why am I not getting promoted into a management job?

A reader writes:

It’s been more than five years since I’ve graduated from college, and I’m currently seeking two graduate degrees. My reasoning for going back to school was simply because it was hard for me to find promotions where I’d gain and exercise any leadership skills. I’ve managed two extracurricular clubs while in school. I’ve held prominent leadership roles in my church and other volunteer-based organizations. I take part in various business networking teams, and I currently sit on the steering committee of one. I’ve also been awarded and recognized for my leadership skills in my current role. I simply cannot understand why I haven’t been promoted into some sort of managerial role.

I am very conscious about the way others perceive me and my work. Often times I put in more hours than my counterparts, and I’ve networked like crazy. The company I currently work for grants me feedback and mentorship programs — but still, no opportunity for career advancement! What advice would you offer to someone in my position? Is there something I am not doing well? Have I missed a step? Should I move on?

Well, being a strong candidate for a management role isn’t really about putting in more hours and networking (or at least it’s not in well-run organizations). It’s about showing that you’re good at the very specific things that managers need to be good at — things like being assertive without being a jerk, identifying problems and figuring out solutions, handling mistakes well, looking at the big picture and not just at how something affects you or your team, picking your battles, being inclusive, and helping other people.

Now, if you’re doing those things — all of them, not just a few of them — and have been for a while, then the next question is: Have you told your manager that you’re interested in moving into a more managerial role? Have you applied for those roles internally when they’ve opened up? If you haven’t, that’s the missing piece, and you should definitely do that before concluding that you should move on.

But if you’ve done all that, then the next step is to talk to your manager and ask for her advice. Explain what you want to work toward, and ask for her feedback. Does she think you’ve shown potential to be a strong candidate for those roles? If not, what would she want to see from you? Where should you be focusing your development energies?

If she’s generally positive about that part of the conversation, you can also ask if she’d be open to working with you on ways to give you more managerial-type experience — such as managing an intern, leading a team project, helping to interview job candidates, or so forth. If she’s not open to it, ask if she thinks it’s something that you could work toward.

From that conversation, you should get a better sense of whether your current company can give you a path toward the type of job you want, and what that path might look like. You might end realizing that they can’t, in which case, yes, it could make sense to think about moving on. But do all of the above first.

For what it’s worth, I would not count on grad school to function as a substitute for any of this. Smart employers move people into management positions based on what they’ve demonstrated at work, not what they’ve learned in school. That doesn’t mean that you’ve wasted your time in grad school — I’m sure you’re getting plenty of other things out of the work you’re doing there — but keep in mind as you’re thinking about how to approach all this.

{ 154 comments… read them below }

  1. voyager1*

    That is really good advice that AAM, but sometimes it really comes down to the experience of the person who can promote you. Sometimes being the best in your job isn’t enough, but the person who can promote you has to believe you can be a manager. That is tougher to define.

    I do feel your pain though, getting passed over sucks… been there. What really sucks is after getting passed over when you leave for a better opportunity that the decider who did’t promoted you takes it personally, like
    you shot their puppy or something. No it isn’t personal, decisions about careers don’t happen in a vaccum. Managers looking at you here, don’t take it personally when someone moves on when you find that same person unpromoteable for whatever reason.

    1. Thinking Outside the Boss*

      I completely agree with this. I manage a crew of 20 in a government agency and my top two picks for future supervisors and managers are not the best direct reports that I have, they don’t work the most hours, and they don’t volunteer for a lot of office projects. They are my top picks because they have the right demeanor to be supervisors and managers. It’s their people skills. As the business books used to say decades ago, it’s their soft skills. They are personable, affable, approachable, and their instincts on how to convey information is uncanny.

      Anyone can tell Fergus that he sucks at his job and isn’t performing well. But then Fergus isn’t motivated to be a good employee! It takes a certain talent to go up to Fergus, convey to him why his work isn’t up to par, and then in the next sentence motivate him to do better and to not get down on himself. Not everyone has this skill. Some people have this skill when they are 24. And others develop this skill over time and become proficient at 54.

      For the OP, if you’re concerned about not being a manager because you’ve been out of college for 5 years, there is no magic number of years you need to promote. For me, it was 15 years post law school before I promoted for the first time. Last fall we promoted someone who had been out of school for 8 years. This spring we promoted someone for the first time who had been with the agency for 20 years.

