How to Become an Associate Product Manager: A Career Guide

Author headshot for CareerFoundry blog contributor Kinzal Jalan.

Are you exploring career prospects in the product management world? If yes, you may have encountered the Associate Product Manager (APM) job role. It’s a popular entry point into product management. Several aspiring PMs recommend it as a bridge to developing essential skills and gaining experience for roles higher up the product management ladder

But how do you decide if a career as an APM is a good fit for you? What are their roles and responsibilities? What do you need to get started as an APM? 

👋 Here at CareerFoundry we can help. We offer a fully remote Product Management career-change program. If you’d like to get a taste for it, try our free 5-day product management short course.

Table of contents:

  1. What does an associate product manager do
  2. What skills are needed to become a successful associate product manager
  3. Typical salaries of associate product managers in different countries
  4. How to become an associate product manager: A step-by-step guide
  5. Associate product manager FAQ

1. What does an Associate Product Manager (APM) do

APMs support product management teams in various capacities. The exact roles and responsibilities vary based on the specific company, product, and team structure. However, most APMs are usually involved in the following activities:

  • Assisting senior product managers – As an APM, you’ll participate in sprints and schedule meetings. You may also make presentations and engage in various administrative tasks. 
  • Supporting product development – One of the critical responsibilities of APMs is to monitor and maintain product roadmaps. As a result, you’ll need to notify other stakeholders, such as developers, designers, etc., of any roadmap changes. In addition, you may have to coordinate between different projects and liaise with engineering, marketing, and sales departments. 
  • Creating training material and communicating – As you work, you may have to share and coordinate the needs and requirements of teams. Your job will be to empathize with everyone involved and communicate the essence of these product-related requirements so the other person understands. For example, suppose the developer has an app development task related to expenses. In that case, you may have to break down the technical language into something the finance team (or whoever controls budgeting) understands. Along the way, you may also need to create training material to help teams understand different requirements.  
  • Conducting data analysis and research – As an APM, your role is defined by how you empathize with users. Hence, you’ll have to regularly conduct market research and collect user feedback and opinions through surveys and interviews. In short, you’ll need to be great at both quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis.
  • Conducting product testing and providing feedback As and when new features are added to the product, you may have to test them to check if everything works to plan. You’ll work with user stories, product roadmaps, and meeting minutes. So, there’ll be a lot of documentation of various processes, modifying existing documents, and communicating the changes to multiple stakeholders.
  • Career development and learning – At the APM role’s heart lies continually learning new skills. As a result, you can also expect to attend training sessions and impart skills you gain to more recent recruits. 

The APM position’s responsibilities might sound similar to that of a PM. While they have similar responsibilities, like defining feature roadmaps and working with tech stakeholders to enhance UX and tech specifications and bring them to the users, there are some essential differences. 

2. Differences between the roles of an Associate Product Manager (APM) and Product Manager (PM)

Three essential differences exist between the often confused APM and PM job responsibilities. The following table illustrates the main points:

A table comparing Associate Product Manager vs Product Manager roles.
A table comparing Associate Product Manager vs Product Manager roles.

3. What skills are needed to become a successful Associate Product Manager

To become a successful APM, knowing the essential skills to succeed in this role is vital. These include:

  • Technical skills – Working as an APM requires closely collaborating with the development team. So, even if you’re not from a technical background, gaining basic product development knowledge and staying abreast of technological trends is required.
  • Interpersonal and communication skills – As the APM role requires liaising with different teams and documenting various processes, you’ll need verbal and written communication acumen. In addition, you’ll also need to have soft skills to communicate well with people in different stages of their professional lives. 
  • Analytical skills – You’ll need to crunch many numbers and conduct statistical analyses using tools like SPSS, R, etc. As a result, you’ll need solid analytical skills, such as interpreting data and writing insightful reports based on them.
  • Management skills – APMs manage various aspects of product development. In fact, “manage” is literally in the job title. You may need legacy or agile project management skills, depending on where you work, as well as stakeholder management skills. It is always good if you gain these skills beforehand. While you can gain these skills formally and informally, gaining the credentials to become an associate product manager is essential.

By now, you must be thinking, “How much will I make as an APM?”

4. Typical salaries of Associate Product Managers (APMs) in different countries

While your exact payscale as an APM depends on the company that you work for, the industry it’s in, as well as the location, here’s an idea of benchmark salaries for some countries:

Do these figures seem exciting to you? If yes, here is a step-by-step guide to becoming an APM.

