Many tech professionals choose the product manager career path because it offers responsibilities and job duties that are both exciting and rewarding.
Product managers have a great deal of influence on their company. They manage complex products and collaborate with team members from all departments.
You may be familiar with what product managers do or have previously worked with them. But do you know what the typical PM career path looks like?
People usually get into product management in one of two ways:
APM programs give recent college graduates and people early in their careers a chance to get into product management.
Marissa Mayer, a Google product manager, made the first APM program in the early 2000s. At the time, Google needed a way to find raw talent that it couldn't get from hiring people from the industry.
Since then, other businesses have started using APM programs like Google's.
Most people get into product management by moving from one part of their company to another. After all, PM is an interdisciplinary role in and of itself.
Most of these people worked closely with product managers in their jobs. Some jobs are software engineering, designing products, being a data analyst, selling, marketing, and helping customers.
If you want to move into product management on the inside, try to work as closely as possible with the PM and slowly take on the tasks that a PM would normally do.
You can add value by using the skills you learned in your previous job, such as:
Besides interns, entry-level product managers are called Associate Product Managers (APMs).
APMs are often fresh out of university or new to their career.
They take care of things like:
This includes reviewing quantitative metrics, conducting customer surveys, and more.
APMs may be able to influence the product development roadmap using this data. Working closely with mid-level product managers allows them to learn the fundamentals of product management and move up to higher positions later.
APM salaries vary based on company and location.
The average salary for an APM is around $80,000/year. However, APM salaries can be as high as $120,000/year or as low as $60,000/year.
The path from entry-level product management to mid-level is the most straightforward.
As an APM, you'll work side by side with more senior Product Managers and learn how to prioritize and make product decisions.
To become a full-fledged PM, you'll need to be proactive in your learning and be open to feedback on how you can help the team work better together.
After roughly two years of working in an entry-level product position, you can expect to be promoted to a mid-level role.
If you're looking to become a Product Manager, expect to spend 1-3 years as an Associate Product Manager first.
PMs work with different roles and departments:
You may even work with Technical Program Managers to deliver results on larger projects.
PMs provide teams data-driven insights and suggestions regarding a company's products.
PMs must understand their competitive space, including their main competitors, to develop a compelling product vision and strategy that achieves the company's goals.
Some even call them “mini-CEOs”!
Product manager salaries can also differ dramatically depending on the organization.
The average product manager's salary is around $112,000/year. Although, some product management positions pay as low as $80,000/year.
This is a significant increase in the salary of most associate product manager roles.
If you're aiming for a senior Product Manager role, it will take more effort than initial mid-level roles.
To rise to this level, you need to have made an impact at your organization and show that you can solve and execute your assigned tasks.
At the next level, Senior PMs need to:
Even if your opinion is strong, good mid-level PMs take the time to seek additional data that may contradict their views to form their perspectives and opinions.
After 3 - 5 years of working as a Product Manager, you can move to a Senior PM role.
It carries similar responsibility to the mid-level PM role but with PMs or APMs working under you.
Your job is to help your team develop goals and actualize the product vision. You may also bear more of the burden in developing the broader product roadmap.
Senior PMs must communicate with upper management and represent their teams at high-level meetings.
Along with this increased authority comes a greater need for understanding products and markets than mid-level roles require.
After working for many years, most Senior Product Managers will command large salaries.
The average senior product manager's salary is around $146,000/year.
Senior Product Managers at FAANG+ companies can be paid $250,000+/year. They also usually get stock options packages between $40,000 - $200,000/year. However, the specifics of the stock offerings depend on the company.
Senior Product Managers are rarely paid less than $110,000/year.
Product Leaders are a step up from Senior Product Managers in many companies.
They might also be called Group Product Managers or Principal Product Managers.
Read more: What's the difference between group and principal product managers?
If you've been promoted to this position, you’ve likely been in product management for some time.
The unique thing about the role of a product leader is that you can choose to:
Some may decide to manage as a Group Product Manager, while others prefer to stay solo as a Principal Product Manager.
Product Leaders are responsible for the direction of their product.
Other PMs will look up to them and report on the daily tasks related to the development, strategy, and vision of the products. They have an essential job, as they must decide which opportunities should be pursued and which should not.
Additionally, they must communicate with higher-level executives across departments - not just product-related ones.
While product leaders (group product managers or principal product managers) are above Senior PMs on the product manager career path, they may not be compensated dramatically differently.
The average salary for a group product manager or principal product manager is around $170,000/year. Some principal product managers could be paid as low as $130,000/year or as high as $260,000+/year.
Like other PM positions, Product Leaders could be offered even more generous stock option packages from around $80,000 to $200,000+/year.
The product leader position requires things like:
Many product managers may spend the rest of their careers in senior, group, or principal product manager capacity.
