Building a successful career in organizations these days is a challenge, to say the least. In many ways, it is similar to what organizations face as they go head to head with their foes in the marketplace.
These are the typical internal dynamics that make career progression difficult.
- Stiff competition is at play among the high potential and “promotable now” group, who are all vying for the few good jobs available. Everyone wants the plum job and will stop at almost nothing to get it — it’s not uncommon for all-out wars to break out among candidates putting the organization’s agenda at risk.
- New leaders with their new ideas, approaches, and biases are recruited to address the key challenges the organization is facing. A different leadership style causes uncertainty and risk for incumbents in all positions. Jobs are not “safe” in an environment where a new leader enters; the focus and priorities for the organization can shift causing confusion and reduced performance.
- Many conflicting messages clutter communications resulting in uncertainty around the values and priorities of the organization. This is usually the result of groups pursuing their agenda rather than commonly shared objectives aimed at creating unity around the organization’s strategic game plan.
- Hiring managers are unclear on the critical skills and experience required for a particular position, bending the requisites to suit a favored candidate. Often, people like to hire in their image and not according to established job requirements.
- Outside influences complicate internal organizational dynamics as Board members, key customers and other external stakeholders influence the decision-making process. This leads to constantly shifting criteria for what’s important and what’s not.
- Internal politics influence who gets selected and who does not for the key positions. “Who you know” becomes a critical factor in who gets a particular position; this bias preempts the learning path for individuals and creates more confusion around what is needed to advance their career.
- Expense reduction programs are implemented to improve economic results. Management layers are often removed as the tactic for getting operating costs in line; the impact is often fewer opportunities for career moves are available.
The crowd of people all vying for the same positions is large and the “rules” for advancement are inconsistent and fluid.
How do move ahead in the face of these forces?
In this type of environment, your ability to advance doesn’t depend on “doing the job”; it depends on your ability to stand-out and be noticed WHILE doing the job.
Your challenge is to develop a strategy that spells out clear, relevant, and compelling terms why YOU, and only YOU, should get the opportunity in play.
You don’t necessarily have to be BETTER than your internal competition. You don’t have to perform your current job more accurately or more proficiently than other candidates perform their roles.
These types of comparatives rarely decide who gets the prize. The hiring manager generally looks at a group of candidates who are all at the same level of job proficiency; who all do their job at with the same level of competence.
Effective job performance becomes table stakes to be considered for an opportunity to move up or across the organization.
When looking at a crowd of candidates who all generally perform at the same level, the hiring manager is attracted to someone different in some way from everyone else.
Over my 30+ year career as an executive leader, I gravitated to candidates who showed me that they were special and different in these skill areas.
- Simple and informal communications; without the fancy word dropping.
- Knowledge of the corporate strategy and how the job they were applying for specifically contributed to its key objectives.
- Off-the-wall thinking in terms of new tactics that we could use to be more successful.
- Contrarian mindset; they tended to look at solutions in a way that was the OPPOSITE to others.
- Real-time problem solvers who could answer my surprise questions in the moment with cleverness and creativity.
Question: “How would your Polish dancing experience help you do the VP Marketing job?”
Answer: “To be a good dancer you have to be able to recover from your mistakes fast and be creatively expressive throughout your performance. Successful marketing needs both of these as well.”
Question: “From your bakery experience, what value proposition would you use for a bundle combining a bagel with long-distance service?”
Answer: “I would offer the bundle as a way to achieve the emotional and healthy gratification the customer would get when consuming both.”
Impressive. Different. He got the job.