GUIDE 2024

How to Become a Product Manager Without Experience

Becoming a product manager is a frustrating chicken-and-egg problem. Companies like to hire people with prior product management experience and it’s hard to get prior experience as successful product managers without first becoming a product manager.

Here is some of our best advice (compiled from years of speaking to candidates trying to break into the industry as well as from our own successful experiences) around landing a job as a product manager. If you’re interested in learning more via video, then watch below. Otherwise, skip ahead.

How to Become a Product Manager

Here is a process on how to become a product manager:

1. Work on Side Projects during your Current Job

One of the best ways to demonstrate your interest in product management is to work on a side project that gives you experience in shipping a product.

A side project could be anything from a tangible iPhone app, wireframe, or even a PowerPoint case study. You could volunteer to help a non-profit or small business with international product marketing or you could just do some research on a company’s current product / and show how you might improve it.

For example, when applying to a small education tech start-up for a PM role, we did a short case study where we went out to target customers (who accurately represented the startup’s direct customers) and surveyed them about their problems and problem-solving in the education space.

We synthesized all the responses into a few key user needs and brainstormed a few potential solutions.

Given this was just a case study, we wrote about my process in prioritizing which user needs we’d address first based on the data we had collected – this also gave me a chance to show the team that we were actively using a prioritization method.

We then created a quick wireframe on PowerPoint (you can use any tool you’d like) of a product feature we would add to the startup’s current product offerings to address this issue.

We also wrote about how we might quantitatively / qualitatively measure the ROI of rolling out product development of this feature and what would determine feature success. We e-mailed this to the hiring manager and got a lot of positive reception from their team for this work.

Another example of a “side project” you could do is join a Startup Weekend in your area.

You don’t need a computer science degree to participate because Startup Weekend is a weekend-long experience where teams (technical and non-technical) get together and work on customer development, idea validation, and build a minimum viable product which they then pitch to a panel of experts on the final day.

It’s a great experience to develop product management skills and work with people of different backgrounds to ship a product on a deadline.

At the end of the day, good side projects should demonstrate your skills in ways an interview or resume wouldn’t be able to, whether it be design, business, creative thinking, or coding.

Many people can talk their way through interviews, but a tangible side project shows that you can do the work if you are given the opportunity.

2. Start Thinking Like a PM

Although you should be able to work on side projects in your spare time, if you are truly swamped in your current job and are one of those people who laugh when someone asks you what you do for fun, then start taking steps at your current to think and act like a product manager.

Try to get onto new products where you are taking a lead role in the project management, managing a few people with different workstreams, and where your team is responsible for getting a deliverable completed on a deadline.

Ideally, you should try to get onto projects where you’ll be forced to work with cross-functional teams so that you can learn multiple “languages.” Many people started in customer support roles learning the voice of the customer before transitioning into a PM role.

Good PMs know how to understand the nuanced complexities of different teams and convert these into the language of their current audience. For most employers, the next best thing to direct experience is demonstrating that you have relevant and transferable skills.

Taking steps in your current /situation to think like a PM will allow you to better structure your experience and increase your chance of landing a PM job.

3. Develop a Technical Skillset

Developing technical skill sets for software development does not mean learning to code. All great product managers in the tech industry love technology and will eventually gravitate towards a desire to learn code but it is not necessary to get into product management.

Don’t just be that generic “business guy/gal” who hopes that your passion alone will get you a job in product management. Try your best to learn something besides technical skills like design or data analysis. Learn about the differences between agile and scrum methodologies. Study up on user stories and jobs to be done.

There are so many free resources online that’d it be ridiculous to at least not have a basic understanding of technical concepts going into the whole product development process and management recruiting process.

How to Find Product Manager Jobs

Finding a PM job might seem daunting. However, it doesn’t have to be a complicated task. You can follow these tips:

1. Transitioning In Your Existing Company

If you are already working at a company, the first thing you should do is look within your existing company to see if there are any opportunities to shift into a product role. This tends to be a lot easier at smaller startups where you are getting direct access to the founding product team and/or executive management.

If you have a great relationship with your company’s CEO, management team, or even your manager (and you have a proven track record of excelling at your current role), try discussing a career development plan with someone senior where you can transition to a product role in the company.

This might involve setting clear milestones and a personal roadmap with a project manager, in terms of what skill sets you need to be developing/learning to succeed in a product manager role. Oftentimes, we find that this is an easier path vs. looking for a product management job as an outsider.

2. Get Involved with the Product Community

The next thing you should do is begin building relationships within a product community. Depending on your location, you may be able to find product events like:

  • Product Meetups: Check and attend product-focused meetups to meet and learn from other product managers. If there aren’t any meetups in your area, take the initiative to host your own (use!) and become known as a lead organizer so you can develop your network.
  • Product Breakfasts: One type of event we’ve found to be incredibly successful in our own Product HQ community is a product breakfast. Product managers are sometimes too busy/tired to get together after work so a more effective strategy is to get together a group of PMs to grab breakfast together and discuss several product topics. Our New York community kicked off AM:PM Product Breakfasts where attendees meet at a breakfast location, write down product topics on post-it notes, stick them onto a wall Kanban-style, and then discuss topics one at a time. If there aren’t any of these types of product breakfast events in your area, try organizing your own.
  • Product Conferences: There are tons of product conferences all around the world – make an investment in a ticket and spend the day learning from product leaders/meeting other product folks. If you’re interested in becoming a great product manager, then check out our product management courses.

