Get what you’re worth. The product manager salary guide

From startups to the world’s major tech companies, who is offering product managers the best salaries, and how do you know what bracket you fall into? There are many factors that influence just how much you can earn as an associate, mid-level or senior product manager, but some are more important and impactful than others.

Product managers are rapidly becoming the rockstars of technology companies, constantly working to lead teams spanning everyone from developers to marketers, getting new products out to eager consumers as quickly as possible – before the next guy does it. With a growing need for this particular brand of talent, what can product managers expect to earn?

Does your primary geography really still count as much as it used to – should you move cities to chase a better product manager salary? Is the size of the company you’re working for still relevant, and which ones pay the best salaries? How should you expect your salary to grow as you progress through the ranks? And should you take non-monetary factors into account when you’re deciding which job offer to accept? We’re taking a closer look at these questions and how they apply to product managers.

The job

Before we talk money, let’s clear up exactly what we mean when we’re talking about product managers. In this case, we’re specifically talking about those people in technology companies, or the tech development divisions of a variety of companies, who are responsible for managing the entire product cycle, from concept to launch, and everything in between.

Your typical digital product manager has a technical, engineering or computer science background, along with a good understanding of and qualification in business, like an MBA for example. The reason product managers tend to be so highly qualified is because they need to be able to interact with everyone involved in the product development process, which means software and hardware people, component suppliers, manufacturing, marketing, company directors, customers… you get the idea, right?

Working up the ladder

Of course, there are various levels of product manager in any given organisation, and various sizes and levels of companies developing products. If you’re hoping to develop a career as a product manager, you’re going to need to choose your career path with some care and make sure that you always have the opportunity to grow and advance, whether it’s within the company, or by learning what you can from them.

Your first product management position could be as an associate product manager, where you work directly below the product manager for any given project or set of projects, and also interact closely with designers, engineers, marketers and various other people in the product development and launch chain. Of course, there is a world of difference between, for example, an associate product manager salary and a product marketing manager salary, but that’s why it pays to know whether there’s room for growth, and to have an idea of your career plan.

During your career as a product manager, you could find yourself in increasingly more responsible positions, from full product manager, to director or VP of product management to the chief product officer. Naturally, the extent of your company’s ladder could depend on just how many employees there are; a startup of five people is unlikely to have the full product manager hierarchy in place, and you just might find yourself wearing all the hats.

So, what can you actually earn?

Realistically speaking, if you are working in North America but outside of Silicon Valley, you can expect to earn the equivalent of around US$65 000 as an entry-level or associate product manager salary; approximately US$90 000 if you have five to ten years’ experience; and give or take US$120 000 as a senior product manager.

If, however, you’re looking at product manager salaries in Silicon Valley, you can easily add so good 20% to those figures. Here, an associate product manager could easily earn as much as US$100 000, an experienced product manager around US$130 000, and a senior product manager upwards of US$150 000.

Yes, these amounts can vary based on various factors that we’ll look at next, but these figures should give you a good starting point to put a value on your own time, experience and qualifications or, if you’re recruiting, they should give you an idea of what to offer.

Commanding the big bucks

If you Google product manager salary, you’re going to come up with a pretty wide range – anywhere between US$40 000 and US$200 000, or higher. Of course, such a broad search term takes into account everything from a junior product manager salary to a senior Google product manager salary. So where on the spectrum do you fall, and what salary should you be asking for – or, if you’re the company hiring, what salary should you be offering? There are several factors to consider.

Location, location, location

Global product manager salaries can vary wildly, depending on geography. If you happen to land yourself a job as a senior product manager for one of the big companies in Silicon Valley, you could expect to easily earn over US$150 000 per year.

Outside the Valley

Let’s see what the same job in other major cities could earn you per year, according to Glassdoor.com:

The primary geography of the company is important in working out what kind of salary you can expect to ask for or pay for a product manager job. Even though the world is becoming smaller, at least in terms of communication and ability to work cross-border, local economies and cost of living still have a significant impact on salaries and that’s not likely to change within the next few years.

That said, anything can happen, and as globalisation takes ever-firmer hold, we could see a much more even spread in remuneration around the world within the next few decades.

