Anyone wanting to take the step to becoming a boss can get caught up in a familiar loop: Every job description they look at requires past management experience. But how do they get the experience if no one will hire them without it?
If you’re looking at management jobs outside of your current company where no one knows you or has seen your performance, you certainly are facing an uphill battle. Leaders who are hiring are looking for some sort of proof that a candidate is right for the job; when they don’t know a candidate, they naturally look for past experience. In these cases, if you don’t have it, you’re very likely to get passed up—don’t waste your time applying.
Instead, your best bet is to be promoted internally. In these cases, crossing over from an individual contributor to a leader requires positioning yourself for the job. It’s not about writing your resume so that your project work sounds like management. Rather, it’s about relationships, skills, and taking risks. To be a boss, you need all three. Here’s how to prepare yourself for that next step.
Understand the management role
Leadership isn’t for everyone. Just because you’re a high performer in your current role doesn’t mean you should be the boss. Leading people requires a much different skill set. Leadership is about getting results through others.
Aside from reading job descriptions, talk to people in management roles at your company. Ask them why they wanted the job, what is great and not great about it, and what they have learned about the difference between being in a staff role and a leadership role. Talk to at least three to five people. Get varied perspectives.
Then, determine if you think management is the right fit for you. Some decide it’s not and know they’ll be more gratified being solely responsible for their own work. Others realize that the responsibility of leading others to do great work is what they want to pursue.
Make it known that you want to move to management
As much as we’d like hiring processes to always be transparent, they sometimes aren’t. People get new jobs all the time without the positions being posted. I once lost out on a management job because no one knew I wanted it. I was frustrated and confident I was more qualified based on experience from a prior company. When I asked my boss about it, he said, “I didn’t know you were interested, and I didn’t realize your background either.”
It pointed to a conversation I hadn’t had with him; I was waiting for my boss to read my mind and then spoon-feed me job opportunities. Don’t depend on anyone else to develop your career. Make your career aspirations known. If you want to be a manager, begin by telling your boss, and let others know too.
Learn the basics of leadership
To be considered without having the experience, start learning about leadership now. For example, if you want to lead a team effectively, you have to know about psychological safety, the most important factor to a group’s success. Also, the ability to discuss performance openly is a core competency of leadership. This isn’t only about giving feedback (both positive and negative), it’s also about asking your team for feedback and modeling how to receive it well.
Then, don’t hesitate to put this new information to use in your current role. You don’t have to be a manager to demonstrate asking questions and listening or appreciating others.
Ask for stretch assignments
A stretch assignment is a project you either don’t know how to do or know very little about. It is intended to make you learn something new. It stretches your knowledge, skills, and your comfort zone. Because you’re positioning yourself for management, ask for a project that involves leading a committee or work group. Effective leadership often comes down to interacting with people so be sure the stretch assignment has you doing that.
When you get the assignment, treat is a test run for a management job. The mindset you want is one of learning and determining whether a management role is indeed what you want.
Consider working somewhere else
Some organizations just don’t have the path set up to get into management easily. Some can be too small and the leadership positions too few. Others are big and have invite-only management development programs. This means, to become a manager, you have to be selected to participate in the program.
Take a hard look at whether the company you’re working for now is the right fit for your growth and development. It may not be. Do your homework (talk to people, Google search, etc.) and find companies that are. You might have to go somewhere else and make a lateral move, maybe even a downgrade in salary, to get on a path to the leadership job you want. Follow the advice of Pattie Sellers, editor at Forbes, and remember that careers are jungle gyms, not ladders.
Getting into leadership can be a gratifying and meaningful career, so don’t let that required experience loop hold you back. Prepare by developing the right relationships, building skills, and taking risks—that’s what leadership is all about anyway.