Career Stories: Javier Bello Medina, MBA ’24 – Part 1: Lessons Learned in Pivoting into Product Management

By Javier Bello Medina, MBA ’24

Pivoting into Product Management

Ever had that “I want to do that!” moment, only to read a job description and think, “Do I need a time machine to go back and switch majors, or maybe a cosmic reset button to be born again?” At some point, I felt that way.

In 2020, facing the global realization that life is short and passions should be pursued, I found myself ready for a change. After a roller coaster of roles in the banking industry in Latin America—spanning corporate strategy, innovation, HR, and operations—I discovered Product Management. With some coaching (and therapy), I saw it as a perfect blend of my engineering background, passion for people, and financial experience.

I decided to become a PM and was excited about the tech industry. But then reality hit: Python, SQL, years [Insert absurd amount of years] of PM and tech experience, UX design skills, business acumen, work visas…the list went on. How was I supposed to travel back in time to become the ideal PM?

Here’s the good news: I realized I didn’t need a time machine. Even better, I understood that many of the skills I had developed were powerful and transferable to succeed as a Product Manager.

Breaking into product management is challenging, but I believed MIT Sloan could be the catalyst I needed to transition effectively and secure a PM role in tech. And it was!

Here are some key lessons I learned in my pivot to product management:

1. Know What You Want (and What You Don’t Want)

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” —Michael Porter

At MIT Sloan, you’ll have countless resources and opportunities. While this is fantastic, it’s essential to stay focused on what you truly want to avoid getting distracted or overwhelmed by other opportunities and peer pressure (aka FOMO).

Many students apply to PM, consulting, entrepreneurship, and banking roles simultaneously, planning to decide later. This lack of focus can often lead to regrets and missed opportunities. Knowing what you want helps you make the most of your experience, secure the best opportunities, and build strong connections.

Start your MBA with a clear understanding of your goals. If you’re sure about PM, narrow down your interests. Do you prefer a data-oriented or engineering-oriented role? A product strategy or product marketing role? Knowing what you don’t want helps you say no to distractions and MBA FOMO (This is a real thing!).

For instance, I realized I love strategy, data insights, and user experience, so I focused my applications on Product Strategy, Growth Product Management, and user-focused PM roles, preferably with products I liked and could understand. This focus guided my choices in lectures, clubs, conferences, and any MBA experience.

2. Identify Your PM Superpowers and Weaknesses

Understanding how your skills fit into product management is crucial. Self-reflection is key!

If you don’t know yours yet, you can start with this list of technical and soft skills for PMs: “Top 10 Product Manager Skills To Boost Your Resume

Since a Product Manager must lead and coordinate others without much formal authority, I also recommend reflecting on your leadership skills. I found this HBR article helpful: “8 Essential Qualities of Successful Leaders.”

I discovered one of my PM superpowers: synthesizing ideas. I can take many crazy ideas from a team and merge them into a cohesive concept. While I’m not super creative, I thrive with creative people and excel in organizing and coordinating, translating to product roadmaps and sprint planning.

My weakness was technical knowledge. Despite being analytical, I hadn’t coded in 10 years. Knowing I wanted a data-oriented role, I took data-heavy and technical courses during my MBA to build these skills. For instance, I enrolled in classes such as “The Analytics Edge” and “The Analytics of Operations Management,” which helped me bridge the technical gap and become more confident in my abilities. Additionally, I took advantage of online resources and certifications to supplement my learning, ensuring that I was well-prepared for the technical demands of a PM role.

3. “Productize” and “Keyword” Your Resume

Transform your resume into a “PRODUCT EXPERT” resume by customizing it. Highlight relevant skills and experiences that align with your desired job descriptions, showcasing your product management skills.

Include key terms and phrases from desired job descriptions to pass automated resume screening systems (ATS). Conduct a gap analysis to identify areas for improvement and ensure your resume is complete in terms of required skills and qualifications.

For example, I emphasized my experience in corporate strategy and operations by rephrasing them in PM-friendly terms. I highlighted projects where I led cross-functional teams, managed product life cycles, and used data to drive decision-making. This not only made my resume more appealing to recruiters but also demonstrated my readiness for a PM role.

Unexpectedly, this exercise helped me realize how much PM-related experience I already had, even if it was named differently. This realization boosted my confidence and allowed me to craft a stronger narrative of my value. By identifying and articulating my relevant experiences, I was able to present myself as a well-rounded candidate for product management roles.

4. Cultivate Experience and Leverage MIT Resources

Even if you take all PM-related lectures, the MBA coursework alone isn’t enough to become a product manager. As an “empirical” role, having Real-world experience is essential. Get involved to learn and demonstrate your commitment to this career path. Here are some ways to gain experience:

  • PM Lab: Collaborate with a company for hands-on experience. In PM Lab, I worked with a tech startup to improve their website and E-commerce experience. This journey allowed me to apply classroom knowledge in a real-world setting, understand the dynamics of working within a product team, and gain insights into the challenges faced by PMs.
  • Product Design and Development Class: One of the most integral product courses at MIT Sloan! Work with talented peers to prototype and create a product (Great example of MIT’s motto, “mens et manus.”) This class pairs MBA students with mechanical engineering Ph.D. candidates and designers from RISD (SO talented people!). Over five sprints, we took a product from concept to prototype, learning valuable lessons in collaboration, design thinking, and user-centric development. The intensity of this course helped me build resilience and adaptability, key traits for any PM.
  • Hackathons and Challenges: Participate in events like the Google PM Hackathon. These events are fast-paced and simulate the pressure and excitement of product management. In one week, I joined a team to develop a prototype app that addressed a real-world problem. The hackathon experience honed my skills in rapid prototyping, teamwork, and pitching ideas under tight deadlines.
  • PM Certificate: Pursuing this certificate and adding it to your resume shows your commitment. The PM certificate program at MIT Sloan offers specialized courses and workshops that deepen your understanding of product management. Completing this program not only expanded my knowledge but also signaled to employers that I was serious about my PM career.
  • PM Club: Engage in events, networking, and leadership roles to show dedication. Being active in the PM Club provides opportunities to network with industry professionals, attend exclusive workshops, and gain mentorship from experienced PMs. Taking on a leadership role in the club also demonstrated my commitment and initiative, making me a more attractive candidate to potential employers.
  • PM Conference: Attend, network, and help organize to build connections. The annual PM Conference is a significant event where you can meet industry leaders, attend insightful sessions, and learn about the latest trends in product management. Volunteering to help organize the conference also allowed me to build stronger connections within the PM community and showcase my organizational skills.

To sum up, transitioning into product management is a journey, not a sprint. Each step you take, every skill you hone, and every connection you make brings you closer to your goal. Trust in your abilities, leverage the resources around you, and stay focused on your vision. 

The path may be challenging, but with perseverance and the right mindset, you can (and will!) achieve your aspirations. 

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I will be happy to share more resources and guidance to help you on your journey.

By MIT Sloan CDO