Sometimes, transferrable skills you've learned in other fields can teach you valuable lessons in a new role. Pearly Jawal, Product Manager, shares how having a non-Product background helps her make Product decisions at HubSpot everyday.
I remember when I first graduated college and was starting my career, I would often doubt myself and wonder: Why would a company want to hire me over someone with more experience? What could I possibly offer them?
For many of us, that feeling doesn’t go away even as we grow our careers. But what I’ve learned is that your past experience doesn’t need to perfectly check all the boxes for a new role, and that you can often repurpose skills you’ve developed to help you with new roles and challenges.
I started at HubSpot in 2019 as a Product Manager (PM) with no experience in computer science or software development, and I hadn’t worked in tech before. But what I’ve found is that I have skills from both my educational background and work experience that help me be successful in my role.
Learning from my Psychology degree
In college, I studied Psychology and learned both soft skills and hard skills that have helped me in my role as a PM. Some of the most impactful have been:
Applying scientific method of experimentation
I was taught how to build hypotheses and validate assumptions using a rigorous process and following statistical significance. As a product manager, this helped me when my team conducted an experiment to improve HubSpot Notifications preferences page, and continues to do so whenever I have important product decisions to make.
Using empathy and mental models
These are essential to develop a deep understanding of customers’ pain points and behaviors. It also helps me read between the lines to understand how they see the world and what truly motivates them at the end of the day.
Understanding cognitive biases
Studying cognitive biases helps me be more aware of them to try my best to fight them. Understanding how biases impact customers’ behaviors allows me to ensure our product motivates customers to behave in a way that will help them accomplish their goals. For instance, we know that customers rarely take the time to change the defaults settings in the product so we decided to turn on by default only the most critical notifications and keep the others off. Biases help you identify how you can nudge customers to take appropriate actions through the choice architecture of your product.
Leaning on my HR background
After I graduated with a Master’s Degree in Psychology, I started working in HR (Human Resources) and Recruitment. I developed skills that continue to help me in my day to day, including:
Growing our teams
As a product manager, I contribute to growing the team by identifying, assessing and interviewing candidates. I also apply interview best practices to ask well formulated open-ended questions during UX (User Experience) research interviews with customers so that I can uncover more about their thoughts, needs, challenges and motivations.
Fostering team culture
It is crucial to build psychological safety within your team, create trust, and invest in Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging. When I was working in HR, I was responsible for implementing initiatives to foster a positive culture. Today, this experience helps me create a trusting environment with all my colleagues (engineers, designers, UX researchers, etc.) by carrying out regular team health checks, virtual social events, daily community meetings on Slack, and DI&B discussions.
Communicating and diplomacy
Being a good communicator is important for any HR specialist, but it is also extremely valuable for my role! As Dylan Sellberg explains it really well, communication is a huge part of the product manager role. I use these skills on a daily basis to align on priorities with direct team members, set expectations with stakeholders, and have difficult conversations about various topics - the list could go on and on! We tend to underestimate the value of soft skills but I can guarantee these are impactful in any role, company, or industry.
Lessons from Entrepreneurship
After working in HR and recruitment, I pursued an MBA with an entrepreneurial program where I had the opportunity to launch a startup. It was an exceptionally satisfying experience and the driver around my desire to pursue a career in Product Management. Being an entrepreneur, and thinking like a business owner, has helped me hone skills that have been extremely helpful as a PM.
Understanding business acumen & building a vision
As a co-founder, I needed to develop a vision for the business: how is my solution solving a customer problem, what is the business opportunity, and how will the solution evolve? That’s exactly what the PM responsibilities are: identifying, understanding, and defining a problem statement that maps to a customer need or pain point that can be transformed into a business that will generate revenues for the long term.
Knowing how to build a Go-to-Market strategy
When building a new business, it’s important to conduct a thorough competitive analysis in order to position your solution in the market you’re entering. This is usually combined with crafting a marketing narrative and a pricing and packaging strategy that will clearly highlight the benefits of your solution, its value proposition, and your main differentiating factor. The same is true when you’re launching a new product. For example, when our team released the ability for Admins to create Notifications Profiles, we worked with a Product Marketing Manager to promote this new feature and evaluated for which tier it would be the most valuable.
Measuring impact with metrics
Entrepreneurs are obsessed with results. They need to ensure the solution is solving a meaningful problem and show this to their investors. This involves prioritizing the right initiatives and metrics to demonstrate results. Today, I use these skills in different ways:
- Building OKRs (Objectives, Key Results) to help the team focus on the most impactful priorities and set objectives that will help us move our northern star metric. For example, in the Notifications team we tried to prioritize projects that will help us increase Notifications Engagement rate and we built a dashboard to track this metric.
- Setting and measuring success metrics to validate the impact of a product launch. For example, when we released the Notifications Profiles feature, we not only measured activation and conversion rates but how this impacted the business by looking at Admin NPS(net promoter score) as well as MRR (monthly recurring revenue) generated and retained through this upmarket feature.
Having curiosity and growth mindset
When I was managing my startup, there were many times where I had no clue what I was doing and would make mistakes, but I was never afraid of challenging myself and learning through trial and error until I got it right! I would proactively seek advice and feedback from other entrepreneurs or investors and take online courses to learn best practices. In product management I always seek feedback and look for areas for growth. I try to be curious, ask questions and explore new topics. In one of my performance reviews, I was told to get better at editing and getting my point across in a clear and concise way (not an easy task for a French person!). I bought books on how to be a better writer and I try to edit myself every time I’m send a message, draft an email, or write a document.
Bottom line, you don’t necessarily need to have a background in the exact same field as the role you’re interested in, you can always find skills and experience that can apply. In my case, I was able to use my skills to go through the Associate Product Manager interviews and continue to be successful in my role by leveraging my growth mindset (from my HR and recruiting experience), go-to-market knowledge (from my entrepreneurial experience), and strong empathy towards customers (from my psychology background). My recommendation would be to start looking at the skills you’ve acquired so far and understand how they can be relevant to the role you’re interested in pursuing.
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