The Skills That You Need to Become a Product Manager

Prepare to kickstart your career as a Product Manager with these skills

The Skills That You Need to Become a Product Manager
Photo by Julien Flutto / Unsplash

Speaking from experience

In these times, we know that our college degree does not guarantee our career path. This happens due to the fact that many companies hire fresh graduates solely not because of what they study during their years in the university.

Many hiring managers also take into account some soft skills like communications, leadership, and critical thinking – especially to those who’ve recently graduated. This case is true especially if you want to start your career as a Product Manager

As most of you might have noticed, there is not a single degree or major from college for “Product Development” – making product management slightly a more unique role compared to others such as finance and accounting that requires specific majors to be considered as a valid applicant

Not long ago, I participated in one of the product management online boot camps in Indonesia and I noticed that the students there came from different backgrounds. Some of the students there kept asking: “What skills do I need to have in order to become a Product Manager?”, “What educational background that I need to be successful in this role?”

Based on that question, I decided to collect some data about the skills and educational background of Product Managers in several unicorn companies in Indonesia. Those companies includes Tokopedia, Gojek, OVO, Bukalapak, and Traveloka

The Findings

Based on the data, it can be seen that most Product Managers hired comes from several top universities in Indonesia:

  • University of Indonesia (325 Product Managers)
  • Institut Teknologi Bandung (252 Product Managers)
  • Universitas Prasetya Mulya (169 Product Managers)
  • BINUS University (129 Product Managers)
  • Universitas Gadjah Mada (88 Product Managers)

As of July 2021, most Product Managers hired in top tech companies in Indonesia have graduated from the University of Indonesia. Another finding that can I point out is top tech companies tends to hire Product Managers from top public universities in Indonesia such as University of Indonesia, Institut Teknologi Bandung, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Institut Teknologi Sepuluh Nopember, Universitas Padjajaran, and Institut Pertanian Bogor.

Aside from the educational background, I have also conducted research on the major that these Product Managers took during their university years. Here is the result:

  • Computer Science (293 Product Managers)
  • Computational Science (260 Product Managers)
  • Information Technology (259 Product Managers)
  • Business Administration (221 Product Managers)
  • Physical Sciences (166 Product Managers)

From the given data, most Product Managers still came from an “IT” related background such as Computer Science and Information Technology, but if you take a look at the list, more unique “majors” have found their way into product management roles such as Physical Science, Economics, Industrial Engineering, etc. From the data as well, we know that Product Managers have diverse educational backgrounds.

One last data point that can be pointed out is the skills that these Product Managers are highly skilled at. This data is acquired by seeing the People Insights from Linkedin within each of the companies. The result is as follows:

  • Project Management (900 Product Managers)
  • Leadership (831 Product Managers)
  • Product Management (424 Product Managers)
  • Business Strategy (424 Product Managers)
  • Data Analysis (402 Product Managers)

Based on the data, we can see that most Product Managers are highly skilled in Project Management, what this data means is that most Product Managers might have a role as a Project Manager in the past – seeing how familiar these roles are from a management standpoint. Seeing that these Product Managers have those skills, it is safe to say that it would be a great start for anyone who wants to become a Product Manager to have those skills as well.

Skills that you need

The research also shows that Product Managers are not acknowledged for their technical skills even though most of them came from a more technical educational background. Most of them are highly skilled in several soft skills such as leadership, strategy, public speaking, planning, and teamwork. With that being said, when you want to start your career as a Product Manager, it is advisable for you to sharpen these skills:

1. Leadership

There are several ways to improve your leadership skills:

  • Build and mentor the right team

A leader is only as good as their team. Instilling ownership within your team is a must in order to become a great Product Manager. Good leaders focus on their team’s growth and become set an example for their team. On top of that, good leaders inspire their team to become better than the leader himself so they may lead in the future.

  • Develop processes and practices that improve team work

As a leader, it is your job to improve every aspect of your team. Additionally, you have to able to come up with new innovations and procedures to make your team work more effectively

  • Create a culture of collaboration

For some companies, product development is at the heart of the business. Being a Product Manager means that you have to work with several cross-functional teams. You have to understand what they need and what you can do to solve their problems. The only way to do that is by communicating and talking to them.

  • Promote a customer-centric culture

When you develop a product, take account of the people that use it. As well designed as a product is, it won’t succeed if it does not mean anything for the user.

  • Consistently experiment and learn

Product teams have a great deal of influence over whether a business succeeds or not. In today’s fast-paced business landscape, successful product teams make experiment-driven learning a high priority.

2. Strategic Thinking

Product Manager is a strategic role that ensures the state of the product in the future. Making a strategic decision can be hard if you do not know the right way to do it. These are several tips that you can use to sharpen your strategic thinking skills:

  • Research – Make sure the decisions are well-informed with thorough research into a variety of factors that may influence the decision
  • Measure – Choose objectives and accompanying metrics that are most suited to determine the success of strategic solution
  • Prioritize – Arrange possible solutions or problems that can be implemented first
  • Consensus – Involving others to see whether a strategic decision impacts others in a positive way

3. Empathy

Being a Product Manager means that you have to understand what your user needs and able to solve their problem. Empathy is a must-have skill for any Product Manager to understand their users. There are several ways to improve your empathy:

  • Listen

Get out of the building. Reach out and get into conversations with others. You should be observing and listening to users on at least a weekly basis (ideally, multiple times a week).

  • Turn insights into action

The best insights mean nothing if you don’t a). remember them or b). share them with others.

  • Shorten feedback loops

When you have forward progress, go back and quickly validate with additional conversations. After a feature launches, go watch someone use it. Don’t assume you know about every change in the market — reach out and talk to people. If your processes lack opportunities for feedback, you lose the potential for empathy.


Product Manager is a “jack of all trades, master of none” role that requires a vast skill set and a mix of both technical and soft skills. Being a Product Manager does not necessarily mean that you have to come from a technical background (especially in the tech industry) – what you need is the right skills to become one. Hopefully, this article sheds some light for those who want to start their journey as a Product Manager.

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