GUIDE 2023

What is the Product Manager Career Path? [Ultimate Guide]

Members of the PHQ Slack community regularly host awesome events for product managers to swap tips and learn from one another.

In San Francisco, Vinay Melwani (Product Manager at HouseCanary) has organized a monthly morning meetup called AM | PM. Attendees answer a thought-provoking question of the month in a round-robin fashion and reflect on each other’s responses.

One of the questions:

“What viable career paths exist for product managers?”

In this post, we’ll cover the different paths that we explored during this session. If you want to see the product manager career path via video, then click below. Otherwise, skip ahead.

What is a Product Manager’s Career Path?

A product manager’s career path and job description are not the same for all product managers. The product management profession is still developing and therefore many product managers’ jobs have not been clearly defined or agreed upon.

Common product manager job titles include:

  • Product developer
  • Product marketer
  • Product planner
  • Product lead engineer
  • Marketing Manager
  • Director of Product Management
  • Product analytics manager
  • Product marketing lead
  • Product owner

How do you know what product manager career path is right for you? The answer depends on your background. A career in product management requires a wide range of PM skills from business and data analysis to technology expertise.

What does a Product Manager’s Career Path Look Like?

The following are the different career paths you can follow as a product manager.

1. Vice President of Product

Vinay commented that the traditional path of a product manager is to raise the ranks internally: from associate product manager position to senior product manager then to director of product, then to VP of product.

The VP of Product sets the product vision for her team, ensures that product strategy is aligned, and coordinates with other executives to accelerate growth. To be a successful VP of Product, one should demonstrate success in delivering a product, in enabling junior and senior product managers how to deliver products, and in crafting a long-term product vision and associated strategies that take industry trends into account.

2. Product Consultant / Speaker

Tyler Swartz, a senior product manager, highlighted that one path after being a successful junior product manager is to become a speaker or a consultant.

After a PM gains lots of relevant experience, she may find that she is more interested in enabling others to accelerate their growth, rather than focusing on the day-to-day operations of product development.

By being a product speaker, she can inspire and inform thousands of product managers. By using soft skills and being a product consultant, she can parachute into product organizations of varying maturities, and enable them to scale sustainably and smoothly.

The best way to expand your consultant reach is to join a massive community of product experts.


3. Venture Capitalist

Theo Gordon, Product Manager at Leanplum, called out that another viable exit path for a product manager is to become a venture capitalist.

Theo suggested that for a product manager to succeed in this pivot, she should first establish herself as a credible opinion-maker. After all, venture capitalists primarily function by influencing and solidifying opinions on how viable a market is, how attractive the investment is, and how good of a beta product is.

As a group, we concluded that unless a product manager had already established herself as a Director of Product or higher, she would be unlikely to be immediately hired as a partner at a venture capital firm.

Therefore, if a product manager wanted to make such a switch, she would be advised to first rise the ranks internally while simultaneously building influence (e.g. through social media, blogs, or product events), then make the switch.

4. Entrepreneur-in-Residence

Rob McGrorty, previously Head of Product at Webgility, mentioned that product managers can also be successful entrepreneurs-in-residence.

Our readers may not have heard of this role before. An entrepreneur-in-residence is a role within a venture capital firm, and the role is responsible for identifying and eventually leading a new that the venture capital firm will then invest in.

For more information about entrepreneurs-in-residence, check out the following resources:

5. Internal Lateral Shifts

Vinay highlighted that product managers are also well-positioned to make internal lateral moves. For example, a product manager could move into corporate strategy, marketing, or business development.

Product managers regularly interface with a wide array of internal and external stakeholders. Since a product manager already has internal exposure, one could easily make the internal shift to an area that she finds to be more interesting.

Looking to become a product manager? Enroll in our top-rated product management certification courses to excel in your career path:

Product Manager Certification

6. Advisory Board Member

Theo made a great point that product managers can also be effective advisory board members. Many CEOs create an advisory board to provide them with cross-industry and cross-functional perspectives, while also positioning themselves for strong networking and partnership opportunities.

Advisory board members typically receive equity in return for their contributions to the organization. Quite a few board members sit on multiple advisory boards simultaneously, as the time commitment is relatively low for any single position.

7. Serial Product Organizational Scaler

Theo also highlighted that some product managers happen to be extraordinarily talented at scaling product organizations. Some might specialize in growing a small product organization to a large one; others might specialize in growing a product organization to a large one. Regardless, as a scale, these kinds of product managers will find that they are no longer passionate about the role, and will find opportunities elsewhere to scale

As a serial product organization scaler, one should identify what size of product organizations she has the most interest in scaling, determine when she should leave, and identify organizations that she would like to move to next.

8. General Manager

Vinay identified that many product managers wind up driving entirely new products or business models, and may mature into becoming general managers.

A general manager leads an entire business line. That is, they are not focused just on the product, but also on monetization, operational processes, marketing, budgeting, etc. To be a successful general manager, product managers need to learn to let go of the details of day-to-day product development and focus even more intensely on using influence and data to shift the priorities of cross-functional teams across the business line.

