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How to become a product manager

Looking to swap careers in 2023? With demand in Product Management, here are some ways you can become a product manager

Looking to swap careers in 2023? You could do worse than product management. With average salaries benchmarking around $130,000, and 10.3 per cent growth expected over the next five years, it’s a great time to jump into this burgeoning, future-proof field. “Product Managers are now in high demand, and have been touted the new frontier of tech,” says Kevin Argus, Program Manager of RMIT Online's Graduate Certificate of Product Management. That ‘new frontier’ saw a 29% bump in job listings in 2019, with businesses of all shapes and sizes recognising the need for more product managers.  

So how do you become a product manager in 2023? Here are the basics.  


What is product management? 


Product managers are responsible for, essentially, guiding a digital product through its lifecycle, from development and ideation, through to testing, positioning, pricing and iteration. This product might be an app, or a new website function, or a nifty mortgage calculator, or a pair of AR goggles. The sky’s the limit!  

“Product Managers are the individuals responsible for evolving the success of the product in a manner that balances customer, commercial and technical needs.”
Tess Ng from REA.

“It’s a tough job. They drive and champion the vision of the company, they rally the troops, and keep the product evolving to meet market demands.” 

You can think of product management as a sort of IT-adjacent role. It combines all sorts of skills and proficiencies, which is part of its appeal: design thinking, financial metrics and price tracking, customer journey mapping, data analysis, stakeholder management, agile workflows, UAT and prototyping, digital leadership. Product managers pretty much do it all.  


What’s the salary/career progression like? 


In short, extremely competitive. Considering product management in its modern form didn’t even really exist 10 years ago, the industry has seen tremendous growth (with more expected over the horizon). According to the latest data from SEEK, there are currently over 1,600 opportunities for product managers in Australia, with salaries averaging around $130,000. Job satisfaction is also listed at 4.1 out of 5 (for global context, Glassdoor ranked product management as the fifth best job in America in 2019).  

Career progression is solid, too, with plenty of on- and off-ramps to explore. You can move from product manager to senior product manager, to director of product and beyond, depending on the size of the company. There’s also great lateral opportunities: with product managers in demand pretty much everywhere, you can easily jump between industries, or even related fields like UX, CX and digital transformation. 


What skills do you need? 


The beauty of product management is that it’s a tech field that doesn’t require incredibly in-depth tech skills. It’s accessible to anyone. In fact, if you look at 2016 ASIC jobs reports, six of the top ten product management skills are non-technical.  

That’s not to say there aren’t certain things you’ll need to learn, of course. An understanding of User Experience Design (UX), web development, languages like Python and SQL, a healthy dose of business acumen (product managers are usually responsible for metrics, KPIs and pricing models, too) plus data analysis will all help a lot. But none of them are mandatory, or impossible to learn. Just as valuable are soft skills like leadership, curiosity, empathy and relationship management.  

“There's a joke that Product Managers have lots of responsibility but no power, as most Product Managers don’t have any direct reports,” says Stewart Boon, founder of AuctionFox. “So Product Managers need to be good at influencing outcomes based on qualitative and quantitative data, together with solid logic and lot of conversation. This will be in their teams with designers and developers, but also working with stakeholders from different areas in the business.” 


Where do you start?  


A lot of product managers get into the profession internally. Many companies tend to promote people from their UX, marketing or web design teams, giving them responsibility for a particular product. If that sounds appealing to you, try pitching an internal switch to your boss.  

“Most clients do it internally,” says Naomi Schofield from product consultancy, Tigerspike. “They pick people from their business teams – marketing or IT and so on – and they say, ‘Okay you’ve got a new job now you’re the product owner for blah blah blah’. It’s about transitioning workers into product strategy roles. We see that all the time.” 

The other place to start is a simple product management short course. RMIT Online has a range of these, from 8-week short courses through to graduate certificates and diplomas. If you want to dip your toe into the product management world, this is a great way to do it. You should also consider boning up on related fields, including User Experience, Python and Design Thinking

Want to find out more about studying Product Management? Check out our courses here. 

This article was originally published on 1 May 2023