I did a Product internship at Shazam during the summer of 2018. However, I’d actually applied the previous year as well – and didn’t make it to the final round. The first time I applied, I didn’t even know what Product Management was. I just thought that the job description sounded really cool. In hindsight, I was lucky. I didn’t have the right mindset going into my internship before my final year of university. Had I been awarded the Product internship, I wouldn’t have realised that I was on to a very good thing.
I reencountered the role during my Growth internship at Skyscanner – and decided swiftly afterwards that I wanted to become a Product Manager. What I didn’t realise when making that decision was that Product Management is an extremely difficult area to break into straight from university. Why is this the case? Quite simply, there are very few positions at entry-level.
In general, companies require far fewer Product Managers than Engineers. It’s quite common to have one Product Manager working on a team with up to seven engineers. As a company grows, takes on more engineers and looks to expand the number of projects being worked on simultaneously – there’s a natural need for additional Product Managers. Yet initially, companies need more experienced Product Managers that understand the development process. Fresh from university, an entry-level PM simply wouldn’t know how to bring a project through ideation, scoping, prototyping, technical implementation, launch, analysis and iteration.
“How can you have a Junior Product Manager?” (Perplexed random guy at meet-up, c. 2017).
My dumbfounded new acquaintance had a point. In my previous blog post, I emphasised that Product Managers have a lot of responsibility and play a key role throughout the entire development process. It may seem odd to entrust such responsibility upon a recent graduate. And it would be batshit crazy to do so if your company doesn’t have sufficient resources to dedicate towards management and mentorship. For many companies, diverting a Senior Product Manager’s time towards fostering the development of a fledgling PM is simply not feasible. Thus it is typically only larger companies that are in a position to hire Product Managers at entry-level – and many choose not to.
It may also sound obvious, but worth mentioning – there will only be a need for Product Managers where development actually happens. I’m from Dublin, which is known as a tech hub in Europe. However, lots of tech companies in Dublin solely employ people in business functions such as Sales, Marketing and Customer Service, as opposed to Product and Engineering. And even those who do have Product teams rarely hire at entry-level. So I had to apply elsewhere. The majority of my applications were for positions in the U.S. followed by the U.K..
What’s the result of there being so few positions at entry-level? The few positions out there tend to go to people with several years’ experience. As a graduate, you find yourself competing with people who have already worked for a few years in fields such as engineering, analytics or consulting. Such candidates will happily take a step down the ladder to enter Product Management. And as word spreads about this profession, the rare entry-level opening will become increasingly competitive.
So how can you get your foot in the door? My advice would be to seek out a Product Management internship. This will give you crucial experience that will propel you to a full-time position. You’ll be able to talk about real projects, real challenges and real learnings. In my interviews for TripAdvisor, I spoke at length about my internship at Shazam, where I worked on projects such as the Mac and iMessage apps.
Such an opportunity won’t be easy to find – and will be even harder to get. I was told that over 300 people applied for the internship I did at Shazam. I say this as it’s important to set expectations. You have to want it and work hard to get it. My next blog post will advise on how to position yourself to enter the field.
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