Although associate product managers are often new to the field, their value to a product team and contributions to a product’s success shouldn’t be minimized. Their job scope may be limited and they might have to check in with their managers a little more frequently than their more senior counterparts. But an associate product manager still plays a key role in delighting customers and advancing the goals of the business.
To better understand how associate product managers fit into the larger organization and what their jobs entail, we tapped one of our own in-house experts, Associate Product Manager Nick Fields, who’s already made the transition from customer success to product management, to offer up his own advice and insights.
#1 Tip for Associate Product Managers
“Know your product better than anyone else,” Fields offered up as guidance. “Take ownership and always deliver on it, which increases others’ trust in you.”
He also encourages newly minted associate product managers to acknowledge it won’t always be easy. But setbacks can pay dividends down the line.
“Make mistakes, be bold and accept them, then be smart and learn from them, which makes you a better decision-maker,” he continued, adding that it’s always important to understand the context since nothing and no one exists in a vacuum. “Every company, team, and person are different. Build strong relationships and always be honest.”
What Is the Role of An Associate Product Manager?
Associate product managers are expected to contribute and deliver. But much like an apprentice, they also benefit from a front-row seat learning opportunity. They need to simultaneously support the product and their fellow product team members while furthering their knowledge and facilitating key aspects of product management.
“Learning what it takes to be a successful product manager at your company, determining what the path to get there looks like, and beginning to take on the responsibilities to set you on that path,” Fields said.
Associate product managers typically don’t get a lot of autonomy or independence. This is particularly true when first starting out. Given that, they must humbly embrace handling whatever tasks or responsibilities are thrown their way. Being open and eager to take on available opportunities can quickly establish an associate PM as a helpful and valuable addition to the team.
How Do You Become An Associate Product Manager?
As a junior/entry-level role, there’s no set playbook for getting hired as an associate product manager. It can be an initial foray into product for a former engineer, project manager, or customer success associate. It could even be someone’s first job out of college or grad school.
Hiring managers may want a little relevant experience, but they’re mostly thinking about potential when filling this role. Fields encourage anyone interested to just find opportunities that intrigue them and apply.
“I do think any customer-facing role that lets you interact with and learn about a product—and more importantly the people/customers relying on that product—is a great place to start,” he added.
For a strong application, researching the company’s products and finding connections with their own interests and experiences is key. Relevant domain experience can make a resume stand out from the crowd. This is true even if it’s completely unrelated to product management. If a candidate comes to the job with some homegrown understanding of the customer and their needs, they’ll be indispensable.
What Are the Key Responsibilities of An Associate Product Manager?
This will vary quite a bit from one team and company to the next, so it’s wise to investigate what the hiring manager has in mind for this individual while also realizing that the responsibilities and tasks will likely change quite a bit over time.
“It should be an introductory role to becoming a ‘product person.’ You should be both supporting the more senior product managers on your team while learning as much as you can from them,” Fields said. “You should begin developing cross-functional relationships while making serious efforts to interact with and learn from your customers.”
In the beginning, associate product managers will often “tag-along” and shadow their more senior counterparts. This enables them to build up their understanding of the role, the product, the corporate culture, and processes. Basic tasks and responsibilities are often assigned right out of the gate, such as reporting or a more administrative project. Then gradually more important responsibilities requiring a bit more product knowledge and familiarity without how things work within the team are granted.
In some scenarios, an associate product manager will be hired with a very specific portfolio in mind. However, it’s just as common to bring them on and play it by ear in terms of what ends up on their plate based on their profile and aptitude, as well as simply what the rest of the team needs help with. An associate product manager may “own” a feature, but they’re rarely fully responsible for an entire product.
What Are the Skills An Associate Product Manager Must Have?
No one is expecting an associate product manager to come in, take over, and shake things up. It is by definition a supporting role. Given this, they must be attuned to the needs of others while checking their egos at the door.
“It’s most important to to be an observant listener,” Fields said. “Before you take on the responsibility of a product manager, you have an opportunity to assess how your team does things, learn how your customers interact with your product, and form opinions about ways to make those things even better.”
Aside from excellent soft skills, an associate product manager needs real attention to detail. They will often be delegated less glamorous but still pivotal responsibilities. These responsibilities commonly require the ability to capture and organize information, analyze and boil it all down to its essence, and then translate findings into actions and recommendations.
And while strategic thinking is critical for product management, associate product managers will often be tasked with more tactical activities. These may not be as sexy or exciting, but their successful and accurate execution is essential for the product’s success as well as for their own reputation within the organization.
Another prized trait is flexibility. This applies to any good product manager at any level actually. The job requires the ability to bounce from one topic to the next, often with little notice. There’s simply no such thing as a “typical day” for a product manager—which also puts time management at a premium.
How Does An Associate Product Manager Fit Into the Product Team?
Much of this will depend on how the particular company structures its team and what they’re looking for from an associate product manager.
“In some cases, you may own a particular area of the product and be responsible for its roadmap. You might also do things like run internal release overviews, which I do here at ProductPlan,” Fields said, adding that “I think typically you should be involved in user research, and play a supporting role to the product managers on the product team.”
Some organizations may find a more horizontal role for an associate product manager. This could be managing security or a similar discrete function across a single product or product line. Becoming an expert in a particular area adds value while being exposed to different colleagues and aspects of the product. Better yet, this happens without the burden of “owning” an entire product so early in their product management career.
What Does Career Growth Look Like for an Associate Product Manager?
Associate product managers have lots of opportunities to prove themselves, elevate their profile, and figure out their relative strengths and weaknesses in product management. As new opportunities arrive within the organization, they’ll have a leg up on external candidates given their familiarity with the product and the team.
In general, most associate product managers spend two-to-four years in the role before moving up the ladder to product manager. This might be a more gradual increase in responsibilities with an eventual title change. But it could be a more deliberate jump to an entirely new position with different responsibilities as well.
Whether or not an associate PM gets a chance to rise through the ranks at the current employer is as much about the company they work for as anything else. A small team only working on one or two products may simply not have any openings; forcing associate product managers ready for a bigger role to look elsewhere.
The acquired experiences and skills as an associate product manager are excellent preparation for taking on more senior positions within product management. However, in some cases, the years immersed in product management might reveal that the discipline isn’t their true calling. If that happens, associate product managers are still well-positioned for other types of jobs.
A background in product management gives a job candidate a robust and diverse set of experiences. This ranges from business to marketing to technical—which are all easily transferrable. These skills are advantageous in numerous fields ranging from business analyst work to product marketing to diving into project management. The versatility an associate product manager position requires is an attribute any hiring manager should prize.
What Can An Associate Product Manager Expect to Earn?
As a junior member of the team, associate product managers should have reasonable salary expectations. Salaries in the United States tend to range between $50,000 at the low end to a typical ceiling in the $80,000-$90,000 range. Equity and the overall benefits package should always be part of that consideration as well. Discover more about product management salaries in our State of Product Management Report.
Associate product manager salaries are sometimes dependant on experience. However, a company’s size, funding/revenue stage, and the maturity of the product team are all driving factors as well. No one really expects to stay an associate product manager for decade after decade. The expectation is that associate product managers will move up or move on to eventually bring in a bigger paycheck.