Product Manager Certification

3. Set Up Informational Interviews

To effectively build relationships with product teams at companies you want to work at, you can by setting up “informational interviews.”

Informational interviews are just a fancy way of grabbing coffee with someone and asking them well-prepared questions to get to know someone, learn about their roles/companies, and build a relationship so that the person can either put in a good word for you or help surface your resume to the top of the pile.

Don’t make this meeting/interaction feel transactional – product managers are smart folks and they can see right through any fake bullsh*t if you are just trying to use them to get the job.

Never say “Can I pick your brain?”

Why would a product manager who has a thousand things to do waste 30 minutes to an hour of their time letting someone pester them endlessly with questions in what appears to be a one-way transaction?

Below is an effective cold email I received from a former engineer who wanted to chat about the product management process (see larger image):

Cold email example

In the above email, this candidate offers to exchange information about marketing and engineering in return for learning about the product management role.

Since there was clear value being offered on both sides, I more than happily replied, met up with him for a long coffee, and gave him tons of valuable advice about breaking into a product role (I can’t take full credit for this at all, but happily, he’s now landed his dream role as a PM at Snapchat).

4. Prep for these Informational Interviews

If someone accepts your request for an informational interview/coffee, make sure you come prepared as if you were entering the final round of an interview process.

Your goal is to stand out so that you leave a lasting impression on the person you’re speaking to. Remember, these PMs are probably getting spammed for informational interviews every single week.

Everyone is going to be asking the same generic questions, like “What’s your day-to-day like” or “What do you hate most about this job?” These are boring & stale questions that don’t make a PM have to think at all.

You want to research this person’s background and their – every question should make them go “Wow, I didn’t even think about that!”

An example could be a question like, “I did some market research here on X competitor and noticed they are coming out with Y feature sets which are pretty innovative in the industry. How has your immediate roadmap been affected because of this?”

Most importantly, try to ask these PMs what problems they are currently thinking about problem-solving. Try to find out their top needs as a product manager.

Why is this important? Learning about what’s keeping these PMs up at night helps you continue to provide value to them well beyond the initial informational interview.

If you know what problems a PM is currently thinking about, you can do multiple things:

  • You can create a mini case study where you go do the hard work/research into the problem that PM is facing and then send the case study to them. Don’t be cocky about it. Just say something like, “Hey, I appreciate you taking the time the other day to help me understand what you’re currently working on at your company. I know you mentioned that you’re currently thinking about X’s problem with your product. I don’t have the full context/information but I wanted to send across this case study where I did a deep-dive into the problem you’re facing and synthesized my thoughts into this short presentation with some key insights.”
  • If you don’t want to go above and beyond like above, you can just send short e-mails/tidbits of thoughts about the problem they are facing over the next few months. Maybe you come across an article that’s extremely relevant to what you guys were talking about and you shoot that over to the PM with a quick note about why it’s relevant.

Your goal with all of this is to leave a lasting impression in that PM’s mind as well as make it incredibly easy for them to want to refer you once a PM position opens up or once you apply for a role.

You don’t need a straightforward career path to break into a product manager role. It’s about developing the right skill sets and putting yourself in the product managers’ position to take advantage of an opportunity. Good luck!

Become a Product Manager Today

The conclusion of how to become a product manager involves a multifaceted approach encompassing various skills and experiences. By understanding the role’s intricacies, aspiring product managers can focus on honing their problem-solving abilities, mastering project management techniques, and continuously seeking opportunities for growth and development. Embracing challenges, fostering collaboration, and staying adaptable are key pillars on the path to success in the dynamic field of product management. With dedication and perseverance, individuals can navigate their way into the ranks of accomplished product managers, driving innovation and value creation in today’s competitive landscape.

Once you follow this guide and bear these tips in mind, you’re well on your way to becoming an A-class product manager.


Here’s a list of questions that aspiring product managers frequently ask on how to become a product manager:

What Does a Product Manager Do?

Product managers guide the development and success of a product throughout its lifecycle, from ideation to launch, ensuring alignment of product strategy with business goals and customer needs while collaborating with cross-functional teams.

What Qualifies a Good Product Manager?

Great product managers hold these skills:

  • A keen instinct for product and market needs
  • Skills in gathering, analyzing, and leveraging real-world data to validate or challenge their hypotheses

The delicate balance between intuition and evidence-based decision-making is the most fundamental skill set for a successful product manager.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Good Product Manager?

It takes 3-5 years to gain the experience and skillset to become a good product manager.

How do you Become a Top 1% Product Manager?

Becoming a top 1% product manager requires:

  1. Continuous learning
  2. Cultivating a deep understanding of your product and market
  3. Honing both hard and soft skills
  4. Delivering exceptional results that drive business growth and customer satisfaction
  5. Seeking diverse experiences
  6. Fostering strong relationships with cross-functional teams and stakeholders

How do I gain relevant experience if I’m transitioning from a different field?

Consider taking on side projects, internships, or certifications in product management, and highlight transferable or relevant skills from your previous roles.

If you are new to product management and are looking to break into your very first product manager role, we recommend taking our Product Manager Certification Courses, where you will learn the fundamentals of product management, launch your product, and get on the fast track toward landing your first product job.

Clement Kao
Clement Kao
Clement Kao is Co-Founder of Product Manager HQ. He was previously a Principal Product Manager at Blend, an enterprise technology company that is inventing a simpler and more transparent consumer lending experience while ensuring broader access for all types of borrowers.