9. Product Developer

Product developers may stay product managers for their entire careers, leading a product line and gradually expanding their product management skills to include new skill sets. Alternatively, product developers can develop into product leaders – those who create entire product lines or businesses.

Some of their responsibilities include:

  • Product and product line planning
  • Product demand forecasting
  • Product roadmap development
  • Product line profitability analysis

A Product Developer is an internal product manager role at a large company or multinational corporation that focuses on product development within specific product lines.

10. Product Marketer

The product marketer is responsible for the product launch. product positioning and product marketing plans. This is a very important role to ensure the product line stays on track with consumer trends and will continue to be profitable over time.

A product marketer may also work within product development – setting up product launches, and working alongside product developers in developing messaging around new product releases.

11. Product Planner

A product planner will work with the product team and marketers to look at product release plans and product positioning. This can mean working alongside product developers in determining which features will be included in a new product release. It also means developing the product launch plan, including creating presentations about new product releases for other departments like sales or marketing.

12. Product Lead Engineer

A product lead engineer looks after product roadmaps within a product development team. Working alongside product managers, engineering teams and a product team, product lead engineers look at the technical feasibility of product features and help prioritize product releases. They also work with product developers in defining which features will be included in new product releases.

13. Product Marketing Manager

A product marketing manager is responsible for product marketing planning and product launch. They develop a product’s messaging strategy, including creating product positioning statements, product descriptions, and product collateral like brochures or product explainer videos. Product marketers also work on new product launches by managing the distribution of press releases to journalists and bloggers within the target market segment.

14. Director of Product Management

A director of the product management team is responsible for defining product strategy, managing the product portfolio within a specific product area, and ensuring individual product lines are meeting the organization’s objectives.

15. Product Analytics Manager

As product analytics managers, product analysts collect and analyze product usage data from the development team and product owners to determine which new features should be built into product releases. They also perform competitive analyses on product performance, sales data, customer support calls, user stories, and other sources of market intelligence. This information is used to develop more effective product strategies in the future.

16. Product director

product directors are product management executives who have fully grown into their product management positions and no longer focus on product analysis. They oversee product managers, product analysts, product marketers, and product teams to ensure that products are being built as effectively as possible.

17. Product Owner

A product owner is a product manager’s direct contact with the client or customer base. The product owner is the product manager’s customer representative and ensures that the technical product manager or managers keep the client base informed about product plans, product updates, and product releases.

18. Product Evangelist

When a product has been released to the market, it is the product evangelist’s job to ensure that clients and customers have learned about the product release through marketing activities and product launches.

Key Takeaways

Product managers have many paths to success, and not all of them have to be related to product!

To ensure your long-term happiness and success, be sure to identify which career endpoint you want to aim towards. Then, laying the foundation to make a successful transition.

You can also check out our Product Manager certification courses to advance in your product management career.


Here are answers to the questions about the product manager career path:

What is a career path for a product manager?

A typical career path for a product manager starts with roles like Associate Product Manager (APM) or Product Analyst. With experience, one can advance to Product Manager (PM), then to Senior Product Manager, and eventually to Director of Product Management or VP of Product, and then to Chief Product Officer. The highest role in the product management career path is the Chief Product Officer (CPO) or CEO.

How to advance your career as a product manager?

To advance your career as a product manager, focus on continually improving your skills in market analysis, user experience, and project management. Building a strong network and demonstrating leadership can also open doors to higher-level positions. Seek mentorship, take on more complex projects, and pursue relevant certifications or an MBA.

Is product management a path to CEO?

Yes, product management can be a path to becoming a CEO, as it involves strategic thinking, leadership, and a deep understanding of both the market and customer needs.

Many CEOs have backgrounds in product management, as it provides a broad perspective on business operations and innovation.

How do I go from APM to PM?

To transition from an Associate Product Manager (APM) to a Product Manager (PM), focus on gaining experience and taking on more responsibilities in product development. Seek feedback from mentors and continuously improve your skills in key areas such as market research, user experience, and strategic planning. Demonstrate your ability to lead projects, make data-driven decisions, and deliver successful product outcomes.

Do product managers have a future?

Yes, product managers have a strong future as the demand for innovative, customer-centric products continues to grow across industries.

As technology evolves, the need for skilled and senior product managers will likely increase, offering ample career opportunities.

Their role is crucial in guiding product development, aligning with market trends, and driving business success.

Is the product manager job tough?

Yes, a product manager role is tough due to the multifaceted nature of the role, which requires balancing strategic vision, stakeholder management, and detailed project execution.

The job demands hard and soft skills: strong leadership, excellent communication skills, and the ability to handle pressure effectively.

They must navigate complex challenges, make data-driven decisions, and ensure timely delivery of products.

What is an average product manager salary?

The average salary for a product manager is typically between $100,000 and $130,000 per year. Senior product managers and those in high-cost living areas or tech hubs like Silicon Valley earn more, often exceeding $150,000 annually.

Have thoughts that you’d like to contribute around product manager career paths? Chat with other product managers around the world in our PHQ Community!

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.