is a promotion always good news?

A reader writes:

I have been at my current workplace for 2.5 years, and I’ve had 3 raises and 2 promotions during that time. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, the thing is, I worry that these promotions are largely circumstantial and that taking them on might cause me problems in the long run. The first promotion was caused by a colleague who quit at a crucial time, and I inherited her job because I had worked on all of our department’s projects with her. The second promotion (last week) is caused by a general restructuring of the company. I was the most convenient employee to move into this new role because it overlaps a bit with my current role, so presto change — another promotion.

Both promotions created sudden changes in my job description with new responsibilities, just at the moment when I had started to feel comfortable in the old position. I was not even asked if I wanted the new mandates– both times, it was a fait accompli (which I find really strange).

My concern is that I might not have gained the experience necessary to succeed in my current role, which will now include partial managerial responsibility. I only worked for a little over a year in both my previous positions. I don’t feel that’s given me enough experience to be able to handle all the different variables that can arise in my line of work. In so many ways, I feel like I am being asked to run before I finished even learning to crawl.

How do I make sure that I don’t fail at my new position? I’m really excited about the potential I see with this job, but I also feel overwhelmed with all this new responsibility that I never even asked for and frankly would not have asked for until a few more years had passed. When people are promoted to quasi-managerial roles, how much experience is it common to have?

You can read my answer to this question over at the Fast Track blog by Intuit QuickBase today. Three other career experts weigh in on the answer as well.

{ 16 comments… read them below }

  1. Jamie

    When people are promoted to quasi-managerial roles, how much experience is it common to have?

    Well first off – congratulations! I know in the midst of all the stress and uncertainty it can be easy to overlook the fact that your employer clearly sees you as an asset and is rewarding that. Take a minute to enjoy that – even if it wasn’t on your timetable.

    I – like almost everyone I’ve ever worked with in management – got tossed in based on being good at certain tasks without a whole lot of thought to the softer skills of management and whether or not I had them. It’s really common. I’m not saying it’s the best way to do it – but you’re in very good company.

    I would recommend a couple of things. One, look around your workplace for someone you respect as a manager. You don’t even need to like them, but someone whose style you respect and who has the respect of others – because that’s the style that will get results in your culture. Watch how they do things and learn by observation.

    Two – AAM archives are invaluable. When I first discovered this blog I read through all of them for fun and I cannot tell you how many times I wished I had read them before I entered management. There is a lot of really invaluable information here, and it’s not just about a certain topic. It’s more like just reading and absorbing the vibe and common sense so it soaks in and becomes like a weird wiki in your head you can tap into as things come up.

    If you wait until your 100% ready for the next step you’ll never take it – and it’s the same with all of us for everything. There is always something else you can learn, or do, or more time…my entire career is the result of either jumping or being shoved into situations for which I was completely sure I was unqualified.

    In fact I am currently having a severe flare up of imposter syndrome at the moment and I’m really hoping I can tap back into the somewhat arrogant part of my brain that knows I’m competent before everyone figures out that I’m not nearly as smart as they think I am. :)

    Seriously – the more scary something is the more I’ve grown from it. Good luck – and I do remember Alison mentioning once a long time ago that she wanted more questions from the management side of things…so there’s always that if you get stumped!

    1. OP

      Jamie, I’m a long term reader of AAM (but first time question-asker and comment-poster) and I have to tell you that I look forward to reading your replies on posts about as much as I do reading the actual post. Thank you very much for your kind words and great advice- not just in your reply to my letter, but in so many of your other replies to other letters.

      I agree- AAM archives are fantastic. My regret is that although I have indeed read through the archives over the last few years, I did tend to skip the ones that touched on manager issues because they were not applicable to me, and I didn’t think I would be interested in or need the information any time soon. Of course, I was wrong and now I am having to go back through and reread them! :)

      I have learned more here about the culture of the workplace than I ever have anywhere, including at work. When I started my career a few years ago, I did often think that things were unfair and I didn’t always understand why things were a certain way at work. A lot of things have mentally fallen into place since reading this blog and realizing how businesses work, and how managers really should behave, and what reasonable expectations actually are.

      If you wait until your 100% ready for the next step you’ll never take it – and it’s the same with all of us for everything.

      Very very true. I tend to be hesitant and I want to be prepared before I embark on anything. This kind of thinking is tough for me, but essential. If I wait too long to try things, the opportunities can easily slip away…

  2. Coelura

    This is the most common way for folks to get promoted and move up the management ladder, particularly when young. Its how I moved up – unexpectedly & without my input & QUICKLY. I found myself making more money than my parents within 2 years of graduating and managing senior folks – and as far as I was concerned, waaaay in the deep end.

    One of the best resources I’ve found is Vital Smarts (www.vitalsmarts.com). They really focus on how to work through interpersonal relationships and managing difficult situations that will impact relationships. I changed my approach to management based upon some of their resources.

    1. LMQ

      What VitalSmarts resources did you use? I want to better myself, but I doubt my whole company wants to do this training.

    2. OP

      Wow! I wish my promotion came with a hefty raise that put me anywhere close to my parents’ tax bracket (before they retired, that it). My raise was actually very modest, but since they could have gone outside the company to hire someone with lots of experience, I guess it’s fair. :)

      Thanks for the link to Vital Smarts. I will definitely be checking this out!

