The Hourglass Analogy - Here is how your product career should progress

How can someone with little relevant experience get a job as a product manager?

I get asked this question a lot by students and professionals looking for a career change.

The answer is to find creative ways to gain domain knowledge.

Let me share an analogy with you that accelerated my career.

A mentor of mine once told me that your domain knowledge at different levels should look like an hourglass. Your career (like the sand) starts at the top and funnels down to the bottom, and your area of focus starts wide at the top,  narrows in the middle, and then widens again at the bottom.

Let me explain what this means.

In the early stages of your career, you have an insatiable appetite for information, but little to no experience. That’s okay. Use this opportunity to learn - a lot. Take time to study the skills companies are looking for and why. This is your chance to have a wide perspective of knowledge so that a company can deploy you to different areas. You want to be the jack of all trades at this stage.

As your career progresses, you will begin to develop an area of focus and expertise. You want to have a deep understanding of a particular domain now, because the company needs an expert in this area. You want someone to call you the “Master of X” at this stage.

When you progress in your career even further and level up to an executive role, your area of expertise and knowledge will (and must) widen again. This is because, as a leader, you need to understand the big picture of the problems you and your employees are solving. You are required to manage different teams and areas. So the higher you go, the wider it gets.

So what does this mean for you right now?

If you’re an aspiring product manager, but not currently working in a product role, don’t worry too much. Your chances of getting into product management are pretty high because you’re still gaining a lot of domain knowledge and insight in your current role.  Many companies prefer hiring product managers internally from other departments (customer support, marketing, engineering, etc.) because these people already have deep insight into the business.

If you’re a student who is looking for a product manager role, try to keep your options open. If there is a company that you want to work for, but their product management bar is high, look for other departments within the company and start there, or even at their competitors. Your goal is to find ways to gain broad domain knowledge, even outside of your dream role.

Remember, you’re at the top of the hourglass, and all the experience you gain now will help you not only to land that dream job but also the executive ones down the road that you haven’t even dreamt of yet.