Hi all,

I've ended up in a strange career position (but I expect not unusual) and would appreciate some advice. Specifically - do you feel the thinking below is correct, and am I missing any key considerations?

I'm currently stuck in an "individual contributor" role, getting paid a great deal, and with excellent working conditions and job security. I continue to learn a lot technically.

At a personal level, I am also receiving a lot of formal, publicly documented feedback to flag me as a future leader, which translates directly into financial rewards and training opportunities which I simply wouldn't get in most companies. However, we have almost no junior level staff in my division, and thus no opportunities exist for me to directly manage people.

A more senior role recently became vacant, and despite having been told repeatedly that I am the succession plan for that role, I've now been told that I'm not ready - so an external hire will be brought in instead. While I acknowledge it would have been a "stretch" role, I thought that was the whole point! Sadly, this approach of not supporting internal candidates is quite common.

I responded by stating that although I could understand their thinking, the inability/unwillingness to give me any reports was becoming a serious career problem for me. That concern was acknowledged, but I've been told that's just unfortunately just "how it is". Result - I now plan to leave and seek a role elsewhere with some reports, even if the net pay and conditions aren't as good.

Key questions that are troubling me though:

Am I looking a gift horse in the mouth by turning my back on great pay, conditions and training?

Am I right that when it comes to management, training is nice, but there's no substitute for actually "getting your hands dirty" by managing people?

Am I right that if I don't get some substantial management experience under my belt in my mid-career, I'm unlikely to be considered for senior positions down the track?

Above all, does it make sense to move companies where the single biggest driver is getting management experience?

Any thoughts appreciated - I'm sure many people have faced this problem before in their careers.

Cheers, Token

HMac's picture

GREAT questions token - requiring a lot of thought. And maybe some good discussions on this thread!

Just some initital thoughts:

It doesn't sound like you're in a position where you have to choose and Either/Or about staying vs. leaving. You can do BOTH right now: take preliminary actions that will help you find out about alternatives AND work on advancement in your current company.

Example: Get yourself some mentors inside the organization. Find out more about what you need "to be ready" the next time, and work on that (self-development is a great investment that ALWAYS pays off - if not always in the way you think... :wink: )

In the long run there's no such thing in business as a "gift horse" - you've got what you've got because [i]you've earned it[/i]. You can choose to behave in a way that continues to earn it, or to do something different - that will presumably allow you to earn a different set of circumstances.

From the sounds of your circumstances and questions, you probably SHOULD be getting yourself on track for a management role. But over the long run of 40+ years at work, there are a lot of stages - management may be your next stage, but it's not necessarily your LAST one. Some of the most vital resources in companies are older employees who have genuine expertise in their fields, and their contribution has little to do with managing others.


jhack's picture

You clearly want to be a manager...beware of getting what you wish for!

Seriously, though...

You are "stuck" with "no opportunities to ... manage people." How long have you been there?

The role you're being groomed for opened up, and they're filling it from outside. How long does the incoming candidate expect to have that role?

How long are you willing to wait?

There is no substitute for managing. Reading the rule book isn't like playing the game.

You should crank up your network, and see what other opportunities are out there. Pay, training and benefits can be golden handcuffs. Rarely are exciting opportunities accompanied by guaranteed stability.

It makes sense to move companies when your current company can't help you move forward in your chosen career (whether it's management, technical, whatever).


kklogic's picture

I will likely be in the minority here. I would stick it out for a while. In the current market conditions, great pay and job security should not be underestimated. Additionally, companies change - and quickly. Three years ago, I didn't anticipate any upward movement in the company I am in -- yet now, I see potential for growth.

I would sit down with the powers that be and ask them what training you can partake in now so you are ready when they have an opportunity for you.

In the meantime, poke your toes in the water and see what's out there. As JH said though, be careful what you wish for. There's a chance management isn't your strength. If you take this first step in a company that admires your previous work - you have that to fall back on and you can reposition yourself. With a new company, you will have just failed and may have to move on - with a not so positive blip on your resume and reference sheet.

madamos's picture
Licensee Badge

Start preparing to leave, but don't leave until you have a new job.

A similar situation happened to me. I went from being a manager to an individual contributor. I excelled in the role and had serious discussions with my boss about my desire to have a management role. He was in agreement with me and I had discussed this desire with my mentor in the company as well. After a year of seeing no opportunities for advancement I started looking externally for a job. Eventually there were some internal positions that opened up, but I was denied the promotion for both of them and the company hired from outside. I was really ready to leave. Fortunately for me an opportunity opened up in a different department that I was enthusiastically welcomed into. I ended up staying with the company but working in a different department (moved from IT to the Client Services organization).

You should be looking both externally as well as horizontally in your company.

Remember, the company is not managing you career!


MsSunshine's picture

I totally agree with everyone on starting to actively look both inside and out. But here are a few thoughts that I was told when I was in the same kind of situation.

