Product Management is notoriously difficult to get into. This challenge is especially augmented for those just graduating from college with minimal exposure to product management. Thus, companies have developed entry-level product management roles, known commonly as Associate Product Management (APM) roles.
This guide will provide an explanation of the APM role and an overview of some of the most popular APM programs.
What is APM
Associate product manager roles provide new grads and early-career professionals the chance to break into product management. The original APM program was developed in the early 2000s by then-Google product manager Marissa Mayer. At the time, Google needed some way to recruit raw talent it couldn't obtain from industry hires. Marissa would recruit a handful of young college grads, and help train them into what Google thinks a product manager should be.
They have been very successful. Brian Rakowski, the first APM, is now Google's VP for Chrome. Other notable alumni include Bret Taylor, co-creator of Google Maps, and Justin Rosenstein, who founded Asana. Google chairman Eric Schmidt has even expressed his opinion that one of Google's APM alumni will be CEO of the company one day.
Since then, other companies have adopted their own APM programs similar to Google's. Many thousands of applicants apply each year. As you can imagine, APM roles are very competitive (arguably even more competitive than experienced product manager roles).
A hallmark of many APM programs is the training the company provides. This is an opportunity to learn about how the company does product management, and may even include a trip to learn about the tech industry in various markets!
Many APM roles also include a rotational portion to the program, where you'd get the chance to try out different teams and get exposed to many more challenges while expanding your network. Google APMs complete 2 one-year rotations while Facebook rotational product managers (RPM) complete 3 six-month rotations. Many APM programs also assign mentors to the new hires, whose advice can pay dividends down the road.
APM Interview Process
The interview process for all APM programs is relatively similar.
First, a recruiter will review your resume. If there is a good fit, they will reach out and get to know you via phone call. Be well-versed in the experience and projects on your resume, as you may be asked to elaborate on your work. Also be prepared for behavioral questions in this initial conversation.
Common behavioral questions include:
- Why PM?
- Tell me about a time you failed.
- How do you prioritize features?
- How do you influence team members without having direct control?
- Why are you leaving consulting?
Explore more behavioral questions from actual interviews on Exponent's practice questions forum. Try these on your own in your APM interview preparation, and compare your answers to some of the submitted solutions.
Some APM programs would then want you to complete a take-home assignment. This can range from making a presentation on a project of yours to completing a product exercise.
Next is a phone/video interview round. This round usually consists of two back to back calls to test your product design and analytical/execution skills (for some of the smaller APM programs, there may just be one call as opposed to back to back calls).
Product design questions test your ability to build a new or improve an existing feature/product. Some people like to use frameworks (the Circle method is one of the more popular ones) but the key is to just be organized with your thoughts and have a clear goal in mind that will solve the user's problem(s). Be familiar with the suite of products that the company to which you're applying for offers. Watch any recent keynote or conference talks either on the company website or through internet searches.
Some popular product design questions are:
- Design product x for some user group (blind, deaf, children, elderly)
- How would you improve product x
- Design a feature for your favorite product
Explore more product design questions from actual interviews on Exponent's practice questions forum. Try these on your own in your APM interview preparation, and compare your answers to some of the submitted solutions.
Analytical and execution questions test how you do things as a PM. Here, the interviewer wants to see how you would dive deeper and examine data that would be available to you if you were hired as the PM. Be familiar with the company's product line and any recent news associated with the company. For example, if you were to interview with Uber, you can likely expect some analytical questions around driver/passenger pickup times.
Popular analytical questions:
- Metric x is down. Why?
- Which metrics would you track to define success.
- Should we launch x?
Explore more analytical and execution questions from actual interviews on Exponent's practice questions forum. Try these on your own in your APM interview preparation, and compare your answers to some of the submitted solutions.
A common question is: do I need to prepare for a technical round? The short answer is "it depends." Always ask your recruiter for an overview of the interview process so you know what to expect. Often, APM programs do not have an interview step that is so technical that requires you to code (with the exception of Google APM, as they may have an interview round that is more technical than other APM programs).
