Working in Product Management is a dream for many. Whether you’re a coder, a business analyst, or anything in between, a role in Product is often viewed as a step up that can set you up for a more prosperous career. Plus, Product is exciting! You get to help steer your company’s offering all the while getting to know your customer better than anyone else in the business.
But how to get there? There are the 3+1 areas of expertise required of every Product professional, to varying degrees. You’ll want to know each of the 3 well, and shore up the one(s) where you come up short against your competition. The +1 is what will really set you apart from other candidates competing for a role. Onwards!
As a Product Manager, it is your job to know the customer better than anyone else in the business. This is Market Expertise. What problems are shared by your market? What attributes do your specific buyers share? Your users? Who are the big players in your market? How does your offering compare to the offerings of the competition? What is the history of your market? What will the future be like? Competent Product professionals know these items inside out.
Product Managers don’t stay in the role long if their initiatives result in financial loss. It is a core function of Product roles to turn Market Expertise into money. This is Business Expertise. You’ll need a grasp of such varied topics as accounting, applied statistics, business communication, business ethics, business law, finance, managerial economics, management, entrepreneurship, marketing, supply chain, and operations. MBA folks studied this in school but you can pick up the knowledge in other ways. You don’t need to be an expert on all of these, just knowing the basics and how to apply them will set you apart from many working in Product.
Product Managers need a good understanding of how their product works. This is Technology Expertise. Whether your product is technologically simple – even the PMs at Braun need to know how their coffee makers work – or technologically complex, you will need a firm grasp of the underlying tech in order to perform your job function. That’s not to say that you need to become a Full Stack developer before you can work in PM, instead you should at least understand that there is a “stack” for your product and how all the pieces fit elegantly together to create a valuable solution for your market. These days, for better or for worse, more and more emphasis is being placed on Technology Expertise in Product Management.
We all have things that we understand better than anyone else around us. This is Domain Expertise. It can be something useful like the seasonal buying habits of American consumers, something fun like the world record progression in Super Mario Bros. or something serious like the rates of foodbank usage across the United States. What matters here is that Domain Expertise tends to reflect a passion. Unlike the other 3, this can’t be taught. You either have it or you don’t, and it usually comes from years of study and personal persistence.
All other candidate metrics being equal, a hiring manager is going to pick the Product professional with deep domain expertise over another candidate. Let’s say that a company wanted to make a viable alternative to Twitch. Someone with a deep understanding of the speedrun community is going to have better odds of landing a Product gig at that company than someone whose passion is finding better ways to make waffles, even if they comparatively come up short on one of the other 3.
Just to drive this home a bit more, if you’re passionate about something you will naturally want to get better at it. By talking about it, you’ll develop a reputation as an expert. People will seek you out and ask you questions because you’re the best person they know to talk to about that topic. That’s what your hiring manager wants for the role. They want someone that all the cross-functional partners can reach out to because they know so much than anyone else and they are up to speed with current developments.