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Dear CertMag: My parents have a mom-and-pop computer repair service where I worked for years before college. I picked up a lot of what I know from them, and added to it in high school and college. I just took my first job post-graduation doing phone support for a software company. It pays quite well, actually, but I feel like I knew everything about everything by the end of the first day. My employer likes to promote from within, and there’s a development team, programming team, etc. What’s the best way to get noticed and move up to something more interesting?
— Larry, Boise, Idaho
One of the challenges that many technology oriented companies are facing right now is the passion that many technologists — like you and me — are bringing to the office. Sometimes, this passion can be a critically important source of entrepreneurship, innovation and productivity. Unfortunately, it can also create friction in interpersonal relationships, and in the management effort to build and lead cohesive teams and units.
Having seen this for myself — and if we are being honest, at times in my career having been a source of this kind of challenge — my first suggestion would be to focus on excellence in the capacity that you have to perform today. Much like building any kind of great thing, without a solid foundation to start expanding your sphere of influence and continue your professional growth, the push forward is not likely to take you in the direction that you would like.
Take some time to gauge where you are in the organization, take inventory of what you have to offer (remember that knowledge of the job task itself is only one component of that), and think about where you would like to be in the next few years. Be realistic. It’s perhaps possible, though unlikely, that you will be the Vice President of Software Something or Other next year. It could be, however, that you have moved into a testing role, or into a development role, or taken some other intermediate step that will move you toward one of the teams you have a keen interest in joining.
Part of your personal inventory should be looking at the total package of what your assets for the company looks like on paper (and in your experience) against that next position. What are the gaps? Failing to recognize areas where you are a little weaker will only hurt your development, so try to be conservative in how you rate your experience and credentials. If there are significant gaps, look for a mentor who can help you find the right relationships at work, build new experiences, and get exposed to other parts of the business — parts that could be a key differentiator between yourself and another candidate interested in the same role. A properly done inventory will take a little while to complete, and the likely investment of time and relationship development is seldom accomplished in anything less than months.
Use the time for the inventory and relationship building to begin practicing “influencing without authority.” This can be a key way to build your personal brand within the organization. Are there other behaviors that your potential next role may demonstrate or require? Does the person who is in that role now dress differently than you do? Is there something that colleagues you respect are doing? Some people look at these types of things and call it “playing politics,” or something similar. It can be easy to take such things too far, it is true. On the other hand, recognizing that, psychologically, people respond to the way that others talk, dress and interact, is a critical part of building your relationships and standing in the organization.
Work on reducing the gaps in your knowledge and experience, and build relationships within the organization. Once you succeed there, you will be well positioned to pursue the next opening!