Episode 2: How to get into product management

Female businesswoman excused from a meeting to take a phone call

This is the second episode in the Robert Walters ‘How To’ podcast series hosted by Tom Andrew, Manager within the Robert Walters Operations team. The episodes in this series will be punchy, short, sharp messages to candidates about the current job market within certain sectors.  

Joining Tom in this episode is Stephanie Boldrin, Senior Consultant within the Robert Walters Technology team. Tom & Steph discuss the Product Management market, how you can start a career within it, what makes a good Product Manager and what is in demand at the moment. Listen below to hear more. 

If you would like to get in contact with Steph or Tom please find their contact details below:

Tom Andrew - Tom.Andrew@robertwalters.com
Stephanie Boldrin - Stephanie.Boldrin@robertwalters.com

 

Tom Andrew
Manager
Robert Walters

LinkedIn

 

Stephanie Boldrin
Senior Consultant
Robert Walters

LinkedIn

 

Transcript:

Tom Andrew:
Hello, and welcome to the second episode of the Robert Walters ‘How To’ podcast. This is again hosted by myself Tom Andrew, I look after the Operations team here at Robert Walters. Joining me today is Steph Boldrin from our Product Management team. Thanks for joining Steph.

Stephanie Boldrin:
Thank you so much for having me here Tom.

Tom Andrew:
So quick intro, Steph joined the business a year and a half ago, in the middle of Covid and frankly she's taken an area which no one really knew very much about, and absolutely made it your own, product management, product development Steph has absolutely run with it, and frankly created a business  from nothing, into a very profitable area. An area where we're doing a lot of new business, a lot of fintechs and asset managers etc. Product really is a success story. First question, what is it?

Stephanie Boldrin:
Well, thank you for that introduction. I think the role of product management has really evolved in the UK or anywhere in Europe over the past year and a half, maybe two, more so than it has in 10 years. I think product management overall, it's something that is more sexy in the bay area, in the US, rather than here in Europe, but that has changed in the past couple of years. I have seen a great change from speaking to candidates and the type of experience they have had. I think the role of product management is the most fascinating, or one of the most fascinating roles within tech companies nowadays. Product management is a very hybrid, very deep, very complex matrix type discipline. It's curious because it sits within strategy, design technology, business development, go-to-market and all of that so I think product management can best define as a mini CEO within a company.

Tom Andrew:
So anybody who wants to be a mini CEO you're listening to the right people right here. Okay, so that's obviously a massive amount of information, how does one get started? what does it start with? Obviously you don't just leave university and then you're a product manager?

Stephanie Boldrin:
That's it, there's not a five year bachelor's degree and you've graduated from product management, and this is what is even more beautiful. Product managers come from a very mixed backgrounds, they come from different degrees, there's no limitations, there's absolutely no requirements as to what your background might be. So to be quite honest, the summary of everything i've learned from my candidates for the past year and a half that I’ve been working in this incredible discipline is that you're most likely talking about a career transition. So whether you're coming from a development background, engineering, psychology, business diploma, project management, program, there's chance to progress into product management.

I think I can divide this path into three major ones, starting with you can make an internal transition in the company that you're in. So that probably has to go along with a good manager or a good product manager that serves as your mentor. But there is chance, I wouldn't say it is the easiest way because usually companies box you in to a discipline, you're a project manager, or your business analysts. They don't necessarily want you to be doing somebody else's job so it's kind of like an inhouse upskill discipline, or route that you can take.

I think the second one is finding a junior product manager role in a bigger company. Why bigger companies? because these companies usually do have the budget to you upskill you and bring you without having any previous experience. They usually or could usually also have product programs they're able to provide you with the necessary upskill. This usually also comes along with MBA graduates, or a master's degree graduates that want to make a career transition. You don't need an MBA to become a product manager under these roots that i'm describing, but it's something that i've seen repeatedly. Then I guess the third path is joining a start-up, wearing different hats, not being afraid to execute.

Tom Andrew:
A lot of your business comes because within Robert Walters we link Product very much to our tech business, so most of the work that you do is through the likes of fintechs, start-ups, lawtech, any sort of tech?

Stephanie Boldrin:
Yes any sort of tech. I think, given Covid and how much it has accelerated technology naturally? Technology is a huge snowball in our face, we cannot not see it. It has grown quite considerably, if anything, this health crisis has emphasised it. So big sectors like education, financial services, have been disrupted for quite some time.

Tom Andrew:
So it is literally any background, any industry, we can probably find a way into product management at this point, or at least starting the next few years?

Stephanie Boldrin:
Absolutely anything.

Tom Andrew:
Amazing, so okay you've obviously got your work cut out working out where to start finding people. Once you're in the door what is good? and then, I suppose, what is great? What is a basic level product manager?

Stephanie Boldrin:
I think there's focus core competencies that any product manager needs to have, or at least start to build, and then obviously you do specialise. If anything, the bigger picture that you need for success, or at least my understanding, speaking from my great candidate pool so far is that you have to be a niche market product manager. You will become the most successful you can be if you are a specialised product manager in automation, or in artificial intelligence, or in data science or etc, you know I can go on for hours.

It doesn't mean that you will not have success if you're not such specialised but I think in the big picture, product managers do tend to be specialised. Then going back to the core competencies we're talking about;  running design sprint's, working in agile methodology, scrum, prioritising, roadmap planning, user story, you know all of those, understanding market fit, all of those, and again I can continue for hours on core competencies that product managers need to have. But then to become the greatest one, it goes back to the niche market, you need specific skill sets.

Tom Andrew:
So basically a wide list of skills, crossing over projects, tech, various industries, but then to really excel is specialised, essentially, rather than generalised.

Stephanie Boldrin:
I would say so, yes, again, going back to the original you know opening sentence, it's a very hot role in the market, right now, because you have huge levels of autonomy and decision making and power in different areas of the business that are powered by the growth of a product, and the launch of the product, and how that goes to market and how much acceptance rate it has and it's refining that and going back again and sitting with your tech teams and understanding what went wrong, how can we refine etc.

Tom Andrew:
Amazing, it goes back to your tagline of a mini CEO.

Stephanie Boldrin:
Yes, a mini CEO and as you grow within this you have different levels, senior product managers and then you become a director and then you become a VP and then SVP and you know, different companies have different titles and start-ups have different denominations but it's also essential to remember that you're becoming a leader, so you need emotional intelligence, you need leadership qualifications.

Tom Andrew:
I can't believe you actually managed to get such a complex product area/business line into 10 minutes that was great, I really applaud you. So what we're doing here is not just about us reaching out to our candidate base. Robert Walters has always been about getting to know our candidates as much as we can so what we're doing a little bit here is turning the tables on consultants who have volunteered their time by asking a little bit of a silly question, a get to know you question. Would you rather see a firework display or circus performance?

Stephanie Boldrin:
A firework display. It reminds me of New Years and new beginnings

Tom Andrew:
Perhaps a little bit heavy handed for the end of this but that wraps up our Product, ‘How To’ podcast. If you are looking to get into product development, as Steph said, New Year, new beginnings, start the year with a bang. Both of our information is going be the bottom of this please feel free to reach out. Who specifically would you love to reach out to you this week?

Stephanie Boldrin:
This week? Look anyone that is looking to consider a career in product management do reach out, anyone who wants to make a career transition, or next step and accelerate their product careers do reach out.

Tom Andrew:
Fantastic and for what it's worth Steph is an absolutely fantastic addition to the Robert Walters business in the last 18 months or so and the energy she brings you can obviously hear it here, well worth getting in touch. Thanks for listening, do like, share etc. everything counts on social media, spread the word. 

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