Many moons ago, I started my career in business by taking a temp job at a tech company. I had a degree in Anthropology and a limited background in museum administration. I needed a job and, although it wasn’t exciting, this basic admin gig paid pretty well. After a few months as a temp, I was hired on as an AR Specialist, and when I left the company 5 years later, I was an MBA leading a successful team.
Here’s what I learned in those 5 years:
Get good at your core tasks – fast.
Assuming you’re smart and willing to work (and I truly assume that most people are), this isn’t hard to do. Basic efficiency goes a long way. Show you can work quickly and effectively, then ask for more challenging tasks. It helps if you can make a visible impact in some way, even if it seems super basic. When I took the temp job, my office was in the file room, where mountains of paper was left unfiled, causing everyone to spend way too much time finding what they needed. I’m a fast worker and I quickly tackled the problem, taking a very visible roadblock out of the my team’s way. And I was quickly given more interesting things to do.
Join a cross-functional project team.
This introduces you to other areas of the organization and lets you get to know people on other teams. Representing your area on a project makes you the default subject matter expert. To use myself as an example again, when the Marketing team or the IT team needed something from AR, they came to me because they knew me from a project. It’s actually startling how fast you can become the go-to person and subsequently, how rapidly your visibility within the organization increases.
Be a dependable problem-solver.
This is really a component of all the other points but I think it’s worth reiterating. Being the go-to person on your team means being willing to help everyone. Be a team player, be accountable and always follow-thru. You’ll quickly become known as someone who gets things done.
Take a management position, even if you think you’re not ready.
Subject matter experts, who are known company-wide as dependable players, get promoted to team leaders. Now, from an organizational standpoint, I don’t think this is a great idea. Being good at what you do doesn’t mean you’ll make a great leader. Particularly without proper training and mentoring. But it happens, and as an individual, it’s worth capitalizing on. Once you’re in the role, do your homework, figure out best practices and help your team achieve. And help them both as a group and as individuals. You’ll look extra great if your team members are fast-tracking their careers too.
Continue your education.
I’m often asked if I recommend pursuing an MBA. My response is always “it depends”. Should you jump into grad school right after college? Maybe. Should you go to grad school if your company is paying for it? Absolutely. I got my MBA while working full-time, which was exhausting, but I also had a ton of fun with a bunch of people going through the same thing. And more importantly, I got more value out of both work and school because I was able to apply what I was learning every day.
The next question is always whether an MBA opens doors. Again, “it depends”. It probably won’t get you a job but it might get you an interview. And if you’re looking to move up at your current company, and you’ve done everything I’ve outlined above, it’s priceless. You’re already visible across the organization, you’re proving yourself as a leader and you’re working your butt off to get an advanced degree? People will notice.
How about you? I’d love to hear your experiences on the path to management.