An article earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal noted that, for MBAs, there is a new job title to rule them all: Product Manager.
It makes sense: that title is most commonly seen at the likes of Facebook and Google, and denotes a level of authority for the holder over, well, everything to do with a product—from research right through to design and implementation. As the Journal puts it, the product manager sits "at the nexus of a company’s business and technology functions" and, from the descriptions in the article, operates as something of a mini-CEO.
But while the Journal presents this as a major new trend, the numbers don't exactly signal a mass sea-change among MBA grads: sure, the piece notes that Harvard Business School's 45-place product management 101 class was oversubscribed last year, and that "between 6% and 7% of last year’s class of 908 students took product-management jobs." But at most, that's fewer than 65 positions—with no indication of whether that number is higher, lower, or the same as in recent years.
A Google Trends search doesn't exactly fill me with confidence either: the term "product manager" has garnered more than 100 searches worldwide just three times in any given month in the past 10 years. And we're currently in one of those months, which suggests that the Journal is either on the bleeding edge of the explosion or, perhaps, that its coverage has driven interest in the term. Either way: 70-80 searches per month is not the stuff that sea-changes in MBA grad career preferences are made of—especially when the majority of those searches originate in Singapore.
One final point to consider comes from the Journal article itself: most MBAs have a hard time landing project management positions because they don't have the tech background. As one startup founder told the paper: "'I’m not really sold on the idea that you could hire an M.B.A. product manager' who lacks a grounding in computer science or engineering, he said."
So for as much as the MBA-as-product-manager story is intriguing, it rather feels like the Journal has buried the lede on this one: the interesting point isn't that MBAs want to get hired as product managers; it's that the MBA alone isn't adequate preparation for the role. In fact, going by the latter third of the article, an aspiring product manager would be far better served taking the time to get a strong grounding in technology, rather than committing a significant amount of time and money to getting an MBA.
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