You may already have more management experience than you think. Find out how…
by Brian Brookshire
What you may not realize when you apply for your first management role and scratch your head about that ubiquitous “four to six years’ proven management experience” requirement is that you likely already have some—whether you were officially designated as a manager or not.
- Do you work as part of a team?
- Have you ever been directly responsible for training a new hire?
- Have you ever covered for your immediate boss when he/she was out of the office?
If you answered yes to any one of these questions, then you have something to talk about when you apply for your first management role.
Backing up a step, my story starts with a fast-tracked career getting my first promotion four months into the job. A year and a half later, I’m in line to head up my department at a new expansion office in Asia. Life is great; I’m on top of the world. I train a team of people to replace me, and it’s go time. Then the recession hits, expansion plans get canceled and I find myself laid off rather than spearheading development in a new office. Now what? If I apply for a management role somewhere else, are employers going to balk at my relatively short work history? I know how to manage people doing the kind of work I was doing before, but if I change job functions, is it back to the entry level grind? Did I spend two years “paying dues” just to have to turn around and do it again at another job for crappy pay?
Needless to say, I was not happy. Realizing that I didn’t know what I didn’t know, I started consulting with friends who had recently made the leap to their first management positions. In other words, the people I knew who had already done what it was that I was trying to do. Their advice was very encouraging: “Don’t be afraid to say that you have management experience, because you juggled a lot of people over there.” “The job I’m doing now and the people I manage have nothing to do with my previous position. Treat every new job as a new experience; you can learn it when you get there.”
My friends were right. When you work on a team, you are a “project manager” in many ways. You have your own individual piece of the puzzle that you are working on, but you still rely on other people in the team for resources. It takes a great deal of cross-management skills to martial those resources and make sure the work you need them to do gets done. In many ways, it takes a lot more skill and diplomacy than officially being a manager, because you can’t just walk over, bark out a few orders and expect things to get done. If you do, rest assured that you will be pulled into a room and lectured about your “attitude” at some point. Each team member reports a different part of the progress to a different person, but all are responsible for being a check on each other and making sure the work gets done. You may even wind up training new members in other departments on how to do the part of their job that relates to you. This is really what management is all about: the soft skills of leveraging your team to drive projects to completion and exercising judgment in how you use resources.
Have you ever trained someone? If so, you were effectively tasked with managing that person. Whenever new hires come on board, always be first in line to volunteer for training them. You will learn a lot about not just teaching a particular job function, but how to keep your trainee’s morale up and guide them to success. I was writing a recommendation for a former colleague on LinkedIn who I had trained and chose the option “was senior to but did not directly manage.” When the recommendation was published to her profile, the relationship came out as “Brian indirectly managed ____.” I’d never really thought about it that way, but it is management experience.
I’m still amidst my own journey in trying to make the leap from mere team member to team leader, but all the evidence seems to say that there is no reason not to go for it. Like any other job, it’s not as much about fulfilling the (often fantasy list of) requirements on the job description, but being able to clearly communicate why you think you are capable of doing the job and filling your employer’s need. Even entry level positions contain many leadership opportunities, and it behooves you to be able to identify them and weave them into your story.