David vs Goliath

Let’s face it – your Atlassian product manager salary will, undoubtedly be much higher than if you work for a small startup. While the reasons may seem obvious, there are actually a few factors at play here.

First of all – unsurprisingly – a massive, established, international tech giant simply has more money to spend. That doesn’t mean they just want to throw it around, though – a company like Atlassian uses that money to attract the best possible talent, from recent graduates who show tremendous promise, to workhorses who have slogged away at the grind in smaller companies, proving their worth over and over.

Another factor that comes into play is people development – in other words, how much time, effort and money the company spends on developing any given employee and maximising their potential. Larger companies simply have more resources – and not all of them financial. A product manager salary could consist of more than simple take-home pay, and could include any number of perks. That’s not to say smaller companies don’t have their perks, though – your contract with them could include equity in the company which will pay off in the long run, especially if you’re doing your job as a product manager right.

For example:

  • Amazon employees in the USA have access to the Employee Assistance Program, flexible working hours for women returning to work after maternity leave, and stock in the company for eligible employees.
  • Atlassian offers staff above-market salaries, equity awards, flexible hours and the option to take paid leave to volunteer at a charity of their choice.
  • And, of course, Google is well known for its wide variety of employee benefits, both in-office and out, including on-site medical care, professional development and even personal development opportunities

So, where you could spend a few weeks here and there on training courses, work under an experienced mentor for a couple of years and have the time and opportunities to really grow into your role at a large multi-national, if you’re working for a startup you will have to learn on the fly, on the job and, often, in your own spare time – if you have any. Even then, your product manager salary may not reach those stratospheric Silicon Valley-esque heights, unless, of course, your startup breaks through and makes it big.

Education + experience

Yes, there are some people who get hired straight out of college into internships and development programmes that teach them everything they need to know using intensive training and mentorship. No, that doesn’t happen to everyone – not by a long shot.

Most aspiring product managers will have to go about it the long way around: completing their studies, taking extra courses wherever possible – often at their own expense – and working their way up from the bottom. The better educated you are, and the more relevant experience you have, the better salary you’re going to be able to command when you go looking for that promotion or new opportunity.

For this San Jose-based job at Supermicro, for instance, the minimum education requirement is a BSEE, plus three years’ experience and, according to indeed.com, this position’s salary hovers in the US$90k region.

This position at PayPal, also in San Jose, however, asks that you have a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree, and preferably a Masters or MBA, and while it doesn’t specify experience required, indeed.com lists it as a US$130k or higher job.

The extras

Now, this all may sound like we’re saying, go straight for the big companies, aim for the big money. That’s not the case, though, as there is plenty to be said for the non-monetary compensation you can get – some of which the bigger companies aren’t willing to give. So, when you’re weighing up your options and comparing a senior product manager salary at a small startup, with an Amazon product manager salary, for instance, take the time to consider whether there’s more to the job that speaks to you than just financial compensation.

Flexibility

Flexibility in the workplace is one of the most important things to consider when weighing up product manager job opportunities. That flexibility includes flexible working hours and the option to work remotely, either part-time or full-time, but it also includes the flexibility to learn as much as possible at one job, then move on to the next without any animosity between you and your former employer.

Purpose

Another factor you might consider is, does this job provide a sense of purpose? What types of products are you working on? Is what you are helping to create going to make people’s lives easier, or improve the world in some way? Will the person managing the product development feel that they have contributed something to their company, society, themselves?

Many people are quite happy to choose the position that gives them a greater sense of purpose, even at a lower salary – although there are limits – simply because they will enjoy a higher level of job satisfaction.

Good, old-fashioned benefits

This one is important to just about everyone, regardless of generation, experience or company. People want their benefits, like health insurance and retirement plans, and when faced with two similar offers will be more likely to choose the one with more benefits, even if they don’t translate directly into cash in hand.

The upshot? When trying to gauge the right salary for a product manager position, whether you’re the job-seeker or the employer, take the time to look at all the factors involved. Do your research on what other product managers are earning – ask yourself if the money is acceptable for the work that needs to be done, for the area in which the company is located, for its size and market position, and taking into consideration any non-financial gains the job may hold.

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