Dear Elpha: How can I stand out as a non-technical product manager?Featured

✨Dear Elpha✨ is a new series where we feature a question submitted by one of you (can be anonymous!) with thoughtful advice from our pool of experts.

Q: "I’m a PM consultant for two health tech startups where I work closely with the executive team to create and execute product strategy, align business objectives with product initiatives and run discovery, analyses, and implementation of features on product roadmap. My background is in finance and business. As I look for a full-time role, I'm curious about how I can stand out amongst my peers as a non-technical product manager." - HealthTech Gal

In the second edition of Dear Elpha, we’re excited to feature advice from @amymitchell @farenahlman, and @cecilygardner:

Hey HealthTech Gal,

Great question! Since you are already working with executive teams on product strategy and roadmap, you have proof that you are valued for your business and product experience.

Successful product managers are great learners. Product managers are frequently on the cutting edge of new ideas and innovation. That means you and your product team are learning new technology together and doing something that has never been done before. In your case, I would focus on your experience in health tech, your business strength and product experience.

Here are 3 suggestions for landing a product manager role without a technical background:

1. When asked about technical experience - have a couple of relevant stories about how you quickly learned a new domain and contributed. Be sure to describe the situation, the obstacles, how you overcame the challenge and your results.

2. Build on your experience - You have become technical in your domain with your work experience. Keep driving for new experiences and keep notes on your accomplishments. Build some depth in a single domain before branching out into new domains.

3. Review job descriptions for your target role - look for patterns in both technical and non-technical product roles. On the job descriptions for the non-technical product roles, are there common requirements that interest you? On the technical product roles, are there one or two areas that you could learn through a class? This will give you a good idea of your key strengths and point you toward a couple of learning objectives.

One of the good things about product management is the wide range of skill needs. Taking these steps improves your options for a great career in product management!

- Amy Mitchell, Product Director at Dell

Dear HealthTech Gal,

As a non-technical product manager with a finance and business background, your capacity to partner closely with executive teams, leverage financial acumen, and engage in strategic networking can really set you apart!

Executive Collaboration: Highlight your experience working closely with startup executives on your resume and Linkedin. Showcase your ability to translate their vision into actionable product strategies, bridging the gap between technical and non-technical stakeholders. Emphasize your role in driving alignment with business objectives.

Financial Acumen: Make your financial expertise a focal point. Explain how it enables data-driven decision-making and optimizes product initiatives for profitability. Provide examples of your ability to assess the financial impact of product decisions both on your application materials and in interviews.

Networking: Distinguish yourself by actively networking within health tech and product management circles. Attend industry events, join professional organizations, and connect with peers on platforms like LinkedIn. (Hint: check out these conferences- INDUSTRY: The Product Conference and ProductCon!) Staying updated on industry trends and building a strong professional presence can enhance your profile across the board and will lead to you meeting some awesome contacts.

By incorporating these points, you'll present yourself as a unique and valuable product manager. Your track record of driving product success, aligning with business objectives, and contributing to profitability will make you an appealing candidate for full-time product management roles. Good luck in your journey!

- Faren Ahlman, Career and Recruiting Consultant at Lovely Monday Careers

Hi HealthTech Gal,

I have a few ideas that may help. The product role is inherently ambiguous, with different expectations per company. This makes it hard to understand what qualities are needed to excel in the role.

First up, it sounds like you're currently in a product role with responsibilities that map to products' typical role within a company: understanding the user, translating that into product behavior, ensuring that behavior drives business outcomes, and collaborating with the team to get it done.

That work is incredibly valuable (I hope you value it, too! I know it's hard in the tech world where technical acumen is emphasized. While interviewing, I recommend emphasizing it because it helps you stand out as someone who already excels at these key capabilities. A few other places you can stand out are:

  • Your understanding of the business to develop user stories, align product goals with business outcomes, analyze market trends and apply them to your vision.
  • Stakeholder management and communication to drive alignment in a way that is clear and compelling for the company to get behind.
  • User-centric approach to show your commitment to understanding and prioritizing user needs to create a usable product.

Next, I recommend identifying where your lack of technical skills is holding you back in your role. For e.g., challenges in developing credibility with your engineering counterpart, understanding the impact technical decisions have on the product experience, or translating technical needs into business language.

Once you identify your gap, you can craft an action plan. Whether that's asking a few technical colleagues to give you an overview of the technical architecture or learning SQL to self-serve your own data and insights. You can prioritize learning while you're interviewing and even speak to it if asked.

Finally, I highly recommend interviewing for products where you have or can quickly gain a deep understanding of the customer, their problems, and the details of the product. Maybe that means interviewing for products that are health-tech or finance-focused. There you have an immediate leg up against candidates who are just technical because you bring business depth, having been in those roles. As a hiring manager, know that it's incredibly valuable.

- Cecily Gardner, Product Lead, formerly at Clockwise, Dropbox, and Asana


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WOOOOt fantastic feedback! Couple of elphas in PM might find this interesting/a good read and curious to hear their take too! @AJack @ekeneonyiuke @roshyiranitalab @mirandawolford and many more I am blanking on right now!
I took away a lot from this. Thanks @iynna for mentioning me