Dear J.T. & Dale: I am 47 years old, and I’m going into my third year with a bank. I recently applied for a center manager position after our manager left for another opportunity. I have since been told, due to my minimal experience, I would not be chosen. Also, I have been told by co-workers it’s futile to try. Political indicators tell me it’s all in who you know, rather than hard work and work ethic. Should I give up on moving up in the banking world? — Karen
J.T.: You mentioned your co-workers advised advancement is futile. I wonder how these co-workers know? In most organizations, who gets promoted is decided by whoever it is that the person will report to, in consultation with other executives. That’s why your job is to figure out which executives are in on the decisions, and to get to know them better.
Dale: Exactly. Every job promotion is, to some degree, political, and that’s why, like it or not, you need to become a skilled politician. While the word has oleaginous connotations, the truth is it’s the art of understanding the personalities and goals of those around you and how you can help them.
J.T.: You, Karen, need to meet with those making promotion decisions and inquire as to what they think you should do to earn the job you desire. It’s that simple. I’d choose five key people in the organization and ask for a meeting. Tell them straight up your goals, and you respect how they have navigated their careers; then, ask if they would be willing to mentor you so you could do the same. This is the sign of a future manager — someone who takes his or her career into his or her own hands!
Dale: Great advice. But I would go further. Promote yourself. I don’t mean “self-promotion” — that will just be off-putting. Instead, seek out responsibilities at levels above your own: Volunteer for organization-wide groups, and take on higher-level projects. Also, look the part and read the right publications. You need to project yourself as someone who’s ready, and the way you do that is to already have done most of the tasks required of people at the next level. Promote yourself… and it won’t be long until the organization catches up and gives you a new title.
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