, and product marketing managers, offers a Certified Product Manager credential. While employers may not require the certification, it demonstrates a commitment to your career and to standards of excellence. The certification is most appropriate for product managers who already have some experience or who have an MBA.

The certification exam is based on global best practices drawn from an analysis of actual practitioners, so the content evolves with the field. The exam covers both practical and theoretical product managing and marketing principles, concepts, and terminology. It encompasses the entire life cycle of both the product and the overarching organization, from product development to elimination, and from start-up to successful business.

Other product management certifications include:

  • AIPMM’s Agile Certified Product Manager (ACPM) exam, which ensures that professionals understand strategic and tactical concepts in the agile product management approach

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