5. How to become an Associate Product Manager (APM): A step-by-step breakdown

Step one: Do some soul-searching

It’s easy to get carried away when making major career decisions. Avoid that and be mindful. So, step one is to engage in some soul-searching. Do the following before you make any decision:

  • Speak to other PMs and better understand the roles and responsibilities of the role. 
  • Clarify the career graph and evaluate if it aligns with your dreams and aspirations. 
  • Determine if you’ve got the attitude and aptitude necessary for a tech-driven, deadline-oriented job. This space could get demanding. 
  • Analyze if you have the underlying personality and skills necessary for the role. 
  • Make a list of pros and cons depending on your circumstances to finally decide if this is a career path you wish to pursue. 

Step two: Get relevant education

If you decide to continue, the next step is getting relevant formal and informal education. 

Product management positions usually seek people with engineering and management backgrounds. 

Step three: Immerse yourself in product management

Alongside investing in education and upskilling, start looking for opportunities to gain practical experience. You can look for internships in fields related to product management. If this is not possible, you may also take up roles related to customer support, data analysis, or marketing. 

Moreover, looking around, you’ll see many product managers (PMs) start as entrepreneurs or app developers. Hence, starting a side venture alongside your education or main job is also a good idea. Some examples include managing a website, taking up freelance projects, etc. 

Step four: Look for a job

Once you have gained the education and skills necessary to become an APM, it is time to start looking for job openings.

  • Make a list of companies you like and check their reviews on Glassdoor to read what other employees say. 
  • Craft your resume or make changes to it to highlight your strengths. The idea is to align it with the roles and responsibilities of an APM. 
  • Start applying for jobs through agencies, consultants, referrals, and professional connections. Good places to look for opportunities online include Indeed.com, Glassdoor, and UpWork (especially if you’re looking for remote opportunities).
  • Building your online and offline professional network can simplify your job search. Try LinkedIn offline events and Meetups

Once you get a job, you’ll need to continue gaining skills. This is at the heart of a successful APM’s role. 

Step five: Keep upskilling yourself 

APMs are more like junior-level PMs with many things to learn. In addition to technical skills, APMs need to hone their managerial and communication skills. So, you can choose from several professional improvement certificates and programs to upskill yourself. Upskilling is particularly important once you get a job, as this is how you will eventually be able to progress to a PM. 

An excellent place to start is to read more about Scrum methodologies, attend Agile framework workshops, and gain skills related to various product management methods. Your company may offer in-house training too.

6. Final thoughts: APM is the step toward more responsible roles

Although most APMs eventually become PMs, some choose other career pathways. You may upskill yourself in an unrelated area, such as advertising or consumer behavior, and use the communication and technical skills you gained during your stint as an APM. You might also consider returning to school and getting another degree in a subject that interests you. The choices are indeed many. The role of APM is an excellent launchpad, so use the opportunity to learn, upskill, and grow if it interests you.

Want to know if product management is the right career for you? Try it out with a  free short intro PM course for beginners.

If you’d like to continue exploring, check out these guides:

7. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is it necessary to start as an APM before becoming a PM?

Most companies typically assign the role of an APM if you are a fresher. There are always things to learn and unlearn. Hence, starting as an APM before becoming a PM is better. However, you may find an opportunity to become a PM directly. You can do that if you know how to carry out the more significant responsibilities. 

How soon can an associate product manager become a product manager?

This depends on the company and the role you are expected to play. Smaller companies may provide opportunities to become product managers sooner than larger ones, where multiple products are launched and improved. It also depends on your grit and skills and convincing others that you are fit for a higher-level position. 

What are the different career pathways for an associate product manager (APM)?

APMs act as the bridge between several junior-level departments and the PM. Hence, in the process, you learn to communicate with people, interview key individuals, and manage multiple things within tight deadlines. Consequently, you can work and expect to become successful in any field of your liking that involves people skills, working with technology, and product management. 

What are the disadvantages of being an associate product manager (APM)?

While there are no specific disadvantages, APMs may have fewer responsibilities than PMs. Moreover, an APM may not be allowed to work on new products and be constrained to existing ones that need improvement. Meeting deadlines can also get stressful at times. 

What You Should Do Now

  1. Get a hands-on introduction to product management with a free, self-paced short course made up of 5 short tutorials.

  2. Take part in one of our FREE live online product manager events with industry experts, or check out CareerFoundry graduate Farley’s product management portfolio project.

  3. Become a qualified product manager in 3-6 months—backed by the CareerFoundry job guarantee.

  4. This February, we’re offering a limited-time deal worth up to $1,365 off—on all of our career-change programs 🎉 Book your application call and secure your spot now!

     

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