The Value of Industry Experience for Product Managers

If you’ve ever job hunted, you’ll learn that there are certain “red flags” that help identify troublesome employers. Some of them may be general, and others may be personal because they don’t fit your work style or approaches.

But when it comes to Product Management roles is a phrase like “Industry experience required”.

I get the idea behind it: Someone familiar with the industry should be able to get up to speed faster in your organization. Sounds obvious, right?

But if I were to add the same requirement for a software engineer, immediately a lot of hiring managers and recruiting professionals would balk at it. Why? Because an engineer’s prowress at developing software is far more important to the role than understanding the industry domain. So, instead technical skills like programming languages, databases, and development models that align with the way the organization creates software are going to be prioritized.

Similarly, when I hire for Product Managers, I’m hiring for those Product skills: understanding customers, prioritization, communicating customer requirements to technical teams, etc.

Could industry experience help? Maybe.

But unless you’re taking a Product Manager from a direct competitor doing the same thing, that Product Manager is still going to have to learn a new software product, new customer profile, and how to operate in a new organization (agruably, the biggest change for a Product Manager).

When I’m hiring, that gain in efficiency for onboarding someone with some industry expereince is never worth limiting the pool of quality Product professionals. Good Product Managers will organically learn the business/industry as they interact with and learn about the needs of their customers.

So, when I see it in job listings, it’s an immediate red flag and tells me that good Product Management practices might not be the prioritization of the organization for the role.

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