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[Survey of Product Manager Job Descriptions] Top 10 Skills

We been there before and still are, looking for product manager jobs.  It's fun -- we all come from various backgrounds, from design, business, the arts to this.  We landed here, have some experience or are just starting this new, challenging and existing career path as product managers.

So what do employers want?

Here's the list of the Top 10 Skills we've found the hundreds of Product Manager job descriptions we've surveyed.  Ready to find out?

  1. Technical Fluency
  2. Excellent Communication Skills Verbal
  3. Excellent Writing Skills
  4. Listening Skills
  5. Analytical and Problem Solving
  6. Organization skills
  7. Negotiation Skills
  8. Faciliation
  9. Conflict Resolution
  10. Relevant industry experience

1. Technical Fluency

Technical experience and fluency comes in many words from the product manager job descriptions we surveyed. Some terms include:

  • Technical degree
  • Understand technical concepts
  • software engineering experience
  • Computer science major
  • Engineering experience

 We also recently found that this more and more employers require at least a technical degree be it engineering, computer science etc.  The bar is set a lot higher these days, but that's just the externally posted jobs we know of.  We also only did a few hundred there are many more exceptions to this rule.

2. Excellent Verbal Communication Skills

Anyone how is in a team or has direct reports -- basically any white collar job these days requires good communication skills.  But reading between the lines, what this often means for Product Managers is that they need to handle all sorts of people and be able to cater to their way of understanding that most workers may not need to.

Because Product Managers can deal with all cross-functional groups that span Marketing to Development, the fluency in able to speak to concepts in laymen's terms and also in more technical terms with subject matter experts is crucial to get things done.

As we all know, communication is a two-way street -- it's less about what we say and more about how it comes across and is received.

One of the best books that we've come across that's been recommended by other Product Managers including John Culter is Crucial Conversations.  It's a great book on how to have a discussion and to have those inevitably tough conversations to get things going especially when you need to balance time and effort and resources.

More on this topic in other areas of our blog.

3. Excellent Writing Skills

This is part and parcel to the verbal/oral communication skills.

We all know product managers write 'User Stories' in the Agile or Scrum teams.  Writing well written user stories is an art form, not being too prescriptive and not too vague.  It's challenging at best and it's needs to be consistent, concise for every story.

Two amazing insights I've learned into writing well as a Product Manager.

One is that writing well helps you document your decisions, it helps outline your reasons better through writing and email is here to stay.

Two, writing well needs to take into account the audience.  Writing user stories to Developers should be different in tone than writing an email to convince leadership to change directions.

There have been many occasions where impasse or complicated decisions have been overcome through a well written email.

I find laying out options clearly in a table in an email really helps to address and makes things clear for everyone.  I'd had to write these emails on two occasions where it's was crucial to influence people to make key decisions.  On one occasion it was to delay the launch of our mobile iOS application because we weren't ready.

The other was ensuring all stakeholders were aligned.  We would book meetings after meetings and while we all understood well the points, it just seemed like we were talking over and over again about the same things.  Putting it on paper makes people respond to it and see it concisely.  Helps to have a visual for those that are visual learners.

4. Listening Skills as a Product Manager

This is a very broad category but one that is in the top 3 of skills found in our survey of product manager job descriptions.

As a Product Manager, your job is galvanize all the input and translate that into a roadmap.  The input could be from all areas that you deal with: marketing, sales, other product areas, technology/IT etc.

These are the types of roles and people a good Product Manager should be listening to:

  • Customers
  • Your CEO and Product VP
  • Your team

Listening well, being able to read between the lines too are skills that cannot really be taught.  Sometimes it's listening to yourself amongst all this noise.

5. Analytical and Problem Solving

This is sometimes just stating the obvious but obviously you need to have some skills in analyzing and solving problems.

As an individual contributor and if you're a product manager from this area, you will have had a good level of experience analyzing and solving problems.

What I've come across is that the best teams have this.  The Product Manager simply is experienced enough to anticipate some of these problems going forward to understand the root cause quick enough to act in a timely manager.

