The Coveted Manager Job–Grappling with a 3-Headed Monster

Finally, you’re a manager. You are now responsible for bigger things. The way you lead and the performance of your employees are what determine your value.

Pretty heavy stuff, eh?

We often covet those “big” job titles without knowing what’s expected. That old line, “Be careful what you wish for,” is a legitimate warning.

What a manager’s job looks like on the surface isn’t always what it is in reality. The sad truth is that when it’s your turn to be the manager, no one really tells you what you’re getting into. So you’d better ask.

Go on high alert!

No one wants their long-desired manager promotion to become a living hell.

In Greek mythology, the three-headed dog, Cerberus, guarded the gates of the Underworld so that no one (specifically, the dead) could get in or out without permission from the god Hades.

The better plan was to avoid heading hell-bound in the first place. The same is true when taking on a job as manager.

When it comes to hiring or promoting you as a manager, management is keenly aware of three things–your:

  • Readiness and desire
  • Knowledge and skills
  • Fit with employees and peers

Management may or may not be right about you, but these are the criteria that they’re using to make the decision. In some cases management may or may not be effective themselves. So you need to be careful about how you hear and process their offer.

Demand to know.

All manager jobs are not created equal.

You need know what kind of work group, function, or cluster of departments you are to manage and whether you’re ready to grapple with the monster facing you.

Manager jobs essentially fall into three categories which means, to be effective, you need to know if you are cut out for the task.

1. Maintaining the status quo: When you take over a work group that works well together and consistently meets performance expectations, you need to be comfortable supporting the way things are being done. Your role is to keep the wheels turning, reinforcing what’s effective and collaborating with employees  on any fine-tuning.

If you’re one who is numbed by the warm hum of a well-oiled machine all day or can’t resist poking the sleeping beast just to get a rise out of it, then this manager role isn’t for you.

2. Fixing a mess: Work group dysfunction, poor output, and/or declining relevance are often reasons why you’ve been chosen as the new manager. In these situations, processes are often broken, performance management is lax, and innovation is dormant. Your role is to make big change, deal with resistance, and take risks.

If you hate conflict, lack internal political savvy, don’t know how to leverage relationships, and are unwilling to be personally accountable for your decisions, then you need to rethink this job. Fixing a mess is arduous and often slow, so you’ll need to do some soul searching and/or even defer this kind of challenge for a while.

3. Creating something new: The need to create a new department  spawns the need for a new manager. Sometimes a new product/service line is the reason or the need to expand or split an existing function. Your role is to organize, staff, and deliver results, dealing with doubters and managing expectations.

If you have a low tolerance for ambiguity, thin skin, fear of failure, and an inability to turn abstract ideas into concrete output, then starting from scratch may not be the best fit for you. When your manager job requires you to become an internal entrepreneur literally,  that role needs to be in your blood.

Tame the monster.

Managing a work group can be exciting and fulfilling, but, like every job, it needs to fit you. Every monster can be tamed so you have to be smart about the ones you grapple with.

So look hard at the manager job you covet and make sure you’re clear about what you’d be getting into. Then take on the challenge with all you’ve got!

Image from PEU Report

Jobs with Baggage and What to Do About Them

Like it or not, we’re labeled by our jobs and the organizations that employ us. When we say what we do, people form an opinion based on job stereotypes. 

That can work in our favor when we have job titles like engineer, nurse, technology expert, or entrepreneur. More often than not, the marketplace buzz around those jobs casts them in a good light. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. 

Your baggage claim 

Some job titles and the industries that assign them come with a not-so-stellar history. The titles themselves can make a job seekers blood run cold like: 

  • Car salesman
  • Insurance agent
  • Call center rep
  • Retail clerk 

Today there’s also baggage around jobs in banking, investment services, government, law, and the media to name a few. How we regard certain jobs depends on our individual experiences, values, perspectives, and knowledge. 