1. Nothing last forever. It may seem like you'll never get that best job but who know who might quit tomorrow. I looked around at a couple of things that didn't work out in the company only to have someone quit who I had never expected to and I got that job.
2. Practice influencing people WITHOUT being a manager. It's really hard to be a good influencer and will serve you well as a manager. Good managers influence. Bad ones just use their positional power - an easy trap to fall into.
3. Go "to" the next job - don't run away from the current. It's easy to get frustrated while waiting. But don't just pick something - make sure the job you go to is a great one since you still have a job you can stay with. My boss and HR were actually surprised that I didn't apply for a manager job that came up with. The fact was that it wouldn't have been a good fit for me for several reasons they agreed with. But they thought I'd prefer it to what I was doing - which was actually true. But inside I knew the boss for that position was a micro-manager and I really wasn't interested in the area I would have managed. A few weeks later, a great job opened up.
4. Really think about what you want and why. Likewise, really think about your strengths and work on improving them. Figuring these out will give you something positive to focus on and will serve you well when you do get the job.
5. Amen to the comment about managing your own career. People in the company may care but...the bottom line is you will always care more...and they have a job to do as well.

Above all - stay positive. Six months seemed like forever to me at the time. I kept saying I needed actions not words. But then I got a great job and am now getting more actions to go along. Sometimes upper management may want to do something but it may take time. Having a mentor higher in the organization can help you gage this and keep you going.

Good Luck.

token's picture

Thank you all for jumping in so promptly... lots of good thoughts in here.

To answer one question, been in the role about 1.5 years, but been in very similar role at very similar company for the 1.25 year before that, where I'd been given some reports... had to leave for relocation reasons, sadly.

You'll see I also chipped in on the CV thread, as I have actually gone ahead and started testing various waters - formal via recruiter, informal via internal and external contacts. (The MT-format CV got an unprompted "thumbs up" by the way - nice work M&M).

Agree with the "careful what you wish for" but I have really just reached a point where I figure you'll never know if you never go do it. I'm sure there's a whole slew of Lombardi quotes that would be apt at this point.

Likewise very conscious that you can never predict what might open up where you are... problem is, a role did open up, I knew it was coming because I had the right connections, and I know that the exiting manager also "annointed" me as the right replacement - and he was ignored.

When a manager exits a role, and says that the right replacement is the very person you've publicly annointed as the brightest leadership talent in the layer immediately below, and you *still* decide to look externally, something is seriously wrong.

Some very interesting feedback from recruiter - essentially same as what many of my clients and peers have said - you are wasting your time sitting there waiting for an opportunity. You're ready for it now, and plenty of other companies would love to give it to you.

And I agree with the advice above - I'm certainly not going anywhere on a tantrum or without a great role. This is a very important move and I plan to get it absolutely right.

Thanks for the input all, very much appreciated at a challenging time.

lazerus's picture

You have to be careful, esp. about the motivations of a recruiter. Their whole paycheck comes from YOU changing companies. Once that deal is done, you have to work there. Also be very careful about whipping out the resumé at the current job. The company obviously values you as a contributor. If they know you are looking, that value will be replaced by animosity, like the child who lives off of his parents for too long.

[quote]When a manager exits a role, and says that the right replacement is the very person you've publicly annointed as the brightest leadership talent in the layer immediately below, and you *still* decide to look externally, something is seriously wrong.[/quote]
It is also not a good idea to behave in a manner consistent with this type of thinking. Perhaps an unemotional discussion with the decision maker about "why" would be helpful. It's possible (likely) they have good business reasons. If not, you have options.

Good luck! :)

token's picture

Thanks Jeff, and I am certainly duly cautious about how I react.

I probably missed the initial opportunity to discuss the "why" behind them thinking I'm not ready, but I'm planning to go back and seek some specific feedback, and ask what I can do to be ready.

There *are* plenty of factors which I was already well aware of - some practical and some political - which would have made it a difficult move for them. But what I'm trying to do though is look after my own interests, in as calm and rational a manner as possible.

It's also not impossible that I will stay put - it's all very well being in the market, but unless the right job comes up, I'm not moving.

Also very sceptical of course about the recruiters, but have now moved jobs with recruiters a number of times, and think I have a reasonable sense of which ones are better and worse. I've approached only two in this case, and only on the basis of personal recommendations from people I trust who they've placed in good roles.

I certainly hear your concerns, and thanks for sharing them - it's always a troubling time considering a move.

jhack's picture

[quote="token"]been in the role about 1.5 years, but been in very similar role at very similar company for the 1.25 year before that...[/quote]
That's really not very long. Patience may well be a virtue here. It's not unusual for folks to underestimate the challenges and overestimate their readiness (while the boss overestimates the challenges and underestimates the person!).