APM programs or Associate Product Manager programs are roles designed for graduates, to introduce them to the world of PM.
Their main goal is to provide mentorship for young talent, and for some, it serves as a good alternative to non-existent Product Management bachelor’s degrees. They are pretty common in Silicon Valley, offered by companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, PayPal, Salesforce, and many many more.
In this guide, we’ll go through the benefits of joining an APM program, how to work out if a program is for you, and show you where to apply.
The Benefits of Joining an APM Program
World-class mentorship from real Product people
Obviously the main benefit of an APM program is the quality of your ‘teachers.’ You could go to University in the hopes that the skills you’re taught will translate to the skills needed for a job at Facebook, or you could get trained at Facebook. The people you’ll be meeting have the jobs that you want, and what they’ll be able to tell you will be invaluable. (We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention here that that’s why we only have real Product Managers to instruct our cohorts!)
Varied experience and on-the-job learning
“Our roles are a lot more cyclical than people might think. It’s not day-to-day that the role changes, but it’s more like quarter by quarter, or month by month. For a month you could just be thinking, researching, and fleshing out overarching theories. The end of a year is a big time for this, and it’s a lot less tactics and a lot more design sprints and brainstorms. We also do research to vet ideas; we test products and talk to users to understand the market. And, of course, we look at a lot of usage data to find trends. Other times, it’s very project based. I get involved in user design and engineering design. My role has a lot of partner interactions (OEMs and content providers), since I work on a product that requires tight integration with third party products.”
Some programs also offer experiences like speaker series and world trips!
An APM program is like a key to the Product world. On a daily basis, you’d be surrounded by other Product Managers – people who have walked the path before you and gotten to where you want to be. They’ll be very valuable contacts for you in the future. You’ll also be meeting people from other disciplines, like Software Development, Product Marketing, Operations, etc.
It’s important not to dismiss others in your APM program. Although they’re on the same step of the ladder as you, they’ll be very useful contacts down the line. Of course, that’s if you want to look at it with an analytical eye. The main benefit of meeting all of these people is that you get the opportunity to learn something new and gain a new perspective. Getting to know interesting people is never a bad thing!
Figuring Out if an APM Program is Right for You
How big is the company?
Just like any other job, working with a big/small company has its own challenges and rewards. Naturally, having a big name like Facebook, Google, Twitter etc on your resume will be a bonus. You’ll have access to more resources, and some of the bigger names are setting the bar in terms of tech. It could be excited to be part of something that’s pushing the boundaries of what we’re capable of. Bigger companies will also be more likely to provide generous compensation and fun perks. They also have more locations to choose from. However, they do tend to move more slowly and there are more processes in place. Smaller companies can have a more fast-paced environment with fewer silos. There are certain problems that have already been solved by bigger companies like brand-recognition and Product-Market fit. This can either be a pro or a con depending on the experience you’re looking for. If you’re a brand new PM it’s useful to work on these sorts of challenges.
How mature is the program?
Older, bigger companies are more likely to have mature APM programs. But what does this mean? It means that their processes will be smoother, your pool of APMs to network with will be wider, and they’ll likely have more resources to offer. However, immature APM programs are not to be sniffed at! Leadership are more likely to take an interest in you personally if you are part of their first-ever APM cohort, which might lead to more one-on-one time. Being part of a newer program means you’ll be part of building something – which can be more exciting than taking part in a more established program. There’s no right or wrong answer – it all depends on your personal preferences.
What code level do you need?
This is a given for any job in the tech world, and it’s an important consideration for entry-level roles such as APM programs. You need to know just how technical the job is going to be. While it’s not necessary to be an expert coder to get into PM, some tech companies prefer tech people. So for places like Google and Facebook, they may lean more towards people with a CS degree. If not a CS degree, you’ll need a demonstrable interest/experience with tech.
What are the logistical considerations?
Things like location, compensation, benefits, and scheduling are all things you’ll need to consider. These will be entirely dependent on your personal situation and what the program is offering. If you’d need to relocate for to join the cohort, the compensation needs to match the expenses in your potential new city. If joining the program means taking a pay-cut, maybe it’ll be better to join a 6 month cohort rather than a 12 month cohort, unless you have enough savings. Make a list of your bare minimum expectations, and another list describing your ideal situation. You can use these lists to compare what the APM program is offering and see how it would fit into your life.
What is the company culture/mission?
A good Product Manager really cares about the product they’re working on. While you’re in a rotational-style APM program, you won’t always get to choose what you’re working on. It’s better to love the whole company than just one particular side of it. For example, if you love Google’s mission to empower everyday people with the best tools possible, then you won’t mind working on Maps and Files. If you only wanted to work on the brand new Pixel, you might end up disappointed. Choose a company whose mission resonates with you as a whole. Once you get to the interview stage, it’s also important to make sure that these are people you get along with. Programs can run anywhere from 12 weeks to 18 months. That’s a long time to spend with folks! While job prospects and learning opportunities are obviously the priority, some companies offer fun activities and happy hours to employees. Not only are these a great way to enjoy your time as an APM, they’re a way to form strong bonds with your team members. Sharing a drink or two with product leaders can’t hurt!
Finding an APM Program
There are plenty of APM programs to choose from. We’re going to deep dive into two of the most popular and most competitive ones; Google and Facebook:
Google’s APM Program
Google hire the most APMs every year, and have the most mature and structured program out of the bigger tech brands. You can apply directly via their dedicated APM careers portal. In terms of background, Facebook take APMs from a variety of background. The vast majority have a CS degree, but previous APMs have also come from business, psychology, and mechanical engineering. The 18-month program is definitely a big time commitment, but once which definitely pays off. You’d be working cross-functionally with engineers, UX designers, and marketing. One of the most exciting parts about Google’s APM program is The APM Trip – a two week trip around the world. You’ll visit four cities with the goal of learning about tech in different cultures and markets. Since the APM program runs all over the world, it’s a good opportunity to connect with APMs you wouldn’t otherwise have met. If 18 months is too long, you can also learn about Product Management through Google’s 12-week APM Internship, which will restart in Summer 2021.
Facebook’s Rotational Product Manager Program
Facebook’s program is named Rotational Product Manager Program rather than APM, but the core idea is the same. They also hire a large number of RPMs every year and have one of the more generous benefits package. In terms of background, Facebook takes APMs from a variety of background. The vast majority have a CS degree, but previous APMs have also come from business, psychology, and mechanical engineering. What makes Facebook’s APM program stand out from the crowd is the focus on Impact. You’re not just there to learn and build your own experience and skills. You’re there to make a difference and improve the user’s experience. APMs are rotated 3 different times, with the opportunity of working on 3 different products. (Instagram, Stories, Ads, Messenger, Oculus, Facebook, etc).
Other big names count with APM programs, offering places to roughly 10 people per year. The best resource for finding one is apmlist.com.
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