/ Product Management

How to Successfully Transition from Consulting to PM

After working in consulting, many management consultants desire to exit into and work at a tech company. If you want to learn more about the consulting role vs the product role, read this article on the topic. If you've already decided you want to work closer to tech and are ready to start making the transition to PM, you're on the right page!

Skills a Product Manager Need

Analytical Skills
In your current role as a consultant, you will have developed and honed your analytical skills. This is what you should frame your resume around as this is likely the closest experience you have to being a product manager.

It is important to note that most PM job postings ask for prior PM experience. Without previously having a PM job, it is vital to position your resume to appear as if you were already doing PM related tasks in your current consulting role.

Ideally, you will have directly assisted a product manager on one of your projects. Otherwise, highlight how you have helped those who are adjacent to PMs: product designers, tech sales, business operations, or product marketing. If you have advised any of these people with tasks like product growth, pricing strategy, or market sizing, be sure to note that on your resume!

Technical Skills
While not always needed, technical skills are very much desired for most PM roles. Many companies have a bias towards PMs coming from a technical background.

You do not have to have a software engineering background, but 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 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.

Industry Knowledge
If you have worked closely with tech companies in your time as a consultant, you should highlight those experiences. Perhaps you worked on a digital strategy or an IT system change. Advertise the fact that you are comfortable in the tech space and understand tech trends.

To continue to stay up to date, I recommend 2 podcasts: Stratechery by Ben Thompson and 16 Minutes by A16Z.

Align Your Consulting Experiences to Match that of a PM

Always look at the job description for the product management job you want, and make it appear as if you already have the experience or skills to perform what's needed. For an exercise, let's take a look at the job description for a "Product Manager - Uber for Business" role at Uber in San Francisco.

Examining the responsibilities this PM will have on the job, we see:

  • Deeply understand the needs of business travellers and their organizations.
  • Internalize Uber’s strategy and blend it with your customers’ needs.
  • Launch innovative features in the Uber app for millions of riders across the world, rethinking user experience, marketplace dynamics, driver interaction, and customer support.
  • Partner with sales, business, and strategy leadership to set and attain targets that affect Uber’s bottom-line.
  • Meet teams throughout Uber, and collaborate with them to adapt their features and plans for business travellers.
  • Work closely with a fun team of world-class engineers, designers, data scientists, and user researchers, setting team roadmap and driving execution.

Thus in your resume as a consultant, it is possible you can show that you have:

  • Recommended strategies to your clients that have resulted in revenue growth
  • Implemented a process to help your client team become more agile and user-centric
  • Assembled objectives and key results and driven goals across cross-functional teams
  • Conducted interviews with clients to better understand their pain points
  • Personally been as a business traveller and have worked across many geographies

Show tangible evidence you can be a great PM in the business travel space. As a management consultant, you likely have traveled so frequently that you've earned elite statuses across airlines and hotels. Use this fact to show that you not only have the analytical skills to be a PM, but you also are the demographic this Uber for business product is targeting.

Certainly do not fabricate any work you did not do, but dig deep into your experience and align your past with the PM job you hope to earn.

PM Interview Prep

Behavioral
Be prepared for both behavioral as well as more specific product questions.

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?
  • List of More PM Behavioral Questions.

When it comes to more specific product questions, these are typically either product design or analytical/execution questions. You may also encounter technical or estimation questions (depending on the role you're applying to).

Product Design
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

You can find a comprehensive list of product design questions at Exponent's Practice Questions Forum.

Analytical and Execution
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?

Check out Exponent's Practice Question Forum for:

Technical
Sometimes, technical questions can be expected, especially if the job description seems technical in nature (eg. if you are applying to be a PM for a team of cloud computing engineers). While you do not need to know how to do Leetcode medium/hard questions, you should at least be able to write pseudocode for the easy/some medium questions, depending on the role. Also be familiar with tradeoffs for the popular data structures and algorithms (including time and space complexity).

You can find additional technical questions for product managers here.

Estimation
Estimation questions are less popular now, but if you have time, it may be good to review them as well. These can be as generic as:

  • How many windows are in Seattle?
  • How many tennis balls can you fit inside a Boeing 747?

You can quickly see how estimation questions can be tailored towards a PM:

  • How much storage do you need to allocate for a photo sharing app?
  • How much network bandwidth does YouTube need?

Check out additional estimation questions to practice with here.

To learn more in-depth how to best answer these questions, consider checking out Exponent’s PM Interview course. It has excellent practice questions, sample answers, and 1:1 coaching offerings. Practice answering some of the practice questions out loud with a friend as if you’re in an actual interview. If you need more in-depth feedback and interview expertise from experienced PMs, consider taking a few interview coaching sessions.

Making the Switch to PM

Entry Level PM Roles
There exist many entry level PM roles (typically called associate product management or rotational product management positions). For example, Facebook's RPM program website states that RPMs come from a wide variety of backgrounds, including those who have spent a few years working in consulting.

While entry level roles sound appealing, they are very competitive as these companies, in parallel, recruit from the top universities for these roles. Head count for these entry level programs is also not very high.

PM 1 Roles
If you are able to follow the steps outlined above to position yourself as a great potential PM, try applying to various PM roles in the market. Do not be discouraged by job descriptions looking for those who are already a PM. Apply anyway. To increase your chances of having your resume seen, reach out to your network to see if you can apply via an internal referral. Alternatively, look up the recruiter on LinkedIn and send a cold email.

Adjacent Roles
Sometimes, it is not feasible to immediately join a tech company as a product manager. If that's the case, I recommend working in a role that is adjacent to a PM. This could include business operations, product marketing, or tech sales. Working in these roles provides the product exposure needed to help you earn the PM role you desire later down the road.

Next Steps

Management consultants are known to be analytical, strategic, and excellent communicators. With many core skills aligning to those of product managers, it is natural that some consultants hope to become PMs as they exit the consulting world.

This is not a trivial transition, but Exponent has the resources to put you on a proven path to success. If you're ready to jump into preparing for your product management interviews, check out Exponent's PM Interview course!