Anyone looking for their first junior product manager role might feel like they are stepping into a classic “chicken and egg” situation.
Browsing job ads can quite quickly reveal the classic conundrum: you need to have experience as a product manager in order to become one. But it might definitely help to remember this: a “junior” in product management is not someone looking for their first experience in product.
You can skip ahead to a section by using the clickable menu:
- What is an entry-level product manager?
- What does an entry-level product manager do?
- Types of entry-level product manager jobs
- Junior product manager skills
- How much do junior product managers earn?
- How to become an entry-level product manager
1. What is an entry-level product manager?
An entry-level or junior product manager typically has at least one year of full-time work experience.
The absolute newbies, when it comes to product, are called associate product managers, or APMs. These are people who may or may not have had other previous professional experience, but have started their journey in product. It’s these who are the real entry-levels. Which brings us to the new question: what are their days like?
2. What does an entry-level product manager do?
So, what does an entry-level product manager actually do in their day-to-day life?
In a majority of cases, the less experience you have in product management, the higher the probability of finding yourself involved in more tactical tasks.
What does this mean? It means that at the beginning of your journey into product management, the scope of action and the level of responsibility you’re assigned will likely be restricted.
Working on existing product lines
You’re more likely to be asked to work on an existing product line, as opposed to launching a brand new one from scratch.
You’ll more than likely be spending time shadowing other PMs—spending time watching how they work across different tasks. After a while, it will be your turn to take the driver’s seat and for them to shadow you, and provide advice if needed.
Input into product strategy
While the chance to make a positive contribution towards the strategy of a product should always be present, it’s unlikely that a junior product manager would be solely responsible for developing and crafting an entire product strategy.
3. Types of entry-level product manager jobs
We can split entry-level product manager jobs into two basic fields: generalist and specialist roles. Examples of the latter would include titles such as “junior technical PM” or “junior data PM”.
Specialist entry-level product management jobs
The job titles above indicate that that particular job function requires specific skills in a given discipline in addition to generalist product management skills.
To take an example from the non-tech world, it’s similar to saying: “We are hiring a cook”, or “We are hiring a pizzaiolo”. In both cases, some cooking of foodstuffs will be required.
A word of warning on specializing early
It’s useful to bear in mind a few things about this distinction: while specialist entry-level product management roles might provide a smoother transition into the field, they might also be perceived as a constraint for future roles along the product manager career path.
Let’s take the example of a former developer that decided to transition into product management: they might find their technical background gives them an edge over less tech-savvy candidates. They might also find it harder to convince hiring managers about their competence in design or business.
This is not necessarily an issue if that product manager is keen to embark on an individual contributor track, but it may hinder their progress if they have medium and long-term ambitions to move into a Chief Product Officer or VP of Product role, with line management responsibility.
So it’s something to keep on the back of one’s mind, even while trying to get a foot on the first step of the PM career. For more detailed information about the different career development options open to PMs, check out Brent Tworetzky’s product manager skills article.
4. Junior product manager skills
So what would be the typical things you can expect to be doing as a junior product manager?
Well, a lot of the ground work will involve learning: learning about the product, learning about the different teams in the company and how they work together. Learning about the tools and processes, as well as understanding the metrics (OKRs, KPIs) behind decision-making.
Important note: A word of caution should be added about taking a junior PM role that turns out to be a job for an agile delivery manager, a scrum product owner, or a project manager. It’s unfortunately a sad reality that many companies still don’t understand the difference between these three.
For entry-level roles, in particular, it’s not uncommon to see job descriptions listing competencies such as “able to follow through on projects and stick to budgets and agreed timelines”. To quote Marty Cagan, that scope of competencies equals roughly 5% of what an actual PM is meant to be doing.
Ravi Mehta has written at length about how product managers will be focusing on developing different skills as their career progresses. His product competency toolkit is considered a good self-assessment tool for PMs to both understand their strong points, and what they might need to work on next. The three most prominent entry-level product manager skills are:
- feature specification
- product quality assurance
- business outcome ownership
5. How much do junior product managers earn?
Now that we’ve seen what tasks and skills are expected of them, let’s check out how much entry-level product managers earn.
At the moment, the average junior product manager salary in the United States is $75,160, according to job site Glassdoor. Unsurprisingly, this figure varies around the world.
With that in mind, here are the salary ranges you might expect in different countries (yearly gross salaries in local currency):
- Australia (A$73–111,000)
- Canada ($65–134,000)
- France (€29–47,000)
- Germany (€35–58,000)
- India: ₹620,284
- Italy (€24–45,000)
- Spain (€20–52,000)
- United Kingdom (£26–48,000)
- United States ($50–110,000)
Some other platforms you can also take into account while doing your salary research are Otta (U.K.-focused) or Landing.jobs (Europe-focused), as well as the recently-launched salary comparison platform Comprehensive.io.
How to negotiate a junior product manager salary
Let’s talk about money. First off, location has a direct impact on the average compensation a junior PM can expect to be offered.
Secondly, not all tech organizations use the same pay scale: If your grandparents have heard of the company you want to work for, chances are the average pay there will be more attractive than what you might expect at an unknown startup.
Bear the following factors in mind when selecting the companies where you might want to land your first product manager role:
- Company size
- Company maturity (pre-seed, seed, startup, scale-up, pre-IPO, post-IPO)
- Product-culture maturity (does the company confuse between project/product, do they explicitly position themselves as product-led, or are they in between?)
Then comes the next set of factors that reveal what your leverage might be as a candidate:
- Can you demonstrate particularly hard-to-source, hard-to-find skills?
- Do you have previous demonstrable working experience in the industry, even if not as a product manager?
- Does your educational background work for you or against you? (it’s more than just formal education, think also about possible certifications you might have taken in the past).
All of this combined will hopefully result in an offer being extended to you.
6. How to become an entry-level product manager
This article began by outlining the chicken and the egg problem in product management: what comes first—the experience, or the job? What about on-the-job training?
While finding an Associate Product Manager program would be the preferred, systemized entry gate for many, the fact of the matter is that there are far fewer programs than candidates.
The second best option might be transitioning into product within your current employer (assuming a product department is in place), which would still require some leveling up on your end. That is where self-learning comes into play.
From the moment when you’ve decided that product management will be your next step, choosing a product management course which blends theory and practice and includes coaching with people who work in the industry, can go a long way in kick-starting your career.
If you’re already working in tech, the right course can focus on how to develop the missing skills in your product manager resume; if you’re working in a completely different world, working with a mentor or coach can accelerate the process of acquiring a new way of thinking and a new vocabulary (tech does have quite a bit of jargon, after all!).
Finally, there is the increasingly important concept of proof of work: displaying your assets, preferably in an applied way, with easy to understand examples. Basically, having a portfolio that both gets you interviews and helps you navigate them.
If you want to learn step-by-step, check out our complete guide to how to become a product manager.
There’s no one right way to get into entry-level product management. There are, however, quite a few things that can ease the transition into one of the most coveted, hardest-to-define professions out there: reading Marty Cagan, doing some ground research on the actual skills the market is looking for, and constant leveling up.
So, are you ready to start your career in product management? Excellent! Get a hands-on introduction to the profession with our free product management short course. Covering everything from strategy and design to the Agile methodology, the course will give you the tools and understanding you need to start your career in this field.
Still undecided? Here are a couple of articles to help you take the final step forward: