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How can I get international product management experience?

Posted on November 9, 2008 · 2 Comments

Question: How can a US-based product manager get a job working internationally?

I am a product manager currently living in the United States. I would like to get international product management experience, though I have had trouble finding good resources. I am also not sure of the requirements to work overseas and not sure if the best way is to start with a big international firm or if smaller firms even hire from the US. Also, would I be able to get a job immediately as a product manager, or might it be better to look for a position that is more prevalent, like sales engineer?

Answer from Derek Britton, Independent Product Management consultant: The geographic location of the product management role is affected by several factors.

Product Management is a broad discipline and much of the go-to-market and product marketing side needs to be territory-focused, which suggests local geographic support (for multi-nationals) — that’s therefore always an option. The product (technical) side of it is often more closely tied to the centre of development and/or the corporate head offices. So this will affect what Product Management jobs are on offer in the UK, for example, and you will need to focus on organizations where much of the development and/or the corporate HQ is located.

To help you locate possible opportunities, there are some obvious areas to consider:

Frankly (and this is good news), there is very little difference in the PM discipline from a geo perspective. In fact, UK organizations use US-based suppliers for PM training, thereby showing a tendency to rely on US ideas. Additionally, membership of AIPMM and others is a global thing; your US-honed skills are definitely viable abroad.

Of course, we must accept that the US is dominant in terms of size of market, maturity of the discipline, and available jobs. It is probably fair to say that while the economies of Western Europe are significant, the sheer level of choice compared with the US is going to be modest by comparison in any other country. Even this site shows a bias towards US-based subscribers –- there are 3 times more visitors to Ask a Good Product Manager from North American than from Europe, for example. This statistical measurement might explain your lack of success so far in finding anything useful.

But, to reinforce the opportunity, there are huge organizations in EMEA with their own software products arm and therefore the discipline does exist. In UK software you can do a search and find the top firms easily enough. In services, there are some players which are UK based. Both of these categories will invest locally and therefore almost certainly have PM staff needs.

Additionally, the likes of Microsoft, HP, SAP, CA, IBM all have their own vertical, geo and segment specific product lines, all of which need managing – there’s probably some merit in checking out their UK job boards. In the end, your current role and your industry will shape what sort of job you are looking for, what industry it serves, and other attributes; I can only guess the specifics so there is no point me making any particular suggestions.

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to get a decent understanding of the market, however, is to get onside with one of the UK specialist recruitment agencies, many of whom will focus on IT niche skills. You might need to put some investment in to this though, but it will help you determine how serious your aspirations are, and will doubtless give you a better picture of the possibilities. I imagine that a good grounding in PM from a US perspective would be considered quite a marketable skill on a resume (by the way, a resume is called a “CV” in the UK).

2 other answers so far ↓

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    […] How can I get international product management experience? [Ask a Good Product Manager] […]

  • David Locke // Nov 30, 2008 at 3:52 pm

    Do you already have distribution deals with foreign distributors? Is your code and content internationalized by your developers? Is your code and content localized by your foreign distributors. Is there any hardware involved? If so, have you globalized it?

    Would your company reap any benefit by selling direct in your foreign markets? The easy answer is no. There are some prohibitive costs involved. Those costs are being paid for by the foreign distributor.

    If you have not gotten the above experience while still stateside, get this experience first. Get involved with foreign distributors and understand their contracts and conditions.

    If you have done most of these things, then push the notion of replacing your foreign distributors up to your executives. You really have to be working in a huge multinational to get traction with this. But, it may be the way to get the international experience you want.

    If your own employer isn’t going to replace their foreign distributors or don’t already cycle the executives they are grooming for more responsibility through foreign assignments, then try to find another employer. It would be unlikely that a new employer would groom you for such positions. You might look at working for a foreign distributor. You might have contacts with one or two of them.

    Europe is growing their own technologists, so expect your job search to be quite an undertaking.

    You might see if you can get a role where you go to foreign trade shows and support your foreign distributors.