It’s easy to generalize and presume that anyone or everyone who works in a certain field fits a negative stereotype. As a result we’re likely to steel ourselves for a bad experience, often adopting an attitude that will provoke it. 

Negative brands around jobs and industries are difficult to break, especially when they have taken deep hold of the marketplace psyche for many years. 

Break the mold 

At some point in our careers, we’ll likely have a job that isn’t held in high regard because of its title. Our challenge is to turn negative perceptions into positives through our actions.

Recently, after driving my car for 14 years, I decided to buy a new one. I don’t do this often because I dread the whole dealing-with-the-car-salesman thing. Here’s what I was expecting: 

  • Pressure to buy more car than I needed
  • Back and forth negotiating, made complicated by the trade and/or financing
  • Not really getting the best deal
  • Fast-talking plus bait and switch promises
  • Being left hanging when I had questions after the sale 

I brought this baggage to the experience, something, Jeff, my salesman, had to overcome. So here’s what he provided: 

  • Patient listening and attention to what I wanted
  • Information about the best-fit model for me and its features
  • A clear statement about the sticker price and discussion about what I wanted to pay
  • An upfront trade price so I could decided if wanted to sell my old car privately
  • A meeting on the features while sitting in the model, resulting in a chance to get to know each other
  • A sense of humor, respectfulness, and advocacy (I didn’t want to be “sold” any warranty and undercoating extras, so Jeff kept that from happening.)
  • Availability to answer questions anytime after I’d taken the car home 

My experience with Jeff was so good that I talked to him a bit about the negative label that comes with being a car salesman. I learned that prior to this job, he and his brother had owned a couple of fitness businesses where he had developed his customer service skills, practicing his philosophy about dealing fairly and ethically with people. 

His view was that, since he enjoyed people and selling cars, he would be the kind of car salesman that broke the negative mold. Clearly there are many Jeff’s out there, and each one will gradually lift the negative baggage off the car salesman title. 

Lesson learned: The positive behaviors that we demonstrate in our jobs re-brand them. 

The power of one 

Shunning a job because the title comes with baggage makes no sense, particularly if it provides opportunity and growth potential that helps you build a satisfying career. When it’s your job, you own it. That means you put your stamp on it, making it represent the values, standards, and ethics that brand it positively. 

Jobs are about productivity and relationships. By adding value and delivering high quality service, you’ll showcase what a job well done really means. Each one of us makes a difference and there’s true power in that. 

Photo from via Flickr

Who’s Controlling Your Career? | The Downside of Kissing Up

Your best answer is, “I am.” Unfortunately, the common answer is often, “I’m not really sure.” 

That’s because we often don’t know how career growth happens. We’re told that the silver bullets are: 

  • Doing a great job with high performance appraisal ratings that validate it
  • Attending training and/or taking outside courses
  • Serving on teams and working on special projects 

Then, after we do all this stuff, someone in the next cubicle gets the promotion we wanted without doing much of anything. The boss just liked them. 

Kissing up can get you down. 

I’ve seen plenty of it, like employees slurping over the boss’s policy decisions, the good ones and the lame ones. 

I’ve seen the attention seekers who volunteer for any assignment, whether they have the chops or not. 

I’ve seen the flirts and buddy boys who flatter the boss or team up after work on the links or at local events. 

I’ve also seen how these moves help some take a career step forward, but I’ve mostly seen it backfire. 

Bosses can tell when we’re engaging them for our career purposes. Some bosses love being the center of our attention. It makes them feel important and powerful. Others are turned off.

Beware: When we shift our focus from making a difference through our work to polishing the boss’s apple, we set ourselves up for disappointment. 

Stay in control. 

When we’re hired, we’re given accountability for our work. We control what we achieve by delivering results according to standards. The boss controls whether or not we advance. 

This is the sticking point: We expect the boss to recognize our value and reward it with a next move we think we deserve. 

Once the boss knows what we want, s/he now has leverage. S/he can decide to give us what we want, deny it, or delay it.

