A decade ago, the top job choice for MBA grads was consulting. Now, the new “sexy” and coveted position is a Product Manager. It’s a role that allows MBAs to combine marketing, design, and problem-solving—all the elements that an MBA grad loves.
In fact, top MBA programs at schools such as Harvard Business School, Johnson Graduate School, and Kellogg School are offering new courses and programs designed for a career in product management. It’s so attractive because being a Product Manager is considered a mini-CEO job, where candidates become the CEO of the product.
However, it’s not that simple.
So, What does it Mean to be a Product Manager?
According to Mind the Product, an effective Product Manager must be skilled in three areas.
- Business: Above all else, a Product Manager must be great at business. They need to be focused on maximizing business value and optimizing their company’s products to achieve maximum return on investment.
- Technology: A Product Manager also has to be able to understand technology, and what it takes to create, implement, and roll out the products under their purview. They must be willing and able to spend time with the development team, understanding what they do better than anyone else in the business.
- User Experience: Finally, a Product Manager is the voice of the customer. They must be passionate about the user experience, knowing how to take and implement feedback to get the results they need.
A great product manager, such as Google’s Marissa Mayer, has her hands in every little bit of the product. She pays attention to everything from on-site experience to how the product is presented in an ad or at a conference. She’s the ultimate advocate of the company’s products, and she is willing to do anything to protect the integrity of the overall product vision.
During any given day, a Product Manager can jump from a business development meeting into a problem-solving session with engineers. It’s a role that will never allow you to be bored or require you to do the same thing everyday.
Monster.com describes a Product Manager as someone who develops products by identifying potential products; conducting market research; generating product requirements; determining specifications, production timetables, pricing, and time-integrated plans for product introduction; and developing marketing strategies.
Product Manager Salary
The average Product Manager makes $108,659 a year, according to GlassDoor. On the very low end, an introductory position could pay as little as $55k. On the high end, for larger companies and for experienced individuals, Product Managers could expect to make $160,000.
Working as a Product Manager
There’s no doubt that product management is a coveted career role. It has a special appeal for many MBAs because they feel the role has a tangible impact on the company. “I like the idea of constantly improving a product that has an impact on users,” Meghan Servello, an MBA student at Cornell, told the Wall Street Journal.
Unfortunately, it’s not a career field that every MBA can jump into. MBAs without technology backgrounds may struggle to transition from their coursework into their career. In truth, companies like Facebook look for Product Managers who have already built products or, at least, already have the skill set to build products. As for companies like Operator, they’re indifferent about their applicants having an MBA as long as they have a background in technology.
Do You Need an MBA to be a Product Manager?
It doesn’t hurt.
In truth though, there is no educational path to help you become a Product Manager. They typically come from a wide-variety of backgrounds. Marissa Mayer and Leah Culver started off as engineers, whereas Caterina Fake started as an Art Director and majored in English.
For Max Wesman, a Senior Director of Product for GoodHire and 2010 MBA graduate out of Berkeley-Haas, a career in product management was the right choice and so was his MBA. He revealed his thoughts in a blog post.
“For me, product management was a great opportunity to blend what I loved about consulting with being able to nurture, build, and launch a product or service into the market that people would use and enjoy,” said Max. “Not only that, but I would be able to stick around after finishing a project and work on improving the experience for the next release, all while working with customers to better understand their needs. In my career as a PM, I’ve definitely had to reach back into my business school experiences bag for everything from dealing with troublesome personalities on development teams, pricing new products, evaluating A-B tests for statistical significance, presenting a product vision, and building financial models for forecasting.”
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