Many APMs do not come from a programming background and end up being great product managers. However, you should at the minimum be a good partner to developers. For example, while it's unlikely you'll have to know the implementation behind the various graph search algorithms, you should know their trade-offs if you want your engineering team to build a new recommendation algorithm. This way, as the PM, you will be able to know if the new recommendation algorithm you want to be implemented is even realistic. This helps build trust with the engineering team as well. It is not a good sign if the PM is constantly asking for feature requests that are not feasible.
After doing well in the product design and analytical/execution phone calls, you will be flown out to the company for an on-site. This round is like the previous phone call round but on steroids! You will be expected to talk about multiple product design and analytical/execution questions for nearly a full day. There is typically also a lunchtime opportunity where you can get food with the team and get to know your potential co-workers.
Finally, the last step is typically an executive round. This is a conversational chat where you get to hop on a call with an executive. Be prepared to tell the executive about yourself and what excites you about the prospect of joining their APM program. If you are able to get to this round, you should have an offer very soon!
APM Salary and Compensation
The typical starting salary for an APM differs based on location and company. With that said, the average compensation package consists of three components: base salary, stock, and a signing bonus.
I would expect a competitive San Francisco Bay Area APM offer to be in the ballpark of $110k base salary, $100k restricted stock units (4 years), and $30k signing bonus. Again, this is merely a ballpark figure.
Two resources I recommend are levels.fyi to compare salaries and career progression, and Holloway's guide to equity compensation to learn more about RSUs and stock options.
The Most Popular APM Programs
The APM program that started it all. Teams include Gmail, YouTube, Search, and Android.
Facebook RPMs focus on 3 core values: impact, growth, and community. Former RPMs have grown peer-to-peer payments in Messenger, driven Instagram growth and adoption, and built new consumer apps for Oculus VR.
From day one at LinkedIn, you’ll collaborate with engineers, designers, data scientists, and a host of other partners to build the next generation of LinkedIn products. Former LinkedIn APMs have appeared on Forbes 30 under 30, started non-profits, and presented at conferences.
At Uber, you'll work on a team with a senior PM who will provide active coaching and mentorship. You'll also get the chance to go on a trip to learn about Uber's most operationally challenging geographies like India and Egypt. Uber APMs have built out the UberEATS marketplace and pricing ecosystem as well as evaluated aerial ride-sharing feasibility.
Lyft APMs complete three rotations in 18-months to make an impact in the transportation world. You'll be matched with a senior leader in the Product organization to be your mentor and own at least one high-impact project per rotation,
When Marissa Mayer left Google for Yahoo, she brought the APM program with her. Even though Yahoo is now owned by Verizon Media, they continue to offer the APM program. You'll get the chance to work on a variety of brands under the Verison Media umbrella including Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Finance, AOL, and TechCrunch. Previous APMs have worked on ads, accessibility, and AI/ML.
Twitter APMs will perform market and competitive analysis to make high impact recommendations for their teams. They will also receive product management training from experienced product leaders and have the chance to participate in an executive mentorship program.
Asana's first class of APMs was in 2017. Their rotational program does not require a computer science background. Jackie Bavaro, a former Google APM, leads the Asana product management team (she co-authored Cracking the PM Interview).
The Salesforce APM program is a two year rotational experience that provides direct ownership of products and regular exposure to senior leadership.
Atlassian APMs own some of their largest strategic initiatives. From day one, experienced managers guide APMs towards success and have access to tailored learning and development training.
IBM's Associate Offering Management program allows new grads to work on high impact products in the enterprise space: from artificial intelligence, to cloud computing, to blockchain. Their Watson AI famously beat Ken Jennings (who holds the record for the highest average correct responses per game in Jeopardy) in a highly publicized game of Jeopardy.
Yelp hires APMs to work a range of features and products from Yelp search to its mobile app. You will have a mentor and get personalized feedback from their VP of Product, and even dedicated time with the CEO.
Walmart APMs rotate through three 8-month roles. They have worked on customer experience, supply chain, and e-commerce algorithms.
Workday APMs are introduced to the Workday technical stack and rotate through three rotations and specialized training. After the rotations, Workday APMs will graduate onto a permanent team where they will continue to apply their learnings.
Who Else is Hiring New Grad Product Managers?
Many other companies have begun hiring product managers straight out of college. While they may not have an APM program like the ones described above, it is very much worth checking them out as well. These companies include Microsoft, Dropbox, and Redfin.