Making the jump to the next level is the toughest. Being good at individual contributions has gotten you promoted this far.
But getting to the next step will require a whole other set of skills: people skills.
Reforge outlines in "Crossing the Canyon: Product Manager to Product Leader" that the skills that got product managers to the product leader role will not get them to the executive level.
PMs must transition from being good at their job as individual contributors to influencing people to be good at doing their jobs.
In early PM roles, your manager will present the problem and a well-scoped solution to build.
Your manager will present the problem at the mid-level, but the solution will not be clear, as that is for the mid-level PM to figure out.
As mid-level PMs grow into senior PMs, they find sub-problems to the problems handed to them or problems their manager isn't seeing. They would then be expected to communicate that problem and solution to help the business.
Being promoted to an executive is also much more complex than previous promotions, as this requires availability in both roles and funding.
This means the business is doing very well, so an executive position opens up. Perhaps an executive leaves, so the team needs someone to step up and fill that role.
Start to transition from being good at your job to training others to be good at theirs. Finally, move from relying on the personal scope you are given to creating more scope for the organization meaningfully.
At this level, the product manager's career path depends on the organization and how you choose to stand out.
If you're a product leader, the next step may be becoming a Director of Product or Product Management Director.
This can range from one of the highest executive roles in an organization at smaller companies to having several Directors reporting to a Vice-President at larger companies.
You will move away from hands-on product work as a Director and take on more big-picture tasks.
The PM Director oversees the organization's product management and ensures it runs efficiently with the best product outcomes.
They report to C-Suite executives about their product goals and development.
Directors of Product are compensated similarly to Product Leaders or Principal Product Managers. The national average salary for Directors of Product is around $175,000/year.
Some PM Directors can be paid as low as $130,000/year or as high as $300,000/year.
While the salaries of PM Directors and Product Leaders are similar, PM Directors receive significantly more generous stock option packages, especially at FAANG companies.
Stock option packages for PM Directors are typically around $250,000/year to $500,000/year.
If a company employs multiple Directors of Product Management, they may report to a Vice-President of Product Management.
These VPs are even less involved in day-to-day product development that product managers regularly conduct.
In many cases, the Vice-President of Product can also be the highest-level product executive in an organization. VPs of Product will report directly to the CEO on product goals and strategy.
Vice-Presidents of Product are responsible for managing and developing a company's entire product set.
It's rare for VPs of Product to have less than 10 or more years of product management and managerial experience.
Vice-President of Product Management is one of the topmost roles in the product manager career path. As such, they are typically one of the most highly compensated product managers.
The national average salary for VPs of Product is $207,000+/year.
However, the salary range for VPs can be as low as $150,000/year to $300,000+/year.
Like PM Directors, Vice-Presidents of Product Management may receive substantial stock option packages ranging from $350,000+/year up to $600,000/year.
Companies with product management teams may not always have a Chief Product Officer (CPO).
However, larger companies tend to include CPOs as part of their C-Suite. The role of the CPO is similar to that of a Chief Technology Officer when it comes to product.
They report to the CEO and are in charge of overseeing all product activities at their company.
The CPO will have several VPs or Directors who they manage and help set the big-picture vision for the company's product strategy. Becoming a CPO requires experience in the field for up to 20 years and building an impressive resume.
Chief Product Officer is as high as the PM career ladder goes. As a member of the C-Suite, CPOs can command enormous salaries.
The national average salary for a Chief Product Officer is around $210,000/year.
Chief Product Managers may receive similar salaries to VPs or PM Directors. They may be paid as low as $150,000/year to $350,000+/year.
The majority of a Chief Product Officer's compensation will be in the form of equity. How much equity they receive depends on the company, whether the company is raising seed funding, and whether the CPO position is considered a co-founder.
Nevertheless, CPOs could receive stock option packages between $400,000 all the way up to $1,000,000.
Driving one's career in the right trajectory requires both a successful track record in shipping features and products and having good relationships with those in the levels above you. If your work is impactful and visible, you will be noticed.
Early on in your career, focus on picking up new skills. This can be technical, analytical, or UX knowledge.
Use that to make an impact on your day to day job. Later on in your career, focus on soft skills: leadership, communication, conflict management. Be able to lead without authority, communicate effectively, and be the liaison between your team and those not directly in your circle.
Finally, initiate career conversations with your manager at least once a year. Unless you say something, your manager will likely assume you are content with where you are.
Looking to jump into becoming a product manager or looking to move up the product manager career path? Be sure to check out all our product management interview prep here at Exponent:
💬 Review more commonly asked sample PM interview questions.
📖 Read through our company-specific Product Manager interview guides
👯♂️ Practice your behavioral and leadership skills with our mock interview practice tool.
👨🎓 Take our complete Product Management interview course.
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