Ask Mr. Happy Work: Will I Ever Get to be a Manager?
Welcome to the first ever edition of “Ask Mr. Happy Work”, where you send me your questions about work, careers, education, life, (or really whatever), and I answer them!
Advancement at work can be hard. It’s even more frustrating when you feel like you’re an awesome fit for that that higher level and just can’t seem to get there. Today’s question is all about trying to take that step from Associate to Manager and worrying it may never work out. Let’s jump right into it!
Ask Mr. Happy Work – Volume 1
Hi Mr. Happy Work,
I was hoping you could give me some advice. I am seven years into my career as a Marketing Analyst and I’m desperately looking for the opportunity to step into a manager role. I’ve always been drawn to management since I started my career, and feel I have some natural strengths that would really allow me to excel in this type of role. While I’ve done well in my current roles, I don’t really enjoy the work and I feel like I would really enjoy a position as a manager.
Unfortunately, no one has ever given me an opportunity to be a manager! Despite excelling in my roles and expressing my goals and ambitions to become a manager to my bosses, they have always kept me exactly where I’m at. I was even told by my last boss that I was “too good in my current role to promote!” Ironically, I guess I was too good for a pay raise too since I didn’t get one of those along with all the praise..
I have changed companies a few times in search of management roles, or at least better growth opportunities, but I keep falling short. I’ve gotten rejections for manager positions saying I don’t have any management experience. The companies I have joined based on promises of growth have failed to deliver. I’ve been at my last company for 2.5 years and was originally told I would be groomed for a management position in 1.5 years. 1 year late on the promise now and I’m ready to jump ship again!
Seven years into my career, I’m starting to feel really frustrated and depressed. I feel like I’m going to be stuck at my current level forever and my hopes to become a manager are a fruitless effort. I don’t want to keep job hopping to find what I’m looking for, but I don’t know what else I can really do. Can you help me figure out the best way to move my career forward and finally get a manager job?
– Stuck at Level 1
Hi Stuck at Level 1,
I once heard a saying that went something like this.
“Once you become the CEO of a company, you can always be a CEO anywhere. It’s becoming a CEO for the first time that is the hard part.”
This is a concept that can be applied to many parts of life. Whether it’s being the CEO, a professional sports athlete, a famous actor, or anything else, getting your foot in the door is the hardest part. In your case, it’s becoming a manager for the first time.
Not that you haven’t already recognized this challenge, but I wanted to mention it again because it is one of the forces you’ll need to fight against and overcome. Employers usually have the opportunity to be quite picky in today’s competitive job market so it’s not unreasonable to ask that candidates for a manager position have management experience.
Gaining that management experience without the title can be tough. In your case, perhaps this can mean taking on some other supervisory role that isn’t exactly at the level of a manager. Team Leader or Project Lead roles can be gateways into obtaining both the project and human resource management skills you need to be a manager. Perhaps you can offer to train new employees or interns. Sometimes companies will have temporary special projects that you can step in to lead.
If worse comes to worse, try organizing company social groups that can highlight your people and team management skills. Once you get these various experiences, make sure you add them to your resume ASAP and be sure to talk about them whether it’s for an internal promotion or an interview with another company. It will help demonstrate you have the necessary skills!
Unfortunately, having prior management experience isn’t always enough. It’s just one of the many factors that can help. It seems at a glance that you’re mostly doing the right things to advance your position. I’m glad you’re communicating your goals and looking for new opportunities. However, I do have some concerns.
First off, seven years is not a terribly long amount of time to be working in a career. You may be trying to rush the management position sooner than it often naturally comes. After all, how many twenty-something-year-olds do you know in management positions? Most of the managers I’ve known have been in their mid-30s all the way to their 50s and 60s! They usually have at least 10 years of experience in the industry or career as well.
Patience is a virtue. I know it can feel super frustrating when you feel ready for that promotion and it’s not coming. Sometimes you just have to trust it will come and wait for your opportunity. In my career, it took me ten years before I found a job I was truly happy with. I never thought it would come – I thought I was doomed to be stuck where I was at. Then it just kind of happened. I didn’t do anything special… it just took time.
I would be a little cautious about changing jobs every few years as well. While this is often a favorable approach to take in today’s working world, if you keep accepting the same level of your job each time, an employer may feel you’re prone to jumping ship and not want to invest in you as a manager of their company. I know that’s not your plan or intention, but you can’t stop employers from having their own perceptions and this is one that could be an obstacle for you.
Another potential challenge you might be facing is the “Dilbert Principle”. It states that incompetent employees are usually promoted to management to get them out of the way of productive employees and minimize the damage they can do to the company. It’s built around the belief that lower level workers are usually the most important factor to success for a business. Managers are seen more as a formality or figurehead who have little impact on a company’s success. Therefore, it’s a way to get incompetent folks out of the way without firing them.
It sounds ridiculous, but it’s actually quite real and happens in a lot of companies. It’s happened to me. It sounds like it could be happening to you. If you are doing an outstanding job in your current position, it very well may be hard to find someone that can do as well as you at the pay grade you accepted. You might even be performing at the level of what it would typically take two employees to do. Companies get greedy and don’t want to lose the good thing they have going for them. They may also think you won’t be as valuable to them in a different role as the one you do very well now.
If you feel this is the case, you need to do everything you can to find better companies to work for that highly value their managers and leaders. Sure, low-level workers are the cogs that keep the business running, but the leaders are the ones that can help the cogs work better and more efficiently with strong leadership. There are a lot of companies that simply don’t care what condition the cogs are in as long as they are turning at some pace or another. A good company with good leadership will invest in its employees so they can be happy, comfortable, and working efficiently. A good company understands that good management can foster good results throughout the organization. This is the type of company you need to find.
The Number One Thing You MUST DO
While everything we talked about so far can be helpful in getting the management position you’re looking for, one thing can guarantee more success than anything else we covered so far.
The power of your network is often the most important factor when it comes down to anything business or work-related. Who you know and the connections you have can make all the difference between success and failure.
I cannot even count the number of times I’ve seen people reach their goals thanks to the help of their network. That 20-year-old manager you happened to run across? The entrepreneur that got their business profitable in a mere 6 months? The author who got a publisher deal on the first try? Network, network, network.
For better or worse, America is a county built upon connections, not merit. Whether you like this or not, you would be doing yourself a major disservice by ignoring the power of networking.
Networking can be all you need to solve your challenge and find the manager position you’re looking for. The people you meet and the connections you make all become “ins” to your goals and dreams. Reach out to your existing network. Reach out to friends and family. Share your goals and what you’re hoping to find. There is a good chance someone can help you get there. All it takes is one person to open the door and you’re in. More jobs are filled by word of mouth and the recommendations of others than any other method.
If your network is lacking, start making an active effort to grow it any way you can. Attend business networking events or conferences in your area. Go to job and career fairs to make a good impression whether you’re looking for a job or not. Join Linkedin or other online message boards in your area of expertise to meet people and join conversations.
Don’t forget about your personal and social groups as well! The people at the gym, acquaintances at a hobby group, or even your doctors, insurance agents, or teachers can all be great connections. Don’t forget about family members, either! Every single person you make a good impression on can lead to an opportunity down the road.
I wish you success in your journey to becoming a manager and I ensure you it will come in time. My two biggest recommendations are to focus on are the strength of your network and to search for companies that highly value their employees and leadership teams. Remind yourself to be patient and before you know it, you’ll get that manager position you’re looking for.
– Mr. Happy Work
Do you have questions about work, careers, education, life, or anything else you want to know? I want to hear from you! Send your questions in today!