Making the next professional step at a senior level can take time. It’s, therefore, advisable to start thinking about a potential career move up several months ahead of your preferred time frame.
The first step is to define what role you want to target and assess how it fits with your overall career goals. Consider what the additional responsibilities will be and identify any gaps in your current experience or skill set, this helps establish a plan to address any perceived weakness in your application. Regardless of whether it’s an internal promotion or position with a new company, you will need to demonstrate your readiness and match for the new level of responsibility.
Address potential gaps
Actively seek the assistance of your boss or find an internal sponsor to identify opportunities to extend your responsibility. Leading a cross-functional project, for example, is an excellent way of gaining wider recognition and experience at a different level, as well as giving you a platform on which to display additional capability. Maximising opportunities within your present company to fill gaps in your expertise should be a priority.
In addition to increasing your job-based responsibilities, look for openings that offer wider personal leadership contributions. For example, taking part in a company mentoring programme for junior staff will increase your influence as a leader outside your immediate department. There are also lots of opportunities beyond the workplace that can provide valuable management experience and be a beneficial addition to your CV. These could include, chairing a community association or leading a major fundraising initiative.
Take advantage of all internal training programmes and explore some external courses, to acquire additional knowledge. Equally important is the message that this sends out; it shows you are investing in further personal growth and that your career is still in ascendance. A desire for continuous professional development is a characteristic of influential business leaders. Recent qualifications and certifications will also refresh the qualifications area on your CV.
Act like a senior leader
‘We are the sum of the people we surround ourselves with,’ is often quoted in business. In line with this, use networking opportunities to start mixing with senior people, join professional organisations or groups, use contacts, such as a previous boss, colleague or mentor to make introductions if necessary. If there is an opportunity to speak at a conference, alongside senior individuals, seize it. Association helps form perception. Be seen amongst senior professionals by industry decision-makers and headhunters.
Start promoting a more senior outlook and persona; be an advocate for the company as a whole, rather than just your department, division or region. That may mean supporting tough company decisions, rather than raising issues on behalf of your team. That’s not to say take your eye off your own area’s performance, far from it. The development of responsibility and autonomy within your team needs to be a concurrent strategy. Allowing team members to gain visibility is a key attribute of a great leader.
Whether you are applying for an internal or external role, your CV should be tailored to the particular position. Well written, it will actively assist your objective. Review the new elements of the role and read the LinkedIn profiles of those already holding similar senior positions, this will help you identify and emphasise which areas of expertise most effectively illustrate your suitability for a senior position. Mirror the language used at this level when describing your experience and achievements. If you head a particular region and are seeking a directorship, don’t just mention your regional results, put them in the context of improving total company performance. Use language that elevates your skills and experience to indicate that this is a natural progression and one which you are equipped to make.
Treat an internal application as you would an external one. Never make the assumption that your unprecedented results or excellent reputation as a manager is known throughout an organisation. Present your strengths and conduct the same thorough research as you would do for an external interview. Take a fresh, objective look at your current company. Remember you are likely to be interviewing alongside external candidates. If a new approach is needed to turn around poor performance, then don’t let your insider’s knowledge compromise your ideas. As an internal candidate, you will have an advantage over the external competition. Gain valuable insights by speaking to others at this level, or to those who have held this position already within the company.
When seeking an external appointment, put yourself in the prospective employer’s shoes and ask yourself why they should hire you over someone with existing experience at this level. Put simply, what can you offer? An external promotion is often more achievable with a different scale of organisation. Appointing someone who can implement large company best practices in a smaller, ambitious business can be an extremely attractive option for an SME board and shareholders. Target the areas and companies in your sector where you can add the most value.
Wherever your next challenge lies, with a future-focused plan in place, you will be in a strong position to take your next step up.