Of course, not every boss is going to use knowledge of your career desires to manipulate you. But some will, either consciously or unconsciously.

 As an HR manager, I was aware of four high potential managers considered future executives. Two of them made plain to executive leadership that they were ready to become VPs. 

As opportunities opened up, the vocal two were made to wait for whatever reason. One had to wait several years, much to his public frustration. Interestingly, he ultimately became the company CEO.  The path is always someone else’s call.

Take the high road. 

Actually, when asked, we’re supposed to tell our bosses about our career aspirations. In healthy work situations, that knowledge helps good bosses work with us to manage our expectations, put together development plans, and position our next moves. 

The problem is that too many employees have their eyes on job titles rather than making a difference, growing their capabilities, building a portfolio of experiences, or innovating. 

It’s easier for a boss to block your next career move than it is to obstruct your impact. Your brand, your value, and your status are a function of what you get done. 

As one of a handful of women managers, I was often asked by executive management what my career goals were. They expected me to say I aspired to become a VP because there was a contingent who wanted me in that role. 

I told them, instead, that what I wanted was to be where I could influence executive decision-making. I didn’t care what my title was. I just wanted to be at the table where significant issues were being discussed so I could add my perspective. 

They gave me many of those opportunities because of my skills and knowledge. I was still asked about my interest in an executive post, but I declined. I knew that I had more impact as a thought-leader and saw that a VP title had serious limitations. 

Kissing up as the low road 

Your current job is one piece of your career. You own and control both to a large extent by the choices you make. Kissing up doesn’t help your career; consistently high quality performance does. That’s yours to control. 

Photo from Elaine Ross Baylon | Photography via Flickr



Job Title Traps and How They Can Snare You

Do you remember your first job title? In business mine was coordinator—Consumer Education Programs. Oh, that sounded so sweet to me.

Our first jobs are where we get our feet wet and start to showcase our talents. The plan is usually to upgrade our titles for swankier ones that come with higher salaries. 

The traps await 

Companies create titles to define their hierarchy and manage payroll. They write titles they hope we want to wear. 

Unfortunately, titles aren’t always what they seem to be. They can become traps, manipulations, and disguises, like this: 

Playing to your ego—We’re told we have the “potential” for a higher level job. Even though we don’t particularly want either the job or the accountabilities, we opt in, unable to resist the expected  roar of the crowd. (Trap)

Being placated—After we tell our boss (who’s been standing in our way) a hundred times that we’re frustrated about our careers, we’re given a fancy new job title and a new pay grade but our work stays the same. (Manipulation)

Inflating roles—Most often done at high levels, companies will reward loyal but dead-ended employees with fancier titles, like senior and executive VP, or even special assistant to the CEO, but the scope of their work doesn’t change. (Disguise)

Diluting value—Increasing the number of employees with titles like VP, director, and senior manager reduces the significance/importance/influence of the role, often positioning under-qualified people in them. (Trap)

Resetting pay scales—When companies need to put the lid on payroll costs, they often implement a re-titling initiative that eliminates certain titles, replacing them with others rated lower. Your new title might sound important, but it now has a reduced pay range. (Manipulation) 

I’ve been boggled throughout my career by some of my own title experiences. I was: 

  • “Promoted” from consumer programs manager to management training supervisor, and never understood why the supervisor job paid more, but it did
  • Promoted from customer services manager to director-customer services with a huge change in scope but no change in salary
  • “Rehired” based on a reorganization, going from director-customer services to manager-business management services (whatever that meant) but my salary wasn’t affected 

In the end, the question is: “So what?” 

Achievement isn’t a title

Titles should indicate expertise, influence, and alignment. Some titles that do the well and others don’t. 

I am a big of fan Suzanne Lucas, blogger at Evil HR Lady (her tongue-in-cheek handle) and BNET. She recently wrote the spot on post, “Does Your Title Matter? Plus Free Chocolate!” (You’ll have to go there to learn about the chocolate!) 

