“Why Consultants make great Product Managers!”
Why Consultants make great Product Managers, written by Former Goldman Sachs SVP and Head of Product at LearnVest
Switching from finance or consulting to product management is not easy but it’s rewarding when done efficiently. After this Wall Street Journal article was published in March, I’m often asked if it’s necessary to have a CS degree or go back to school for an MBA — the simple answer is no. Frankly, either one of those can be helpful in any job but it’s not the main component that will help you across the bridge. More importantly, I would suggest thinking in the lens of building products. If you are a junior banker, think about how you would take the skills of the trading floor and how would you be creative. How would you leverage your financial skills to build a product that helps in money management, trading solutions, algorithms, etc?
Since leaving college I have worked in the financial industry, specifically in New York City. The financial and consulting sectors provide hundreds of thousands of jobs here; but New York is also a tech powerhouse second to Silicon Valley. If you’re interested in Financial Technology (FinTech), or tech in general, this is the place to be. I have worked with Goldman Sachs, run my own company, and currently lead product at LearnVest. Not one happy hour goes by without someone asking, “you’re a software product manager with a background in finance industry?” Yes. “How so?”
Product managers require a wide variety of skills in today’s work environment. As more companies become more intertwined with their technical services it’s important for the product managers to have a blend of business, project management, technical, and financial skills. Those with a background in finance and consulting have a great stepping stone into product management. Here are a few reasons why this is so:
- First, those with a background in finance have a deep knowledge of data and analysis. Data is not the end-all-be-all in the decision making process, but it certainly holds a lot of weight. Data is a driver that helps you identify customer challenges and solutions along with creating a story about your product and customers. Product managers need to find a balance between data and research when making decisions on building products. Deep analysis and journey mapping is important when building products and this is a core skill that people in the finance space learn from the industry.
- Second, having experience in consulting teaches you to have an objective point of view. I believe the two most important skills for a product manager are storytelling and being unbiased when building products. It’s ironic most product managers build products for others and actually never end up using them. Being unbiased when making product decisions is important. Your opinions and thoughts of what “should be” may not actually be what the customer and data is telling you. For consultants, it’s in your nature to follow the information gathered and to find a solution.
- Lastly, the best product managers are great storytellers. It’s important to be able to champion and evangelize your products to key stakeholders. The beauty of the consulting background is that you are taught early in your career how to advocate and communicate a project and initiative.
Now you’re probably thinking, “this is great but how can I get started on this path and transition to product management?” Personally, I worked my network. I spend time going to meetups, getting together with others for coffee to share challenges, and reading blogs. You can attend a hands-on course on product management like Product School, where I am a mentor and guest presenter.
Listen it’s hard. Don’t get me wrong. It’s easy for you to not try and to say, “I can never be a product manager.” But I did and so can you. It’s really about wanting to build things that change lives, have amazing user experiences, and test the norm. Having a financial or consulting background already gives you the logical and practical thinking one needs to make this happen. It’s really being surrounded by others that can help you cross the bridge. Others like you that are going through the same change and having the urge to build great products. Now go build!
Head of Product, LearnVest