Sometimes you've got to show the higher-ups you can do the job before they give it to you.
Forward-thinking employees know that and are taking on additional responsibility to prove they should get promoted or switch departments altogether. Yes, it takes additional planning--and lots of extra hours at the office--but the effort can pay off."It's like having a business plan for yourself," says Janet G. Lenz, an assistant professor and career counselor in career center.
Take Greg Topalian. He started working at Reed Exhibitions 10 years ago as a salesman, and now he's a at the ., trade-show operator. His steady climb up the corporate ladder is a direct result of asking himself what it takes to get to the next level.
"This wasn't about how I could steal my boss' job," says Topalian. "It was more, 'What skills does he have that I don't?' When I started as a salesman I realized my sales director does things I don't, so I'd offer to help. I'd say, 'How can I make your life easier? Can you show me?'"
Prior to getting his current job, he served asat Reed. Once he had that job under control, he analyzed what it meant to be a senior vice president. One of the job's main aspects is thinking globally. Topalian demonstrated that mode of thinking by creating a training model for all exhibitors on how to get the most out of their trade shows.
"It made our most senior management feel that I clearly grasp the nature of the senior vice president role," says Topalian.
And that's what all hiring managers want. As Karen Rohce, vice president of human resources at, puts it: "Experience is the best classroom."
To get it, employees need to set up a supportive structure. First, explain to your boss that you greatly enjoy your job, but you want to take on new responsibilities. (It helps if you scout new projects or find a mentor to give you added tasks.) Employees should assure their supervisor that their current work won't suffer and that these new responsibilities will make them a "value-added staffer."
Once you find a mentor or supervisor to work with, set up the parameters of the additional projects, including its length of time, along with ways to measure success. Also, get feedback from your "part-time" boss. Was he or she happy with your work and are there skill sets you need to strengthen? It also helps to have your two managers communicate. Ask your part-time boss to send your regular manager periodic updates on your work. This is a great way to remind your supervisor that you're working two jobs.
The biggest challenge is getting burnt out by the additional hours spent at the office. Avoid that by taking on small projects until you feel comfortable with the new workload and unfamiliar skills. But the bottom line is, if you want to make it to the next level, you'll need to work more. "There are times when you'll be doing a 10-plus hour day to get to the next level," says Topalian. "That's a reality."
You can alleviate some of the workload by encouraging your subordinates to do the same thing. "They're able to take on your lower-end work, which is high-end to them," says Topalian "There's a synergy there that's very important."
Some companies already have this built in to their training and development structure. At IBM, employees can test out different areas or their ability to do another job by taking a stretch assignment. These can be a few months or up to a year, and part- or full-time. If the employee likes his or her new post so much that they decide to switch positions, well, that's just fine. "We view it as a win-win if it happens," says Diana Bing, director of employee development at IBM. "We want them to stay with the company."
Mike Repede thought he wanted to leave his position as a manager in IBM systems and technology and work as an instructor for new hires. Once a month, he left his., office and flew to IBM's Armonk, N.Y., training facility to lead classes. His co-workers in picked up any work that needed to get finished while he was gone and were quite supportive of his endeavor.
But while Repede enjoyed the job, he quickly realized that it wasn't right for him. "I had to take the stretch assignment in order to realize that," says Repede. "It was the experiential learning that made the impact."