  2. TotesMaGoats*

    I think one of the biggest points is…have you talked with your manager about your desire to be promoted? If you haven’t, then you can’t expect them to promote you. We aren’t mind readers. They should be asking you but if they aren’t then tell them.

    I would also add that getting those graduate degrees are great but they won’t get you promoted. They might open up opportunities to apply for jobs that you wouldn’t be qualified for otherwise but that’s it.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      Agree 100%. Unless someone tells me they’re looking to advance, I usually assume they’re happy where they are. Not that I don’t recognize potential in my people, but I’m not a mind reader either.

    2. LBK*

      Yeah, maybe I’m overparsing but it sounds to me like the OP has kinda been sitting back and waiting for someone to hand her a new job? That’s not really how promotions work. Yes, there are people who get promoted without going through the whole application and interview process, but that’s usually the result of longer-term conversations that have been happening in the background between that person and their management. They aren’t usually just getting offered the role out of the blue.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Among other things, offering it out of the blue doesn’t always work. You have people – like myself – who are quite happy in individual-contributer roles and don’t *want* to manage. We may happily help drive decisions in our area of expertise, mentor other people, answer questions, be a go-to person for more than one topic, take a big-picture view when considering our work (and thus earn more autonomy), but have *no desire* to be a manager. Offering us a promotion out of the blue leads to us turning down the promotion, or not thinking we can and getting stuck in a role we don’t want, possibly then jumping ship to another job. Much better to let the people who ask for it have it – assuming they’re qualified.

        (Have seen both of those scenarios – the turning-it-down when they thought it was a sure thing, thus setting their plans into a mess, and also the person who basically didn’t feel they could say no but hated the new role. So this is not to say they never get offered without an ask, but it’s rare, and there are reasons why it’s not a good idea!)

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I got one of the jobs I hated the most by being offered a promotion that I didn’t ask for. I had worked happily as an individual contributor and then scaled back into a part-time role following maternity leave.

          When I was ready to come back full-time, I called my old manager and asked if any positions were available in my old role. She wanted to think about it and call me back, which made me think that she might offer me a role at a lower level.

          When she called back, it was to invite me to lunch with her and the executive director, and their plan was for me to take over my old manager’s role and to promote her into a higher role that I would report to. I accepted because the salary was better, I was flattered that they saw me in that light, and I thought that I would like to do it, but I hated it. Being responsible for too much of the big picture was too much for me. I like being in a support role where someone else is responsible for managing the big picture stuff.

      2. AnonMurphy*

        I agree, parts of this came off as somewhat passive. The only times I’ve seen impromptu promotions to management have been in times of extreme need (unexpected expansion, etc.).

        I’m 13 years out of college, 2 years out from my MBA, and I still haven’t gotten that first people-management job that is my aspiration. I did recently get promoted to being a program manager, which is a great step forward. How did I get there? I was fortunate to have a manager who wanted to help me develop, and, as Alison said, offered me LOTS opportunities to develop and demonstrate my skills and potential. I also had numerous conversations in the past two years with the VP I now work for, and even moved into a less-perfect-fit job to get in the door in her department. Had numerous conversations with other managers who I liked (and even some I didn’t) to see what made them tick, ask for feedback on how I did things, etc. I was very open about my long-term wishes while being stellar (if I may say so) at my day-to-day stuff.

        That said, I do understand. It is crummy not to feel recognized – our recent employee engagement survey found that feeling valued and career path development is more important than salary or perks.

        One thing I can recommend is to look for micro-opportunities to be a leader and influencer. Putting in extra hours is great – learning a software application so well that everyone comes to you to ask how to do something? Even better. Same with conversations – look for ways to encourage, cajole, build rapport, and alter your tone and approach to the situation – all critical. Volunteering and networking are absolutely meritorious, but in my experience don’t necessarily imply the desire to move up.

        And not to bury the lede, but 5 years just isn’t that long in most white-collar industries as far as I know. Looking around at my colleagues, 35-40 seems about the median age for a first-time manager.

        1. Koko*

          I was also going to remark on 5 years not being that long out of college to be put in a people manager role, too. It’s not unheard of for late-20-somethings to be managing staff, but it’s the kind of things I see in a nonprofit where they are managing mid-20-somethings and the pay is so low that they can’t attract/retain very experienced managers.

