“Be empathetic to customers.”

That’s what Ping Zhang sees as key to a career in Product Management, which he just launched this year.

Empathy to customers. Notice he didn’t say “years experience building computers,” or “a degree in business,” or “the ability to do complex math equations.”

No, it’s the soft skill of empathy. He also says “at the very core, it’s problem solving.”

Soft skills, my friends. Soft skills.

This is good news. You can have ANY background and make a go of it in a field like Product Management, which really just means working with people, just in the context of software and tech.

Ping agrees:

“[If your background is] working at Walmart, talking to people, you might not think very much of it. But when it comes down to your communication skills, you have an edge because you have that experience — but if you don’t recognize it and talk about it, nobody else is going to know.

“Being able to connect the dots, and make the recruiter or the hiring manager know that your experiences are relevant…. then that just makes the decision so much easier.”

Launch into Product Management with Co.Lab. Use code CAREERHACKERS for an extra $50 off.

How Ping Pivoted into Product Management

In Ping’s case, he had studied mechanical engineering in college, and had an offer in spring 2020, but then when the world quickly shifted, that fell through and he was out of a job.

By October 2020, though, he landed a system design role in mechanical engineering.

Now, this role was not Product Management, but it was related. Ping was still able to use this experience to persuade hiring managers for the PM job he later secured.

“When you put a system design role in the context of a tech world, it’s more or less a technical project manager, or a product manager for a mechanical field. I really enjoyed that job, and that’s when I decided to look into Product Management on the software side. There’s a lot of perks and benefits to being in software, one of which is the fully remote environment, and that really drew me to the whole thing.”

So Ping did what anyone can do – he focused his aim on what he wanted, then took action to make progress.

But what else was key to land his PM job? It was going through Co.Lab, a career launch program where you learn by doing to gain experience in Product Management.  

So what did Co.Lab look like for Ping?

He applied, was accepted, and started working with a team of 4 people (a designer, two developers, and himself as Product Manager) with the shared goal of shipping a real MVP (minimum viable product).

They did market research, surveyed people in their network, and juggled around several ideas. At first they couldn’t settle on one idea.

But as Ping says, “things really started clicking. being part of a group of 4 people – pushing out an MVP.”

Since they only had 8 weeks to finish their real life MVP,  they needed to decide, to take action. By week 2 they agreed upon a product they felt excited about.

Necessity is the mother of invention, yeah?

They ended up creating a web app to help take breaks to combat work burnout and stress (see their MVP here and in the video below).

Avoiding the “Real-World Experience Catch-22” – Landing the Product Management Job

We talked about connecting the dots for hiring managers on the soft skills you have and how they can transfer to a new job or career. This is key!

And what if you had the 1-2 punch of pitching both soft skills and hard skills?

Again, this is where the real project with Co.Lab helped Ping. He could confidently talk and show the hard skills he had built (ability to build a real app with his team).

“My experience in Co.Lab opened up a lot of conversations [with hiring managers]. That really helped me.”

In other words, it was the real-world projects that opened doors for Ping to land a job. This is because Co.Lab’s key value is they bridge the gap for the catch-22 of “I need experience to land a job and I need a job to gain experience”. Co.Lab will get you going on that real Product Management MVP that you can show hiring managers.

Co.Lab’s career mentors also bring tons of value to their students.

“I had some limiting beliefs prior to chatting with Lisa [a career mentor with Co.Lab program]. She said, ‘Ping, you’ve been doing Product Management for the past 2 years.'” Even though Co.Lab is just 8 weeks, he realized that his totality of experience, hard skills, and skills all could go into how he framed his story for hiring managers.”

It worked. He landed a job soon after the program.

Related: Tell Me Your Story Not Your Status – CH Top Videos Page

Ping Zhang

Learn by Doing with Co.Lab

Co.Lab‘s approach is unique because you’re not just learning about Product Management through books or lectures. You’re actually doing Product Management.

In the 4 week Sprint program, with just 2-5 hours a week, you’ll learn to go from Zero to One by honing the fundamentals in self-paced, hands-on learning.

  • Learn Fundamentals – you’ll gain knowledge of the importance of product discovery
  • Start Customer Discovery – Do real market research, talk to customers, and validate your assumptions
  • Document Product Requirements in a Spec – Begin your PM portfolio by showcasing your findings
  • Iterate and get Feedback from Mentors – submit your real-world proposal and get feedback

Now that’s learning by doing!

“[Co.lab is for you] if you’re curious, enthusiastic, you’re willing to put it in the work. We don’t say it’s easy. But if you have those qualities, and you’re excited about apps, you’re curious about the way things are designed around you, you can [break in to PM].

— Sefunmi Osinaike, Co-Founder at Co.Lab

Launch into Product Management with Co.Lab. Use code CAREERHACKERS for an extra $50 off.