  3. sab

    Oh, I am so thankful for this post — I was about to write in with a very similar question! I’m 6 months into my first post-grad school position and I’m being promoted to department manager this month. I’m so excited for this opportunity and yet so nervous, so a lot of these tips are very helpful. :)

  4. Rob Bird

    What you’re feeling is called the Imposter Syndrome and the good news is, a LOT of people go through it. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome)

    I have gone through it and what works for me is to 1) trust my employer is making the right decission for the company and 2) ask them what I need to be successful in that position.

    1. Jamie

      This. When are they going to come up with a cure for this? Because just when you think you’ve got it beat it rears it’s ugly little head again.

    2. DA

      There is nothing wrong with having the Impostor Syndrome. I think everyone probably goes through it, especially early in their career when they first enter a management role.

      As long as it’s not the Dunning-Kruger effect, you will be just fine (although just writing in about how you are feeling, shows that this is not the case).

    3. OP

      I had a dreadful case of Impostor Syndrome after the first promotion, before I’d ever heard of such a thing.

      This is only my 2nd job out of college, and the first promotion came a little over a year into the job. It blind sided me and I worried for MONTHS that I would be “exposed” as a complete fraud who couldn’t possibly be doing an adequate job. Even though my manager said to me one day that the transition was so smooth from the previous employee to me that it was like nothing had changed at all from her perspective, I kept thinking that it was only a matter of time before she realized the TRUTH.

      Then I found out about Impostor Syndrome and I felt so relieved that I could’ve cried.

      1. Jamie

        I was like that with Imposter Syndrome and misophonia – both things I learned about here that I thought were my own weird little quirks/craziness and I was so shocked and relieved to learn they had names and other people felt this way, too.

        And awww for the comment you made to me upthread – I’m saving that one in my file of stuff to read when I feel crappy about myself. :)

        And just to condense to one comment – in reply to you below @ 9:17 it sucks when anyone has unrealistic expectations, but the fact that your manager (and others) know they are unrealistic and crazy and will help you manage that …that is huge. It’s when your direct manager also has ridiculous expectations that can make a situation untenable.

  5. Risa

    Oh my – when I think about where I was 7 years ago when I started my current job, and where I am now when it comes to management…. I cringe. I’ve learned so much over the last several years, and am a way better manager now than I was then.

    You’ll survive and learn along the way. I would make sure you build a good relationship with your direct supervisor, so he or she can help mentor you. If your direct supervisor is not a good manager, find another manager in the company who can act as a mentor. It doesn’t need to be a formal thing – just someone you can go to for advice. And avoid making rash decisions – take a moment to breath and think through any decisions about those you are managing.

    1. OP

      I’ve pretty much considered my direct supervisor to be an unofficial mentor since I’ve started this job. She’s terrific. :)

  6. OP

    Alison, thank you so much for publishing my question, and for opening up the discussion on the Fast Track! It was great to read your response, and the replies of other experts. And thanks for all the comments in the replies- the community here is awesome. :)

    To be honest, within about 48 hours of sending off this letter, I started to have second thoughts about writing at all. I worried that I was just obnoxiously whining (“oh woe is me, life’s so hard, I got PROMOTED”) instead of sucking it up and putting my nose to the grindstone and getting things done.

    So before this question was published here, I actually bought your book Managing to Change the World on my Kobo. To anyone who’s been thinking of getting it- I haven’t finished it but it’s already been a great resource. The stuff on delegating (easily my worst skill) is intimidating but also very accessible. It’s making me realize that I can do this- but it’s going to take time and practice, because I’ve never had to develop those skills before. And because I never expected to have a promotion like this for another five years or so, I’ve never even casually thought about what it would be like to have this job- so everything is VERY new and strange.

    I did speak to my manager telling her how I was feeling about the promotion, and how I didn’t think I could possibly measure up to what the president of the company expected. It was somewhat reassuring. She told me that the president does expect me to be working as independently as someone with 10 years experience (bad news!) but that she and the other managers are repeatedly telling him that this is ridiculous and that they will be training me as much as I need (good news!).

    Overall, it’s just really reassuring that it’s common to be thrown into a new position like this and that it is OK that I don’t have all the answers yet, or the years of experience that this position typically calls for. I know I wouldn’t have been given the job if I’d been applying from outside the company because of my lack of experience in general, but you’re giving me hope that my specific experience within the company will give me enough to go on until I gain the experience from simply doing the job.

  7. Lily

    I’d like to refine the advice to read books. Be careful which books you read, because they can send you off in the wrong direction. After my first unsuccessful hire, I spent my entire (month-long) vacation reading management books and came to the conclusion that I hadn’t invested enough time and effort in the relationship with employee #1 and moved in completely the wrong direction with employee #3.

    This blog fleshes out Alison’s book nicely; thank you, Alison, for telling us how we could say things!
    The Vitalsmarts website and books are great, but I spent 20 hours preparing for 1 conversation.
    The Manager Tools website gives step by step instructions for many situations and I find it doable.

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