          In most white collar work I’m familiar with, I would see 3 years as the bare minimum experience in a field just to be good enough to teach/mentor someone else in doing it, and ideally I’d want 5 or more. Before that, you’re still learning so much yourself. Unless you’re managing an intern or a temp, which I think you can do with very little experience since the work is so much more straightforward and a lot of the usual responsibilities are lightened, and is a great way to get management experience.

        2. Alienor*

          That’s pretty typical in the large company I work for. Most people who are in the five-years-out bracket have climbed a couple of ladder rungs from entry level, but I can’t think of any who are people managers yet. I didn’t get my first people management position here until I was 35 and had been working for 10 years. It took a while to get used to because I had come from retail, where it’s very common for people in their early twenties or even late teens to be supervising other people–I was in charge of an entire store full of employees while I was still in college.

        3. Doriana Gray*

          My manager is only three of four years older than me (so, 32 or 33), and he’s been a people manager for four or five years. I think he’s one of the purple unicorns though (and a guy his age in our division is an AVP!).

        4. AK*

          Yeah, the ‘been 5+ years’ and still no management role struck me as a bit unrealistic as well, honestly. In most industries, 5 years is mid-level. Senior individual contributor, still an IC though. It depends on both industry and work history as well. I know I spent a bit longer at some levels because my tenure at various companies was anywhere between 6 mos – 1 year for a few years, before I stuck somewhere for 5 years – and at entry levels, if you move, it’s often lateral rather than senior. So…5 years out of college I wasn’t expecting to manage people in that ‘management role’ sense. Honestly, I’d give it closer to 15 all up to be a managerial role for an average human, so yes, totally agree with that 35-40 mark.

      3. fposte*

        Yes, I wondered about that. OP, have you actually applied for any management roles in your current organization?

    3. Lily in NYC*

      I’d like to know if OP has ever been promoted. She only mentions not being promoted to management, but if she’s been promoted to a role with more responsibility that’s not management, my advice would be to be a bit more patient. For example, our entry level promotion track employees are project managers. It takes two years to get promoted to Sr. PM, but you are still not a manager. It usually takes another year or two (or more) to make it to AVP, but there are far fewer positions that open up for that role.

      1. anoningggg*

        It’s so weird to me that some industries have PMs as entry level. My industry PMs are mid-level with 5+ years experience. Maybe that explains why I have recruiters contacting me with entry level positions despite my 10 years experience. :|

        1. Lily in NYC*

          I know! I’m an executive assistant and am higher on the org chart than PMs and SPMs here. It also makes resume screening a pain in the butt because we get tons of resumes from people who think it’s higher-level than it is (even though we make it clear in the description).

        2. Koko*

          My department doesn’t use PMs, but another department I work closely with does. I think PM is a mid-level entry-level for them, if that makes any sense. It’s the lowest rung on that particular job track, but it’s a mid-level position with no direct reports on the broader org chart. The more senior PMs typically manage the “entry-level” mid-level PMs.

          I wonder if this relates to the phenomenon of employers who post “entry-level” jobs but require 1-3 years experience. A low mid-level amount of experience has become the “entry level” for the jobs that are actually available, because companies having laid off their junior staff and not rehired in order to cut costs in the recession. We have a few departments here that do not have any junior positions because budgets are too tight for any more head count. The mid-level employees are all just doing the junior-level work that needs to get done along with the more higher-level meat of their job. We don’t advertise those mid-level jobs as “entry level” but maybe some companies do because it’s the lowest rung they actually employ?

    4. Clever Name*

      Yes! We recently went through a reorganization at my company, and one of the things that was specifically stated was people had to come forward and express interest in various roles, especially leadership ones. I had one coworker who never said anything and just expected to be handed a supervisory role. She thought she was the “obvious choice” because she has the most experience in that area. So when she was passed over, she was visibly upset and complained to HR. They ended up giving her that supervisor role, but from what I see, she’s not doing well. :/

      1. OfficePrincess*

        It’s too bad that it’s not working out, but I can understand it. Speaking up and not assuming that people know what you’re thinking are crucial parts of managing others.