Suzanne writes: 

“Here is my worst job title ever: Functional Lead, HR Transition.  Do you have any idea what my job responsibilities were?  Of course you don’t, unless you are one of the many people I helped ‘transition’ out of the company over the years…
And that’s the problem with bad titles.  No one that doesn’t know what you do, can figure out what it is that you do.  Now, most of the time, this makes no difference.” 

Titles only becomes traps if we let them. Just because, the company puts us in a title box doesn’t mean we’re trapped in it. 

Titles mean nothing. Results do. If you’re puffing yourself up or dragging yourself down because of your title, snap out of it. 

When someone asks you, “What do you do?” Answer the question with content, not your job title. What your title means in your company is likely not what it means in someone else’s. 

Suzanne sums it up this way:

“It’s not what your title is that really matters, it’s what you do and what your compensation is that you should be fighting for.” 

It’s a lot more important to let people know, both inside and outside your company, that you’re doing valuable work. Get people to brand you by your contribution, not your title. That’s how you’ll get to next rung of the ladder if that’s your aim.

Photo from Alex E. Proimos via Flickr

A Must Do! Career Due Diligence |Your Life Is Your Business

We spend hours pouring over newspaper inserts to find the best clothing buys and grocery store coupons. We spend hours Googling information about vacation spots and fitness regimens. All, before we commit.

Shouldn’t we do this for our career choices too? 

Ask any high school student facing college what s/he plans to major in and you’ll hear: English, econ, accounting, pysch. 

Then ask, “Why?” Typical answers:

  • “It’s my favorite subject.”
  • “I get good grades in that subject.”
  • “I want to be an accountant [doctor, teacher, marketer]….”
  • “My parents said that would be a good major for me.”

The problem isn’t these answers: It’s the questions left unanswered like:

  • What careers paths/jobs will that major open for you?
  • Do those paths match what you want from your life? 

A college education today is still believed to be a “leg up” to better jobs, mainly  higher pay and promotions. It doesn’t necessarily mean better for your happiness, satisfaction, or health. So a lot is riding on your major and the jobs attached to it.

Why due diligence? Because it’s your life! 

Students pick majors with romanticized notions about the great jobs they’ll get by being accomplished students. They never talk to anyone currently doing those entry level or supervisory jobs to get a behind-the-scenes look.

I once coached a graduate from a prestigious university whose major was criminal justice. Just before graduation, she realized that starting jobs in her field meant street assignments. No way! So she stayed on, switching to journalism until she realized that starting reporter jobs meant evenings and weekends chasing stories. She switched again to English lit and graduated with no direction, huge tuition bills, and no viable career path.

Hard to believe she didn’t investigate  those job realities the second and third time? It just didn’t occur to her and she’s not alone.

I’ve also worked with many, career-weary adults who took a long time to admit that they had invested years in a career that never fit them. Each one had to either reinvent him/herself or start over. Even with their own experiences behind them, they don’t teach their children how to avoid the same mistakes. Why? Because no one showed them how.

Don’t get me wrong. Every career is an adventure. That’s good. What isn’t good is committing to a career path blindly. Due diligence helps minimize painful disappointment or reasons to start over. You can’t control for everything, but you can avoid lot of missteps.

You need to do this! 

Whether you are a student, an entry level or veteran employee, each time you say to yourself: “I want to be a [job title]:”

  • Write down the name(s) of 5 people in your family, community or among your friends, who are doing that job or one like it
  • Ask them to spend 15 minutes explaining to you what they do on a daily basis
  • Ask what they like best or least, what skills or education they needed, what it takes to get promoted, and who else you can talk to
  • See whether or not their work environment fits you
  • Ask yourself: Can I see myself in that line of work for a long time? 

(This is called information interviewing, a technique credited to Richard N. Bolles, who’s book, What Color Is Your Parachute?, gives the details. Find more on line. See, it’s all out there for the Googling!)

