What's a typical product manager career path?
There are different paths that each product manager takes, but the common ones I've seen are:
1. Joining a tech company as an Associate PM or an intern straight from college.
For college grads, I suggest starting by connecting with other product managers (e.g. via LinkedIn) to better understand what we do. There are great books available on this topic as well -- "Cracking PM Interview" is among my favorites. I also created a series of videos explaining tech jobs and what do I do in more detail - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsAz_arwNkiPobhi09VrMFg
2. Transition from other roles e.g. Engineering, Professional Services, Support.
This path is easier, as it assumes that you are already in a tech company and can make connections with internal PMs. Picking a PM as a mentor or just becoming a friend with one is a great place to start. I also need to point out that PMs sit at the intersection of Business, Technology, and UX (Customer) -- that is why engineers who transition to a PM team will have an advantage as they understand the technology much deeper. On the other hand, someone in Support who wants to become a PM brings a much deeper understanding of a customer.
There is a fork in the PM career path road: one is becoming a people manager, the other becoming an expert in a deep thinking product area sans managing a team.
My recommendation is to figure out which one is right for you. Many folks want to jump into management simply because they think this is the only way to grow, make more $$$ and so on. That is not true. Big and small orgs I have been a part of value senior individual contributors that are passionate about their individual craft. Speak with folks from both paths, and see which one resonates more with you. Try mentoring people and see if you like helping others succeed through your guidance as a "management path" check.
Then, share your thinking with your manager to get them to help you moving along this path.
This is a very interesting question and one that I keep touching upon on almost all career conversations with my teams & mentees. There is no one typical career path for PMs, which can be both liberating and challenging at the same time!
It's liberating since PMs have the chance to shape their careers to what they would like it to be, playing to their strengths and having a fulfilling life & career. It's challenging since every industry and many firms in the same industry have different definitions & requirements for what a PM is! For instance, even within FAANG firms, the definition of a PM is different - Google requires PMs to market the work of their Engineers, Apple PMs are usually good at their domain of expertise but execute on Sr Management decisions, Amazon PMs are Business/ Program Managers with heightened focus on a few metrics, Netflix PMs are very Technical (most of their PMs were former Engineers or Architects) and Meta offers almost the full buffet but also the most agency & empowerment to PMs. I touched upon some of the PM archetypes in another answer and its great to see that PMs can succeed in any shape or form tht adds value to their firm!
PMs who are early in their careers will do well to join established firms to understand the PM tracks and how senior PMs have shaped their careers. Working in a start-up or a 0-1 environment usually turbo-charges a PM's career but only if the PM is aware of their strengths & know-how to leverage them. I have found that alternating between large firms & startups or between established products/ projects and 0-1 initiatives is the best way one can gain the most perspective and shape their careers as PMs.
In the field of product management, there isn't really a "typical" career path. Product management is highly flexible. Some product managers may transition into related fields like marketing, sales, or even corporate strategy. Others might find their niche in a particular stage of product management and choose to specialize rather than move up the ladder. The path can also be nonlinear, with professionals moving between companies, roles, and industries based on opportunities and personal interests.
Moreover, the startup ecosystem offers a different trajectory, where roles and responsibilities can be more fluid, and one might rapidly move into higher management roles based on the success and growth of the company.
In essence, while there are common steps in the career progression of a product manager, the journey is often unique and tailored to each individual's skills, experiences, and career aspirations.
A typical path may look like:
Entry-Level Role (Associate Product Manager, Product Analyst, etc.): Many product managers start in entry-level roles, which might be titled Associate Product Manager, Product Analyst, or a similar designation. These roles often involve supporting more senior product managers, conducting market research, gathering customer feedback, and learning the basics of product lifecycle management.
Product Manager: After gaining experience and demonstrating skills in product development, strategy, and execution, individuals often move into a Product Manager role. Here, they take on more responsibility, managing entire products or significant features, making strategic decisions, and working closely with cross-functional teams.
Senior Product Manager: With continued success and experience, a Product Manager can advance to a Senior Product Manager role. This position typically involves managing more complex products or product lines, mentoring junior team members, and having a greater influence on the strategic direction of the product portfolio.
Lead Product Manager or Group Product Manager: Some companies have a role for Lead or Group Product Managers, where professionals manage multiple related products or a team of product managers, ensuring alignment and synergy across products.
Director of Product Management: Moving up, the next step might be a Director of Product Management, overseeing a larger portfolio of products and leading a bigger team of product managers. This role involves more strategic planning and less day-to-day product management.
VP of Product or Chief Product Officer: At the top of the career ladder, one might become a VP of Product or Chief Product Officer (CPO), responsible for the overall product strategy of an organization, aligning product development with business goals, and often being part of executive leadership.
The answer depends on the size of the company. But if I generalize, if you are a new grad or new to the function, then your first job would be Product Manager. Then, depending on whether you are in B2C or B2B companies, there are different levels with slightly different titles. In B2B tech companies, the titles progress from PM to senior PM, Principal, and Director. As a Director, you typically become a people manager responsible for an area of the business. Some companies might even have titles such as Group Product Manager before Director, but these are layers with slightly smaller scope. The responsibilities grow wider and wider until you become a VP, where you become the single-threaded owner of an entire business. Again, depending on the size of the company and the promotion criteria, a candidate can typically spend an average of 2-3 years in a role. It gets much longer as you go higher up the ladder.