    5. INTP*

      Yeah, I think this is generally important but especially for this OP. She is spending a lot of time on outward-facing activities like networking and school so there could be a perception that she’s trying to become qualified and make contacts to get into a different department or company when she’s really just trying to advance in her own job. (Let’s be real, unless you’re in sales or similar, most people’s motivation for networking before their job duties require them to is keeping a network for job hunting!) A conversation could clear this up and allow the boss to share which activities will really help her get the job she wants.

    6. One of the Sarahs*

      Mid- and end of year reviews should be built for this, too – for anyone new in the work place, use these to bring up your goals with your manager, and ask what you need to do to meet them. And of course, if there are opportunities to take on more responsibility in short-term projects etc, take them, and talk about these too!

  3. Brett*

    Remember too that leadership does not equal management. You would like for the two of them to go together, but they are separate skill sets and having one is not evidence that you will perform well in the other.

    I have done tons of leadership activities, enough to be formally recognized as a “leader” in my industry. Those leadership activities and recognition are never going to equate on their own to management opportunities because the skill sets for leadership and management are so disjoint in our industry.
    So, if leadership is your key in, how have your leadership achievements aligned with the points Alison listed and with the critical skillsets for managers in your organization and industry?

    1. LiveAndLetDie*

      This is a great point. There are a finite amount of management roles in any company, and it takes a certain skill set to be a good manager — one that is not often guaranteed by someone who excels in the roles beneath the managerial position. You can have 10 people in the lower role, but only 1-2 of them will be the right fit for a management position. Even if OP is great, they may not have what their higher-ups are looking for in a manager, and often this is a pretty good mix of experience and “soft skills.”

      Leadership skills are absolutely a tick in the “pros” column for OP, but they alone will not get them there.

    2. LBK*

      Agreed – in their simplest terms, I think of management as the more concrete tasks that allow your team to function (hiring, budgeting, delegation, resource management) and leadership as the more intangible tasks that allow your team to excel (motivating & developing people, problem solving, relationship management). I think you can do a lot of the latter without being a manager and that’s usually the part people develop first. It’s the the former that you need to actively seek opportunities to get experience with, because it doesn’t tend to naturally fit with non-management roles, and it’s just as important to have that experience when you’re looking to get promoted.

      1. Jen RO*

        This is the description I was looking for when we had a thread debating management vs leadership! So well put.

    3. AndersonDarling*

      The examples the OP gave (church leader, running clubs) fall more into the leader category than management. If the club doesn’t start on time, revenue will not go down. The club members don’t need individual mentoring and training sessions.
      I like to think leadership skills as what teachers have. They inspire and lead their classrooms. But all teachers are not managers.

    4. INTP*

      Yeah, this is a great point. It seems like the OP’s “above and beyond” work focuses on the interpersonal aspects of management – leadership with peers, networking. It could be helpful to take on some duties expanding her experience in other areas even if she’s not doing it in a leader capacity. A project or committee that gives her some exposure to project/product management, strategy, budgeting, or similar would be a better use of her time than networking even more.

  4. Sans*

    The OP only graduated five years ago. Sometimes there are more qualified people ahead of you and things don’t happen as fast as you want. Gaining experience doing the actual job is a valuable part of becoming a good manager.

    1. Jeanne*

      What I was thinking. Only 5 years out of college does not scream manager. For a few people, maybe. For most people, do your job for more years. Have some real experience.

      1. Terra*

        It depends heavily on the field, the main one I can think of where it would be acceptable is something like customer service where anything above entry level usually involves some kind of management.

  5. Rowan*

    Echoing an earlier comment — five years after college seems really early to me to be expecting to be promoted into management, or feeling like they’ve missed the boat or gotten on the wrong boat or let a boat go by or something boat-related. I realize this would vary a lot by industry, but am I out of step on this? I don’t think it’s typical in IT to be in management five years after college.

    1. Rex*

      Yeah, the OP seems to be … in a hurry. OP, have you stopped to ask yourself why you want to manage? Is it just the logical next step?

      1. Koko*

        There was an insightful comment probably a couple of months ago now from a person who had also not been out of college long about how he and all his peers feel like they need to be getting promoted. I’m trying to remember how he explained it. Something about it feeling like the thing you’re “supposed to do,” to constantly be advancing and if you’re not, it means your work isn’t up to snuff. Maybe some sort of holdover mentality from school where each year you graduate to the next grade or course level as long as you haven’t failed anything. I wish I could remember the details or knew where to search for it.