CBS contributor, Ben Stein, says, “The giants I have worked with in my life… found the thing that they were very, very good at, and did that with extraordinary focus.” Then he adds: “…harmonize your goals with your talents.”

That’s big! If your goals aren’t rooted in a realistic understanding of what the job market is all about, harmony is harder to come by. When you’re business fit, you’ve achieved the understanding and insights you need to build your best career. Let the explorations begin!

Have a story about a student who isn’t making the connection between his/her studies and the job market? Any ideas why students don’t explore the real story behind the kinds of jobs they’re after? Your insights can make a big difference!

“Any Clues, Sherlock?” | Uncovering the Hidden Job Market

Remember the old joke about the little boy whose parents took him to a psychiatrist because they worried he was too optimistic? The psychiatrist took him into a room piled high with horse manure. Instead of recoiling, the boy ran to the pile and began digging frantically. 

His reason: “So much manure. There must be a pony in here somewhere.”

You have to dig to find hidden job opportunities. 

If you’ve confined your job search to job boards, classified listings, career fairs, or agencies, you’re shopping for what’s on the shelf, not what’s hidden.

You also won’t find jobs that fit you by confining your search to titles like:  Entry level marketing specialist, Computer programmer, or Accounting associate.

When you don’t know what you’re really after, you end up in the search line with everyone else, hoping you’ll get lucky.

To find the right job, target the right industry. 

A great job is not about the title. It’s about work that fits your talents and interests. Every business is part of an industry, enterprises engaged in the production goods and services like pharmaceuticals, education, apparel, or entertainment.

Each business supporting an industry does unique work that is often unknown to us.

That means, if you want to tap into the hidden job market, you need to do some sleuthing, Sherlock Holmes style.

Businesses in every industry faces competitive issues. 

For starters, you need to know what’s ailing the businesses you want to work for. Here’s how to start unearthing those challenges:

  • Follow them and their industry in business publications, like the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, and Inc.
  • Follow them on social media (Facebook and Twitter)
  • Follow their competition
  • Set up Google alerts for each company/industry. Examine what you find
  • Study their websites for what is and isn’t said about their performance 

Draw conclusions about what their issues are in areas like:

  • Customer relationships
  • Financial performance
  • Process efficiency
  • Marketing strategies
  • Employee satisfaction
  • Technology applications 

Turn over the rocks! Reveal what’s underneath. 

By now, you’ll know what their big picture needs are. You’ll also know how you can help meet those needs. Now, frame your plan:

Identify a specific, targeted need that you can help them improve like: 

  • Expanding market reach through social media
  • Reducing specific production errors by upgrading software
  • Improving employee awareness of buyers’ habits
  • Providing oversight on new financial regulations 

Present yourself. Get known. 

Identify someone to talk to in that business who’s facing the needs you identified.

Contact them by phone or written correspondence (since this stands out more than another e-mail his his/her mailbox).

Identify the issue that you have been looking at and frame it in a way that fits your talents. For example: say,

“I have been following XYZ issue in your industry for the past 3 months and would appreciate the opportunity to get your perspective. I would like to talk with you (pick one):

  • In preparation for a blog post that I will be writing
  • As an expert resource for an article I’m freelancing
  • For a paper I’m writing for my college class
  • To get a broader understanding of the issue
  • To test my perceptions about a potential “fix” 

After each meeting, agree on how you will remain in contact. Do what it takes to keep the conversation going without being overbearing.

Eventually, you will find the right opportunity to state your interest in working for that company, using the expertise that you’ve been demonstrating.

Good jobs remain hidden until you find them. 

If something’s worth having, it’s worth working for. Getting the really good jobs are about preparation and readiness, not luck. That’s why being business fit makes for a satisfying and long career. Now, let’s see what you’ve got!

What did you do to pierce the hidden job market? Got at a trick to share?