The Rise of Product Management on Business School Campuses

Published Mar 18, 2019

On March 12th, U.S. News & World Report released its list of the five hottest jobs for new MBA grads. While the expected titles of “consultant” and “financial manager” made their appearance, a surprising entrant topped the list: product manager. With the exponential growth of the technology sector and the SaaS business model, more and more organizations are seeking to fill this key role.

Until recently, finance and consulting were the most coveted careers on the campuses of MBA programs across the country. Our nation’s best and brightest headed in droves to high-intensity, well-compensated professional services jobs. Firms in these industries were the first on campus, running recruitment programs early in the school year, with their most senior partners wooing the best and brightest toward these careers.

Today, everything has changed.

A Coveted Position

In Pendo’s latest State of Product Leadership report, CMO Jake Sorofman noted, “Newly-minted MBAs used to beat a path to Wall Street … now they want to be product managers at SaaS companies in Silicon Valley.”

As a full-time MBA student at Wharton, I’ve personally witnessed the growing attraction tech holds for business school students. At Wharton recently, I watched as students sat on the stairs and stood in the back of the room for a Spotify Employer Information Session. Demand for Google’s employer information session is so high its held in an auditorium, with hundreds of students attending. Of course, this is no surprise, as Google is considered the top company for MBAs.

Technology is now a top-choice career path. As the salaries in technology have become more comparable to those in more “traditional” industries, the benefits and lifestyle have helped students consider careers in the industry. According to Wharton’s career report, 16% of their graduates went into the technology field, compared to the 13% entering investment banking. At Northwestern, the percentage going into tech is 25%.

Why Product Management?

No title in technology is more coveted than that of product manager. A “perfect storm” of factors has contributed to the career’s newfound popularity. One, of course, is the perceived influence PMs wield within an organization. This is in part fueled by the popular (but potentially erroneous) belief that PMs are the “CEOs” of their product, which has made the role appear particularly attractive for impact-driven MBAs. Another factor is the success of product managers in technology. Sundar Pichai, a Wharton MBA grad, is one such example. He was a product manager at Google and rose to become CEO in 10 years. Finally, there’s the skill fit. More and more organizations are seeking product managers with MBAs and shelling out high salaries to compete with finance and consulting careers. At MIT Sloan, product management is the second-largest career function for grads, with 15% of grads choosing this role.

What This Means for PM Hiring

The popularity of product management (and of technology more generally) on MBA campuses presents a unique opportunity for product management organizations. Traditionally, product management organizations have tended to hire more experienced candidates from engineering or marketing backgrounds or who worked in product management at another company. The typical PM job description might read “5+ years experience in product management …”

But now that talent is emerging at the MBA level, organizations have the opportunity to truly build out their product teams. The addition of junior product managers lightens the workload for more senior product managers and allows them to focus on strategic issues, sharing the responsibility of tactical and more specific product features to more junior team members.

As a result, product management organizations may want to think about changing the types of experience levels they look for. And, as they look for more MBA-level talent, firms should consider how to manage university recruiting relationships.

The big technology companies have already caught on to this trend. Like consulting and finance, they are competing in the arms race for talent. Well-known technology companies are now making offers to students as early as 10 months before a position’s start date. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, stated that Microsoft planned to hire 100s of MBAs in 2018. In addition, Amazon and Google have been snapping up students from many of the nation’s best MBA programs.

As you build your PM team, are you considering hiring additional junior staff members to fill out the levels in your organization? If so, how do you plan to entice top talent to take on these roles? Let’s discuss in the comment section. Also, feel free to check out the following resources on this topic. 

Further Reading

  1. The Best (And Worst) Companies for MBAs.
  2. Wharton Career Report.
  3. Which Companies Are Hiring the Most MBAs in 2018?
  4. 2018-2019 MIT MBA Employment Report.
  5. Coveted Job Title for M.B.A.s: Product Manager.