Indeed, product management skills have become must-haves for new hires of startups and solutions providers, irrespective of their areas of focus – be it fintech, edtech, insurtech, agritech, media, or core development solutions – across the world.
It is no longer a hidden fact that there is a huge demand for product managers in different organisations, but as an aspiring product manager, how do you become one of the highly sought-after managers that companies need and would like to keep at all costs?
In the course of researching this area, I read a lot about people transitioning from other professions into product management; and many are worried as to how to hone their skills and secure a fitting and high-paying job. Just like in the other sectors, my experience over the years has shown that volunteering is very important and key in landing a great job.
The skill sets that I have today as a problem manager, development specialist, and media practitioner were greatly acquired through volunteering, and they have connected me to revered professionals and renowned establishments that I never thought I could meet or even work with, including the British Council, Connecting Futures, Global Xchange, British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, Volunteer Service Overseas, and the Department for International Development (DFID).
I learnt early in life that helping others as a volunteer usually has a positive, long-term impact on the volunteer, as well as a positive change in the lives of beneficiaries.
As a volunteer, you are involved in a series of activities such as teaching in a school, helping in community hospitals, working with a paralegal organisation, working with women organisations with a focus on any issues, helping the community to be a better place and our world habitable.
As you transition into product management, check out some problems you are passionate about and use your newly acquired skills to solve them. You can put together a group of people to coordinate the process or join an existing organisation where you know your skills will be valued and appreciated.
After identifying the problem, it is time to generate ideas. Inspire your team and collectively come up with ideas and possible solutions, following the five stages of design thinking – empathise, define, ideate, prototype, and test.
So put yourself in the problem, and define it with all possible assumptions. Do your research, talk to stakeholders, dig deeper into the problem, and get enough data to back up what you have. Thereafter, validate the data, prioritise the problem, iterate, and ideate in making sense of your data, as well as create an empathy map and strategy, and refine your How-Might-We (HMW) statements.
Putting all your learning to use in the problem you are solving as a volunteer will help you develop stronger skills, such as interpersonal skills, people management skills, etc., which will be relevant in the future and will serve as a very important reference when you secure a befitting job.
Your volunteering period will allow you to display your knowledge, minimise your mistakes, work on your weakness and develop your strength. As you learn and deliver results, this period will also help relevant stakeholders spot your capacity.
Without a doubt, volunteering is a great combination of learning and sharing opportunities that can give you fulfillment and self-development.
In summary, volunteering helps build your product management career in the following ways:
1. It shows you are passionate and have gained an empathic understanding of the problem you are trying to solve because you are seen using your skills to contribute to something you have an interest in.
2. Volunteering will advance your career and help you stand out during interviews, as you can make references to your portfolios.
3. Displaying your skills outside the learning arena brings new and exciting challenges, and dealing with them will bring you real-world experience.
4. You have a great opportunity to showcase and develop important soft and technical skills, as you work with different kinds of people, and taking ownership of the solutions.
5. Lastly, just like other volunteer work globally, you always go home each day fulfilled, knowing that your contribution gladdens someone’s heart and has made system and people’s life better.
In conclusion, volunteering is very relevant and has helped many secure high-paying jobs and also meet people with the right connection – I am a testimony.
Ayodele Taofiq-Fanida, Cofounder of ImpactHouse International, is a Publisher, Solutions Specialist, and Transitioning Product Manager.
Photo source: DFID