Salary Insights: Demystifying Product Manager Compensation, Part One [Video Series]

Watch Part One of our new video series, where our Senior Product Management recruiter, Heidi Ram, shares the trends she's seeing in Product Manager salaries. If you are looking to build out your Product team (or retain the great talent you already have), this series will be a valuable resource for your compensation discussions. Watch the Introduction here, and stay tuned for the rest of the series throughout the week!

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Alright, I’m super excited to get into this part of the insight piece, and before I do, I want to share with you the fact that I acknowledge that I’m going to be speaking in really general terms, and of course there are people in the industry who are outside of the averages of what I’m going to be sharing with you today. So just know that I acknowledge that, to give the broadest perspective possible I’m kind of lumping some things into general comments, but if you want to have a personal detailed conversation about this subject, I am happy to do it.

So we’re going to begin talking about the largest community of Product Managers out there, and those are the folks, kind of, in that early on, beginning part of the range. And those are folks who might be earning $85K, maybe they are earning $90K, maybe $95K. They’re in there somewhere.

But if maybe they work for a really huge huge company with lots of process and everything else, maybe they are earning $96,525.10, and they can’t wait to get into the round number world. 

So we’re talking about the people kind of in that first part of the salary arch, I’m going to call it. 

And this is a really wide community of different situations, and different kinds of Product Managers. 

So these candidates, one example, might be, they might be called a Product Manager, but they’re really a Product Owner. So they don’t necessarily own the roadmap and the strategic part, they’re maybe not market facing, but they’re more like a Product Owner—they’re executing, they’re grooming the backlog, they’re writing the epics, you know they’re getting it done. And that company just happens to call them a Product Manager. 

Or this community could also be one of those hybrid folks, where the company doesn’t divide Product Managers and Product Owners into two teams—one person functions as both. So they own that roadmap, they’re a part of the strategy side, but they are also pumping it out and getting it done and executing. 

This pool of candidates could also represent someone who maybe works at a dev shop, or a digital consultancy, where there isn’t a product, because they don’t make a product—they are engaged to do whatever it is their client needs them to do. Maybe it’s to do some ideation, maybe it’s to create a prototype, maybe it’s to do whatever, but they don’t actually own a product upon which a business has been built. 

So maybe they are in that early on stage. Maybe this is someone who has actually done great work and has experience working as a Product Manager, strategy, own the roadmap, they’ve launched product in market. But they have done so, not in Canada. And so now they’re in Canada and for whatever reason, they are either more flexible than maybe what they should be because they have amazing skills, or they just become more flexible because they really want that Canadian work experience which so many employers ask for.

And this could even be someone who works for an engineering led company, and that engineering led company really loves the fact that they’re an engineering led business. And they’ve got someone who is a business analyst and that business analyst says that “I really want to be a Product Manager, I really want to be a Product Manager.” And as part of, maybe a retention strategy, they say, OK we’re going to call you Product Manager and make you a Product Manager, but they are really quite happy not to really bring in product management disciplines so they are going to stay in engineering led business and that business analyst is now a Product Manager and they’re somewhere in here as well. 

So there’s many different scenarios. There’s a couple of interesting things about this community of Product Managers.

First of all, money becomes a big motivator for this community, because they are still moving up the salary arch. They know it, you know it, I know it, there’s still a lot of room for them to grow and they want those salary opportunities. 

Now because folks sometimes in this situation are moving for money, sometimes there’s too much movement, too often. So you see people making changes, more often than what perhaps you might like. 

And as a result of that, how does that impact that the candidate? Well they may not have ever released anything. They’ve never stuck around long enough to see something through, own it, iterate on it, dog-food it, you know, build a business, build the customer base—because they’ve moved on.

And so for that reason, there’s a lot of noise, and you as a hiring leader, and I as a recruiter, need to spend and invest more time really qualifying those candidates and really asking the tough question, ”Have you ever released something in market?” That’s what we want to know. We want their product story. 

