Look Back on a Year in Product Mentorship

lighthouseContributed by Amisha Thakkar

Q. What were you looking for when you came to the mentorship group?

I was a Product Lead in a software company when I came to the BPMA mentorship program. I wanted to transition to a pure Product Management role. I was attracted to the Product Management work and had a sense of what kind of Product Manager I wanted to be. But I also wanted to learn more about the role and the skills needed to succeed at it.

Q. We understand that you got more than mentorship out of your participation in the BPMA mentorship program, can you tell us your story?

You know how every article ever written on career growth talks about the value of networking? I am the poster child for that advice. Here’s my story.

I had applied to the BPMA mentorship program and I had been selected.

It was 7:30am on a Friday morning in May. I was meeting my mentor, Deepthi Bathina, for the first time (VP at Wolters Kluwer, who has an amazing story of her own). It was the kickoff meeting for the mentorship group. I didn’t know anybody and when you are meeting a group of strangers for the first time, early in the morning, you can safely say there are some butterflies in your stomach!

After a quick introduction with my mentor, the meeting started. People introduced themselves and some folks mentioned that they were looking for new roles. And then Deepthi announced that they were looking for a Product Manager. We then had several round table discussions on the agenda topics. One of the topics was about what employers looked for when interviewing for PM roles, I took notes.

At the end of the program meeting my mentor and I had a one-on-one chat. She gave me really good advice (stick around to find out). I asked her if I could interview for the PM position in her company. I wanted honest feedback on pretty much everything – areas of growth, skills I needed to learn and even my interviewing skills. I had no other expectations.

She mentioned that she wouldn’t be on the hiring committee so I would be interviewed by the heads of that company. In my mind, this was a valuable experience.

I sent her my resume. HR reviewed my resume and I had my phone screen. I could tell you about the rest of the interview process but I will cut to the chase – I got the job!

So if I hadn’t gone to that meeting…

Q. Apart from finding a new job that you love, what have been the most valuable gains you made from your mentorship?

In the mentorship program you get a lot of really good advice about the role of the Product Manager. The role is different in different companies. But the insights you get, from people who have been doing this for years, are invaluable. The insights are practical and actionable.

In this program you also get great career advice. An example topic was “how to be a valuable employee.” Here’s some really good advice: solve your manager’s pain point. This advice is actionable and works!

The connections you make are incredibly helpful. The mentors are very talented people, who in spite of being busy, take time out to help their mentees. The mentors have amazing career stories. Some of the mentor and mentees have stayed in contact for years after the mentorship ended. Where else can you get advice, for free, from incredibly talented people?

Q. We’ve seen a lot of folks trying to cross over into PM from other disciplines. What advice do you have for those people?

First and foremost crossing over can be hard – so do not give up!  If you want to be a Product Manager you already are thinking like one. You already have some skills. Now figure out the gaps in your skill set (this was the invaluable advice Deepthi gave me). Then figure out how to fill those gaps. Some suggestions:

  1. Take a class (Coursera and other online platforms offer so much)
  2. Read up on those topics
  3. Ask your employer if you can do that kind of work for them in your free time
  4. Work with volunteer organizations where you can help with such skills
  5. Talk to people who are Product Managers, ask them about their work. Learn from them and offer to do some work for them.
  6. Prepare for your Product Manager interview!
    • Before you interview, learn as much as you can about the company and their product
    • If it’s possible try out their product
    • Prepare some thoughts on what you like about the product, what you would change and why
    • Have an elevator pitch ready on “why should they choose you for that role in their company”
    • Think of the questions you want to ask them. When you don’t have any questions, it generally signals a lack of interest in that employer. When you are prepared for an interview it shows that you are sincerely interested.

But also remember that as much as you are being interviewed, it is also your chance to determine if that company, their culture and the position would be a great fit for you.

Learn More about Mentorship and the BPMA’s Program

Want to read more on what a mentor could mean for your career? We recommend this post on the value of mentorship from past contributor Sarela Blimen-Cohen.

The next round of mentorship assignments will be in the spring. All levels of  product management and product marketing professionals are welcome. Ready to sign up? Visit the following resources:

Image from Flickr Commons

amisha

Amisha Thakkar is a Product Manager at Wolters Kluwer UpToDate. Before that she has been a Product Lead, developed software products, written code and been a scrum master. She holds degrees in electrical engineering and computer science. In her free time she does photography, paints and designs jewelry from silver clay.

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