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

Watch Part Two 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. If you missed them, watch the Introduction and Part One, and stay tuned for the rest of the series throughout the week!


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Alright. So we have been talking about this group of Product Managers who are working hard. And they are working hard moving up the salary arch. Learning and growing skills, building experiences into their toolbox, and sometimes, this community is even taking a step back to take a step forward in the bigger picture of their career. 

That could mean a situation where a Product Manager is currently responsible for an on-premise product. And then someone sees value in their skills, and thinks they’d be a great cultural fit for an opportunity to move into managing a SaaS platform. And any wise candidate will recognize that that’s really an opportunity to grab when it comes along. And so taking a step back in salary to be able to move forward into a more modern tech stack? I mean that’s huge. 

So bottom line, this group is moving along, moving along, and we’re now going to begin to talk about the next largest group of Product Managers that exists. 

And that group are sitting at about $120K - $125K, and that’s the second largest group of Product Managers outside of this group. Not all of these Product Managers are going to be able to get into that salary group, because not all companies will pay that much for an individual contributing Product Manager. There’s plenty of companies that won’t. But there’s plenty of companies that do, and we’re going to be talking about that next. 

I also want to begin by pointing out that this next salary group is really sitting at a bit of a plateau. There isn’t a lot of movement up and down in salaries, kind of that $120K - $125K is where a lot of folks are going to sit for possibly a long period of time. 

So I’m excited about telling you about that group, and what we’ve learned and discovered in our career of recruiting Product Managers. 

Alright. So who is in this next group of Product Managers? Because they do represent the next largest group of product folks in the market. Those who are sitting at the $120K - $125K mark. 

Well in general terms, they’re referred to as Senior Product Managers. That means that they already have experience releasing product in market. This is not about how many years you’ve been trying, or how many years you’ve been in the business. This is generally about actual product release experience. This person has figured out a way to monetize an idea. This person has figured out how to grow a product, from maybe being a one product company to an actual suite of products and a platform. They’ve actually done something to build a business. 

That’s generally, what is considered a Senior Product Manager who might sit in this salary group. This person owns the voice of the customer. They are looking at the market. They understand the competitive landscape. They understand who if they could they would build API integrations into, and who they’d want integrating into their stuff. This is the strategic thinker.

And, in cases where it’s a startup, this person might still be doing the role of a Product Owner as well in that kind of a hybrid situation. It happens. There’s lots of grey area. 

Now one of the cool things about this community is hearing their product stories. And if you’re ever in a situation where you’re interviewing or talking with Product Managers who are Senior Product Managers and they’re kind of in that salary range, you want to understand the story of what they did, and what it was like to get it to where it is today. Because that’s where the value comes from. Those are the lessons that you can’t learn in some course that you take, or in an online community and forum. You have to experience that for yourself. 

Now the other thing that we begin to see in this salary bucket, the $120K, $125K, sometimes $130K, is an emergence of candidates who are called “lead.” Individuals who are now being given some responsibility over maybe Business Analysts or Product Owners. And so, they’re taking on some of that leadership, sometimes even the management side of a group. 

And in some cases, And we’ve certainly worked on our share of these kinds of roles, someone might even be a Director. They might even have a director title, Director of Product. And they’re earning $120K, $125K, maybe $130K. But the company is small, the product is early on. And often the plan and the vision that a founder has is “listen, come on board, I’m going to give you the Director title coming in, you’re going to be an individual contributing Product Manager, but, the moment that we get our next round of funding, and as long as that product is in market, which it would probably need to be for us to get the money, you are going to begin to build the team. And then you’ll be a real legit Director of Product.” So we see that. 

So this group, still is a mix of folks, it’s an interesting group. Not everyone who is making those incremental steps along the arch in this group are going to get here, because not all companies will pay $120K, $125K, $130K for an individual contributing Product Manager. But there are plenty of companies who will. 

So that’s what this community looks like, and now let's get into even a little bit more detail about that profile. 

Ok, so there are some things to be mindful about if you are Head of Product, and we’re now talking about this individual contributor who’s earning $120K, $125K, maybe even $130K, because this group we’ve already said, is going to plateau. There isn’t going to be as many opportunities for them to move up in their base salary. There’s just fewer of them. We don’t get a lot of roles where, hey, going in it's a $140K base. 

We are going to talk about those higher salaries in a moment and put that into context, but for the most part this is going to be a plateau which means that, that community is moving for reasons other than money. 

They’re open to moving for a whole other bucket of reasons. And it leads to some really interesting conversations. So for example some of the things I hear when I reach out to folks who are in that group are things like this. “Heidi I’m interested in making a move to solve problems I haven’t yet solved. I want to solve new problems.” “Heidi I’m tired of working in the payment tech space. You know I’m in my third payment tech company. I’m done. I need to move and do something different.” “Heidi I’ve done food tech now two or three times, my companies keep getting acquired and I’m interested in making a move out of food tech. I’m interested in anything other than food.” Or, people will say things like this: “Heidi I want to work for a company that's missional. It's important to me that I’m contributing to a greater good. That I am working for purpose, that I’m helping someone better their life, or quality of life, that I am solving problems for mankind, for human-kind.” 

This is, I have these conversations. People are interested in being a part of something that is greater than what they are part of, and that if they find it will rank high in their reasons for making a move, even if it means that they might have to make a lateral move in base salary or even sometimes take a step back. Can be powerful. 

The other thing that we hear from this community is that folks will be willing to make a job change if the next move advances their technical or their product skills, moving into that sort of next generation of tech. So I’ll hear folks say, “I want to move into machine learning, into robotics, into autonomous anything, AI.” Ok almost everyone is doing AI, but you know AI and all those things, so this becomes a really big motivator for candidates. 

And the other interesting reason we hear that community want to make a change is they want to work on a product that they would be a user persona of, a product that they would see personal value from and understand it as a user. 

So I find it always interesting why people move because that's really the heart of a person, and this person, you know, is going to be moving for some different and interesting reasons than maybe this community. 

Now the other thing that we begin to see from this group is that because they know there aren’t a lot big advances in their base salaries, that advancement is one of the ways to grow their salary, and so we begin to hear a lot of folks in that group saying I really want to get a call about the Director of Product role. I believe that I’m ready to be a Vice President of product. Heidi I am ready and only want to hear about roles to be Head of Product. 

So we begin to hear that. That's a whole other conversation for another day. But this is, this is something that resonates with that community.

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