Now in cases where I chat with candidates—and if you’re a candidate watching this, listen carefully, because we might have already had this conversation, you and I. You will know that my recommendation to a Product Manager who hasn’t released something in market yet, my advice is this—stay where you are. Stay where you are if you can, and see it through. 

Get that product in market, iterate on it, make it better, grow your customers, grow your users, develop APIs, get connections into other products. Whatever it is that your business model is, do it and do it well, because guess what, it's hard everywhere, it's hard where you are right now, yeah well it’s going to be hard where you go next. But you have already been entrusted with a tremendous opportunity and responsibility. Your boss is counting on you to develop a product that will grow that business, that someone can sell, that someone will want to buy, and that will get implemented, that the Monthly Recurring Revenue is going to grow because of the work that you’ve done with that product. 

So stick with it, is my feedback for someone who hasn’t yet released something, because that  ultimately is what creates your product story. Every product manager becomes more valuable when they have a product story to share and can share what they did with whatever product they were given when they were first hired. And that product story riddled with highs and lows, riddled with successes and sometimes embarrassments, is what helps you grow in the salary arch. 

If someone has launched something in product, and they have the stories of the heart-ache and the successes and the wins and the lessons that they learned, that person is considered a very valuable candidate. And I’m sure there is an employer out there watching this, who is nodding their heads saying yeah, yeah she’s got it. That person is more valuable than someone who is going to learn at their expense. So, I digressed, but that’s my feedback if you haven’t released product.

Now, also talking about this community, is that you know there’s a lot of reasons why a product manager who’s in this group may be looking to make moves in addition to the opportunity to earn more money. 

It’s possible that the product, that they have achieved were hired to do. That whatever the problem was that they were hired to solve, they’ve done it. Maybe the product is now going into maintenance mode, any good product manager does not want to be in maintenance mode of anything. They want to be building and iterating. 

Maybe the company has been acquired, and although the new employer may be saying, “oh yeah, we’re going to keep you as a separate subsidiary,” lets face it, you and I know what’s coming. It may take a year, it may take 5 or 6 years, but one day that will all collapse into the larger acquired company and you’re out. Or you should want to be out because then nothing really new is going to be happening with that product that you’re currently managing. 

Maybe there is a new Chief Product Officer in town and that person has come on board with a very specific mandate and you’re not a part of it. You know that product team is going to turn, because they have a mandate to bring in some fresh people with different skills, and there’s going to be a change. 

Whatever the reason, this community of people, they move, and you want to be looking closely. 

Another interesting quality about this community of people, especially those who don’t have a lot of actual experience, who haven’t actually launched anything in the market. And if you’re a hiring manager watching this, you may smile as you hear this. This community might have a resume riddled with all kinds of decorative graphical things. They’ve got many fonts, they have colours, things are underlined, italics, bolding, there is bar graphs, circle graphs, there is the sort of the five dots to signify you’re a hundred percent of something but no one ever actually has all five dots coloured in because actually who wants to say “I’m great at everything” or maybe it's the circle that's not fully completed to say “I‘m 100% of something” because of whatever reason, but these are resumes that have lots of distraction elements. 

I find it interesting that many Product Managers who have that kind of a resume are in this lower salary bracket here and it’s to camouflage the fact that they’ve actually never released product. I know this is a controversial thing I’m saying, but I find there’s a connection, because as we go up the salaries of the guys who are really releasing some pretty epic world class product that’s adopted by and used by, it seems everyone, they don’t have the artist work on their resumes. It's about the statistics and the results and so you want to be aligning yourself more to stats and data driven metrics then all of the art work, especially since you’re not being hired to be a graphic designer. Just a thought.

So, anyways, that's where we are at. So this community is going to be moving. Take a closer look. It's all about product story and sifting through the resumes. It's a noisy place, this is a noisy place, lots is happening in here, so take a closer look at those candidates because within that community, there is always some real gems who have actually launched product in the market and who can probably do it for you.

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