The other part of analyzing and problem solving is knowing when you have all the facts and knowing what you don't.  As a product manager and in the product manager job description is to go beyond a bit.  Sometimes we don't have enough information to make product decisions, either we don't know enough of the business side of things, or we don't have enough experience with the technology side, either way, it is being able to act even with limited and ambiguous information that is what make product managers good.

It surprised us that job descriptions are not using the terms such as "product intuition" more nowadays.  It's both using the analytic mind and the gut-feeling sides that help make a good product manager beyond the job description terms.

6. Organization Skills

For Product Managers, this is table stakes.  There is so much input from everywhere that there is no way you'll capture it all.  Information from the Stand-ups, the reviews, the meetings, the side conversations, the emails, the other technology tools, it's a lot of structured and unstructured data that's qualitative and quantitative. 

Putting that all together and putting into an organized roadmap is hard.

Organizing a User Story that has a Definition of Done and Definition of Ready is super important.  The degree to which the story is organized well, with the right information from the right people is a direct correlation of the quality of the product development work.

7. Negotiation Skills

This is super important and I guess is a like specialized verbal communication skills.

Being able to navigate between competing priorities is super important.  It's also really important to be able to say no, or need to make someone or some group concede given the limitations on resources, be it time or people.

There is no escaping having crucial conversations, and conversations best left to be face to face.

Here is just a sample of things you'll need to negotiate:

  • Priorities in the backlog
  • how to split user stories while still keep the essence of the story
  • what to do first be it defects, which ones
  • how long someone on the Solutions Team is going to work on something before they move on
  • things that weren't done well in the past and how to resolve this in the future.

8. Facilitation

Facilitation for Product Managers is something that should be done often.  This means stepping up during meetings to chair the meeting or to take notes of the decisions made.

Bring every person, every piece of information that is important to the table to be discussed.

Facilitation also means also be a servant leader who gives way to the team to do the things they need to do.  It it also means good at extracting the right information and supporting the team to come to the correct answers either by resolution to you, or better still, they come to their own conclusion on how to fix things.

As Product Manager, we found this to be something to be described a lot in Product Manager Job descriptions to host workshops, any groups within the product team or extended product team to come together, have a discussion, flush out ideas.  The most vague trait in my opinion.

9. Conflict Resolution

This will happen to ever product manager.  While this is something that is spelled outright on job descriptions, it's part of the product manager's job in the end.  The buck stops with us and we'll need to resolve things one way or another.

This might be conflicts within the team members.  This might mean conflicts between yourself and a team member.  This might just be the dysfunctional teams.

Either way, the skill to carefully, respectively and in a timely manner resolve these issues for the moment and the future.

Sometimes it's impossible to go to terms with each other or the gap is too far apart.  Sometimes as the product manager, you need to make tough decisions that aren't easy and would offend or appear to be offensive.  This is part of the job, but it's important to keep in mind that ego in check.  You'll need to be able to discern if it's pride or ego or it's just a decision that needs to be made.

As a product manager you are ask to listen to your team's feedback and in many situation it only goes so far and a decision needs to be made.  It's not popular, people might not respect you for it, but it needs to be done, nonetheless.

10. Relevant Industry Experience

Lastly, product manager roles are much more asking for related and relevant industry experience.

For example, most of the jobs that are building software for healthcare or medical devices ask for specialized experience in the industry from 3+ years.  Having the background as a nurse or worked to obtain stringent FDA approvals are part of the job and a really important part of the job.

For example, I've worked for many years in the financial industry as a digital Product Manager building web, mobile and tablet applications for internal employees and end-clients.  Knowing the business side of things and also knowing all the ancillary things like the regulations in the industry are a tremendous advantage to landing a product manager job in the industry.

That's because the main job of a Product Manager is really to manage risk.  Be it execution risk, development risk, reputational risk, market risk -- your primary job is to manage these risks so the product can flourish and not die because of some unknown or unexpected risks.  Having industry experience takes some of these learnings and allows the product manager to hit the ground running in his/her new role.

 

Would love to hear how you've landed your first job or any cool examples of you finding a great product role?  Any key transferable skills that you see emerging for Product Manager jobs?  Comment below to continue this discussion.