One of the members of my Executive Mentoring Group posed this question in the group forum and it inspired me to write an article:
Has anyone been in a position where they are submitting to a role where they meet the majority of qualifications but the title is a couple levels above where they were at? I feel I’m qualified even though past titles may not reflect that. What is the best way to present myself?
There are some important considerations to going after a big jump up.
1. Don’t disqualify yourself!
If you know you can do the bigger job, go for it!
As an ambitious and competent person, if you look at a bigger job and think, “I could do that!”, and you want to do that, don’t let convention and expectations stop you from going for it.
Even if most people don’t skip levels, it doesn’t mean you can’t. It happens quite regularly.
I remember when I got the biggest promotion of my life, I looked at that big job and thought, “Wow, I would love a job like that one day, but I’m not ready yet.”
I had a mentor ask me if I was going to interview for it, and when I said, “No, I think that is too big for me, I don’t think I am ready,” he told me I was being ridiculous, and that I must interview.
He then proceeded to tell me who else was going for the job.
I was staggered, I never would have considered them to be credible candidates, yet they were going for it. So I thought,
“If THEY are going for it, I’m definitely going for it”.
Without a mentor pushing me, I would have disqualified myself. And that would have been a real shame, as I got the job! And I did really well at it.
2. It’s OK to be scared
The next part of that story is that even after I got the job I was terrified.
The important thing to share here is that it’s OK to be scared. Everyone is scared.
The people who go for big things are also scared, but go for it anyway.
Never let the fact that something scares you be a reason to disqualify yourself. Your competition is going for it.
This role was quite scary. It was giant…3000+ people across the world, multiple types of everything: technologies, product lines, sales channels, marketing groups, industries. In the beginning it seemed infinite. But I had another mentor tell me, “Patty, stop worrying about it. NEW is stressful. NEW is always stressful and scary. Keep at it, and soon everything will snap into focus”.
By dropping the fear associated with needing some time to figure it all out, I was able to actually progress much faster.
Scared does NOT equal disqualified.
3. The Experience Paradox
I write about the Experience Paradox in my book RISE. The experience paradox says:
You can’t get the job without the experience, but you can get the experience without the job.
This is what career development is truly about. It’s not about reading stuff or going to conferences. It’s about getting the specific experience that sets you up for the job you want to do later.
Get experience in THAT JOB. That way when you interview, even if you’ve never had the title, you actually do have the experience.
Since everyone is too busy, it’s easy to find a place to volunteer to take on a project for someone who is in the job you want.
Just go get the experience. Everyone wins.
Not only do you get the actual experience, but people also begin to associate you with doing that type and level of work, so when a role opens up they will be more likely to think of you. This is one of the key ways to find the best opportunities.
If you are wanting to make a big jump, you will not find the experience you need within the confines of your current job description. Go find it.
4. Other People’s Experience
One of the other things I have successfully brought into play many times is using other people’s experience.
What I mean by this is to learn from people who are in the job you want. Seek to get a very deep level of understanding about what that job entails.
What is it really like to manage everything in that role? What’s hard about it? How do you make tradeoffs? How do you measure people? What are the key success factors? Risks?
I put a list of about 30 of these types of questions to deeply learn about your target role in RISE. They are on page 216.
For example, when I wanted to be a CEO of a Silicon Valley company, I talked with as many CEO’s as I could, and asked them about everything.
Then one time when I was interviewing for a CEO role, I was asked how I would handle a particular situation.
I had never handled that situation before personally, but what I said was something like,
“I was talking to a CEO a couple of weeks ago who faced a similar problem. He broke it into 3 parts. One was really easy to solve so he did X… to solve it. I would do the same thing here. For the other 2, one of them was mostly an infrastructure issue, and the other was a channel issue. For the infrastructure part he did Y… but there was also a human, organizational related component that surprised him, and I’m guessing the same would be true here… So to address that he did Z… and I would be inclined to do the same thing. Do you think that would work here? For the channel issue seems like there is a need for a pretty straightforward channel optimization so for the channel, which I have done before, so I would do the following…”
At this point I had won the question.
Instead of saying, “I’ve never done that”, I gave a very credible answer about what I would do based on other people’s experience.
The interviewer gave me the points and we moved on.
Everyone is bluffing at some point in a quickly advancing career in those moments when they are in over their heads. Everyone.
Everyone suffers imposter syndrome when they are in a big, new job.
But even in the interview process, it’s important not to confess your shortcomings. Never say, “Well, this job requires 10 skills and I only have 6. I thought you would want to know.”
Get in there, start doing the job and start learning as you go. Remember, everyone who has been a CEO for the first time has been a CEO for the FIRST TIME. They can’t possibly know everything there is to know as they step into the role. Give yourself a break.
One time very early in my career, I wanted to move from a field sales engineering position to a corporate marketing position. I showed my mom the job requirements which included, “5 years product marketing experience”.
My mom said to me,
“But you don’t have 5 years of product marketing experience”. My reply was, “They don’t know that.”
Because I had been practicing the ideas above of the Experience Paradox and Other People’s Experience, I was able to make my resume look product-marketing-ish enough to get invited to some interviews.
And when I got to the interview it gave me a chance to tell them what I could do. If they questioned my experience, I gave them a reason why my field experience was even more valuable to the role and followed that up with a strong product marketing suggestion for them. This gets to another point of start doing the job before you are in it.
It took me about 4 NO’s before I won a product marketing job, but I got there long before I was supposed to…
What do you think?
What do you think about these ideas? What would you add? Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page.
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor.
She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)