Starting Out: How to Choose the Right Product Roles? PART II
This is PART II of the two part series - How to Choose the Right Product Roles?
PART II - How to Select (for your unique self) (THIS POST)
In the last article I took you through different dimensions to consider in product roles. The next question is:
"How should I look through these dimensions and select the best role for myself?"
I'll give my thoughts below.
How To Select for Yourself
Obviously, there's not a single best role for everyone. And I'd even say there might not be a single best role for an individual throughout her career. That's precisely because every one of us is unique. And each person will go through different phases of the career that will have different needs.
Good news? You can still make it a structured (vs random) assessment as much as possible!
We looked at key dimensions of the roles. Now it's time to look at dimensions about yourself for the matches: Background, Interests, and Goals.
It broadly refers to your education, career experience, and developed skillsets leading up to this point. These directly impact your chance of getting noticed and ultimately hired. They definitely make a big difference in how successful you will be in the product role you're getting into (and set you up for the next one).
Just like product roles, any attempted background archetype would be over-simplification. But the key here is to play to your advantage. This might sound obvious but lots of us tend to overlook when we're buried in an ocean of job postings. We might end up forgetting that the first problem to worry about is to get a foot in the door. This is especially true for those of you who are freshly breaking into product.
So first assess your background, know what you're good at, and map them to the requirements of each role. Referencing back on the product roles dimensions, here are just some examples of the good potential matches:
Tech Background <> Platform Products: Platform Products are usually more technical in nature and many have their direct customers/users as software developers. Coming from the background enables you to empathize toward your users and know their needs more easily.
SEO/Marketing Background <> Growth PM: Growth PM is responsible for acquiring users via multiple channels and optimize for those. The previous SEO/Marketing role gives you advantage because that's essentially what you do.
Healthcare Background <> Healthcare Product/Vertical: I guess this is intuitive enough. You're already a domain expert or even a prior user in the target segment of your product. All you have to learn is to be a good PM :)
And the list goes on. The goal here is not to confine yourself to only roles that perfectly match your background, as you will see in the next sections. It's just about knowing where your best chances are.
What you enjoy and are passionate about doing, is definitely very important for your long term success. It's 10x easier when you do what you love. Or vice versa.
Some of you might have your interests aligned with your background, and that's great! Essentially you can continue to pursue what you have been developing and cultivating. For others, your interests might be very different from what your background is and what you have been doing, and that's totally fine too. It might be why you're looking to change in the first place. And in the latter case, knowing your interests - what you really enjoy doing, is even more important as a part of the assessment.
When thinking about interests, make sure you look way beyond the surface. As an example: most people might be intuitively more interested in consumer facing products with hundreds of millions of users, over say an internal business product with only several thousand employees. And there's nothing wrong about this preference. But make sure you look deeper into your actual ownership in the role, the nature of the job, the overall impact on the business, among other factors before determining. E.g. you could have much stronger and complete ownership in the internal product role and you might actually make much higher overall business impact. Or you're in fact the most interested in the types of problems the less appealing role offers you.
Just to plant the seeds for your own brainstorming, think about:
What types of problems are you drawn to solve?
What types of things that get you to jump out of bed in the morning?
What are some common traits of activities you really enjoyed in the past?
And then reference the dimensions of product roles and potentially create your interests matrix on what elements you like vs dislike, which will serve as your framework for quickly assessing which roles are of your interest.
What are your short term goals (e.g. next few months to a year) and long term goals (a few years or longer, ultimately where you want to be)? Make sure you have these clearly in mind when searching for the next product role. Because your next product role should directly contribute to your short term goals, and lead you on the path toward your long term goals.
Of course, it'd be great if your short term goals directionally align with your long term goals. If not, I'd suggest you to revisit your goals first :)
Lets look at a few hypothetical scenarios as examples:
Short term goal: break into product (land the first product role)
Long term goal: build up a successful business of your own
I'd probably focus on finding a product role in a growing start up (preferably in an industry/category I'm passionate about), where I have full on ownership, get to work closely with the founders, and wear many hats vs. striving to get into a product role at FAANG.
Short term goal: switch to a new product role I enjoy with the right people and culture to grow my skills in
Long term goal: grow into product leadership in an establish reputable internet company
I might not land the best role in the best company immediately, so I'd likely focus on landing a role that's better than my current role by the dimensions I care about, and optimize for personal growth, happiness, and resume experience. So that I can find an even better next role in a better company in a couple years which takes me closer to my long term goal.
And the examples go on and on. The key here is to make sure what you're pursuing align with your goals. Don't fall for the temptation of chasing the "shiniest" roles only to learn later that it's not inline with where you want to be headed.
I believe you'd be much more ready to choose the right product by now! After:
Understanding how product roles differ in 3 key dimensions: Product, Focus Area, Company
Assessing your own Background, Interests, and Goals
And I have just a few more suggestions for you:
Iterate, iterate, iterate: You don't have to land your dream role in one step. Iterate with deliberate stepping stones knowing how they take you one step closer to your goals. Just like how you would manage product launches and improvements
Experiment: you don't have to know all the answers upfront - what product roles fit you the most, what are you really passionate about, etc. Feel free to experiment and try things out! Especially when you're just starting out. What's the worst case if it doesn't work out? Pursue the next role!
Open mind: don't limit yourself to a niche too soon. What you thought you wouldn't like, might end up being the best choice of your career.
And remember, all kinds of experience despite seemingly unrelated at first, will all add up to make up who you will be: your unique successful self. As someone who had experience in all kinds of roles in all kinds of industries in the past, I can tell you with confidence that it's true. No experience is a total waste of your time.
Does this post help or resonate? Do you have follow up questions? Want to share your own experience? Leave a comment below or contact me! RESPONSE GUARANTEED :)