What to Know About Junior Product Manager Job Functions

The Life of a Junior Product Manager

When it comes to finding a junior product manager job, knowing the main day-to-day responsibilities is a must. While your day may be dependent on the size of your organization, the level of your experience, and how many product people are on your team, you can expect to be involved in research, data analysis, and internal discussions. 

Oftentimes, a junior product manager’s job will include a lot of research that is done to determine customer wants and needs. This type of information may be collected by interviewing customers. A junior product manager might get direction from a more senior manager or SVP who wants to learn the pain points that customers have so they can be addressed in future releases or updates.

The junior product manager will then reach out and find customers willing to discuss the pain points with them. They will then set up the interviews and capture the conversations and report the responses back to the rest of the team. At that point, the SVP may turn the information into action items and so on.

With a junior product manager job, there’s still a lot of internal collaboration, but each company may treat it differently. But, being in constant communication with the internal teams —  such as the design and engineering teams — ensures that once a product or feature is on the roadmap, all sides can communicate that they have what they need to work on the product and be able to see the entire process from start to finish.

While it’s a process to be able to create the pieces of the new design or feature, it’s no longer done with an old school approach. Historically, junior product managers may have just been told what the requirements were to create the product. Now, they’ll need to get feedback throughout the entire process. 

The junior product manager’s job is to collaborate with more senior product people to review and get feedback on the pieces of work. Will this update or change serve the customers’ needs? What will the update or change influence in the long-term? Does the change or update fit with the long-term strategy of the product? They are then responsible for taking these pieces back to the customer.

Additionally, general analysis is to be expected in a junior product manager job. Once there is data for your product — and the product is out and the customers are using it — the junior product manager can pull the data to analyze and make sense of it. 

If it’s a bigger organization, there might be data analysts that perform this function, but on the startup side, this responsibility may also fall to product management teams, including the junior product manager.

Lastly, a junior product manager’s job includes writing user stories and participating in meetings where they are trying to set how many individual pieces of work are needed to create the item. The junior product manager should be part of the regular cadence of meetings between the product team and the rest of the product organization to support senior-level product people. 

Career Path Trajectory of Junior Product Managers

A sizable company may start new product team hires at the junior product manager level. From there, the natural trajectory would be to progress to a product manager and then to an SVP role. 

A junior product manager could also move into a product lead role, where he or she would still be responsible for managing products. But, if the junior product manager moves into a director of product role or VP of product, managing a team will be added to the list of responsibilities.

It’s natural for some people to prefer the product side of this career versus the management side. Junior product managers may find that they prefer being a  product person but just don’t like to manage a team. If this is the case, there are still ways to elevate the role and salary from there by taking on more responsibility or higher-value products, but it doesn’t need to become a management position. 

Getting Started in a Junior Product Manager Job

The best thing people can do to begin a career as a junior product manager is to get as close to the product as possible. For students, that might mean starting as an intern for a startup. This might be a better opportunity than trying to start a career in a larger company. 

For those who are already in an organization that isn’t hiring for a product role, consider looking into a customer success or QA position. While working in these positions, get to know the product team which could include stepping out for coffee to ask about the role. By already serving and having knowledge of the product, people interested in a product career will be ready in an instant if something comes up.

As far as education is concerned, some companies may look for an MBA. An advanced degree may separate you from other candidates, but may not be necessary.

Academic institutions are beginning to offer more specialized degrees, such as a master’s degree in product management, which could be one way to get involved in product quicker. As an undergrad, a technical degree may be helpful. While this doesn’t require learning how to code, it is helpful to speak the language.

Getting Involved in the Product Community

Getting involved in local meet-ups is great for a junior product manager. You get exposed to the rest of the product community and build individual relationships. Conferences will provide opportunities to meet people from all over the world.

But, being involved in a local product community can help to establish expertise and position you as a leader. Product jobs are likely available in your community, and these are the people that can help.

Even if you don’t have a lot to contribute at first, just being present at meetups, talking to people, and getting to know them is beneficial. Online meetings and virtual conferences are helpful but in a different way. It can give you a fresh perspective that you may have been overlooking.

Each is unique in its own way and provides many benefits to a junior product manager. Attending a mixture of all may be best when first starting your career.

Paul McAvinchey
Paul McAvinchey
paul@productcollective.com

For over 15 years, Paul has been building and collaborating on digital products with fast-growing startups and global brands, including AOL and WMS Gaming. Currently, he's a co-founder of Product Collective, a worldwide community of product people. Members collaborate on Slack, meet at INDUSTRY: The Product Conference, listen to Rocketship.fm, learn at Product Interviews and get a weekly brief that includes best practices in product management. In recent years he led business development at DXY, a leading product design firm in the Midwest, and product innovation at MedCity Media, a publishing startup acquired by Breaking Media in 2015.