How to assess your PM skills
In this post, we’re sharing our learnings from a conversation with Bandan Jot Singh who is a seasoned product leader with 10+ years of experience growing products across Asia, Africa and Europe. Bandan regularly shares insights on product strategy, growth and innovation on Productify, a weekly product case studies newsletter.
What skills do you think are critical for landing a PM role?
The skills that are critical for landing a PM vary depending on whether the candidate has any previous PM experience or not.
If we are talking about skills critical for landing the first PM role (which is the more difficult transition), then I’d say focus on bringing forward a few transferable skills from your previous roles. Understanding what these transferable skills are that you may have developed in your roles and how you can use them in your PM job is key. Some examples are:
💼 High ownership on projects: One of the PM interview skills is communicating how you execute on projects with high accountability and agency. Read more here
🔥 Dealing with complex high cross-functional projects: Showcasing how you have dealt with complex interdependent situations in the past. You may also bring in other skills such as structuring work-in-progress so it is clear to all the teams.
🤓 Decision making: As a PM, prioritization is a critical skill and being ruthless with it is important. This post summarizes the importance of prioritization really well.
📈 Driving impact: This is one of the common mistakes I see candidates making in interviews where they talk about the measure of success in terms of launching an initiative. They talk about the celebratory moment when the team got an initiative over the finish line. In reality, the impact of their work should be in terms of the impact on the organization either increase in business metrics or efficiency, or impact on customers/users.
Depending on what roles you have been in before, these might apply to you differently. I was in Sales and Account Management for 4 years at the beginning of my career. I have talked to a number of folks who have moved from Marketing, Customer Service, Product Marketing to Product Management and here’s what I have observed about transferable skills:
For a PMM, their understanding of the market and user needs is a really valuable skill in product management. The gap you may have to cover is how you convert those insights and the market understanding into product requirements.
For a Customer Service rep, the customer empathy they develop by being on the frontlines is really valuable. They also have a big operational part of their job which is fairly transferable in a PM role.
For a Sales rep (Account Manager, Account Executives etc.), there is an element of partnership and coming up with commercials which is another valuable skill for a PM. As a PM, ultimately you’re selling your ideas to a number of stakeholders internally.
These are some examples that hopefully help you think through which of your skills can be transferable to the PM role.
What skills do you think are critical for doing the PM job?
My spicy 🌶️ take is that candidates are getting really good at interviewing and may not carry the skills they display on the job. While the skills that you are interviewed for are definitely important, these are usually the baseline and there are other skills that go into doing the job.
In my opinion, the top 3 of these are:
1. 🤝 Influence without authority: This is something you are not necessarily tested for in an interview but something you need to display on the job. How do you go about convincing people to buy into your ideas?
2. ✍️ Writing skills: Great document travels faster than any call. It's also a great way to have an artifact and show how refined your thinking is on a particular topic. With remote work, this particular skill has become even more critical than before.
3. 🗂️ Organizational skills: To get things done when there are multiple stakeholders, dependencies and timelines, you have to be organized. There is an element of project management in the role. One of the key differences in the role of a program/project manager and a product manager is they don’t need to do product management but product managers need to do a little bit of both program and project management.
What skills do you think make PMs stand out (great vs. good PM)?
In addition to mastering the skills above, what makes a PM really stand out is uncovering the layers that are hidden under user research. A good PM can read the same set of insights and say let’s prioritize these 3 features and a great PM can come to a deeper insight by diving into the whys. This is a muscle that you develop over time and eventually becomes second nature.
As an example, let’s say a user research reveals that users don’t want to give their email and phone number to a third party. The insight there is not that users don’t want to share their personal information and hence we should take away those fields from the sign up flow. The insight is that users value privacy and want to feel secure. So the problem to solve here is how might we make users feel more secure as they are sharing their private information?
How have you gone about assessing your PM skills? How often do you go through the assessment?
Assessing your PM skills is an ongoing evaluation - you could keep a check on yourself on daily basis or monthly basis - cadence depends on the kind of improvement you’re looking at. In my experience, most of the improvement happens on a daily basis (1% at a time) and most of the time it is unnoticeable. Hence, it is helpful to refer to a few frameworks to consistently measure yourself and improve:
1. PM Skills Self-Assessment Template
2. PM Wheel and Future Self Canvas
3. Liability-Superpower-Median Framework by Shreyas Doshi
Are there any tools out there you have found helpful for assessing your skills?
Here are some other resources that I have come across that seem useful:
Mind the Product Skills Assessment