        1. Alienor*

          I bet it is a school-related thing. It bites people in the butt later, too, because it’s really easy to get promoted up the first few rungs of the ladder, but after a certain point promotions become few and far between unless you’re on a super-fast executive track.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            Yeah–like, I’m simplifying somewhat, but at our company you might come in as a Teapot Engineer 1 and then get Teapot Engineer 2 in a year or two because that just means ‘no longer a newbie.’ And then Teapot Engineer 3 in a couple more years and then Senior Teapot Engineer a few years after that, assuming you’re doing well.

            And then… you might sit there indefinitely, if you aren’t interested in leading a team or specializing. (And some people aren’t–I have zero interest in managing people, so I have topped out at my equivalent of Senior Teapot Engineer, and I’m okay with that.) If you are interested in leadership or specializing, there’s a few more steps, Teapot Engineer Lead and Senior Teapot Engineer Lead, or Teapot Lid Architect and Senior Teapot Lid Architect and maybe eventually Primary Teapot Lid Architect. But at some point you’ve sort of topped out the available options, and at that point even if you are spectacular it becomes a matter of getting raises/bonuses without a new title.

        2. Djuna*

          I’ve seen that a lot. In my current job I had a co-worker who felt that he “should” be getting promotions (even though there was no clear path in his role) and when I talked to him about it he basically told me that this was “how it’s supposed to work”. He did have a clear idea of a role he could fill, and he was a great employee – but he was still miffed that he hadn’t “moved up” after a year and change.

          Another co-worker complained to me about the lack of scope for promotion too, but in her case she was doing too much looking ahead and not enough looking at how well she was doing in the now.

          I’m relieved to read other comments here, because I’d started to think I was odd for being perfectly happy to keep doing what I do. I can get better at what I do, and that’s how I choose to look at progression. People management has never been a goal of mine.

          1. Koko*

            I feel similarly. I’m mildly interested middle management, where you have a small number of reports (1-3) and it’s more likely that you’re doing an advanced version of the same work they’re doing, so you can mentor them and show them how to develop in their careers. I’m interested in that only because I enjoy my work so much that I love talking about it and teaching it to other people.

            I’m not interested in the upper levels of management where more of your job is big picture strategy and people management, and you’re likely managing people who know more about their own work than you do.

            Mostly, I want to be seen as a high-achieving professional at the cutting-edge of my field. I would love to share my advanced knowledge with people a few years behind me in their career ladder, but I don’t especially want to advance too far up the org chart.

    2. ThatGirl*

      Yeah, five years out of college doesn’t seem like it’s late to being promoted or anything. I’ve been out of college 13 years, in this job for 8, and there’s no particular rush to management – I’ve managed projects and worked closely with others to get them done, but management? It’s not for everyone and it’s not the only “next step” in a career.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        I would think the “next step” would be moving from Teapot Assistant Buyer to Teapot Buyer, or Teapot Associate to Teapot Specialist. I don’t usually see individuals going from their first position directly to a manager position.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Yes, that’s more accurate than the point I was fumbling around with. There are plenty of ways to progress in a career that don’t involve managing.

    3. Rocket Scientist*

      No, you are not out of step on this. At least not in my industry.

      And while having a grad degree might help you advance on the technical side, it wouldn’t help you move up the management ladder.

      1. the_scientist*

        I think this is sort of industry dependent. Certainly 5 years out of undergrad would be early to be promoted to management in my field, but my friend is an accountant at a Big 4 public accounting firm and there is a really defined ladder for moving up in your first 5 or so years there. It seems like everyone in the cohort who is meeting expectations advances to the next role on the ladder in time to make space for new graduates to join the team. We are five years out of undergrad and she is a manager with direct reports. But I don’t get the sense from this letter that the OP is in this type of situation.

    4. OfficePrincess*

      Agreed. I was promoted into management two years out of college (previous person left us in the lurch, I was a strong individual contributor with the problem-solving skills to do the advanced part of the job and was lured by the massive raise) but I was so not ready for it. Two and a half years later, I’m starting to get the hang of it, but I’m not sure that people management is anything I want to do long-term.

    5. all aboard the anon train*

      I wonder if OP is in corporate or a non-profit/startup environment. Whenever I’ve interviewed at startups, a lot of fresh from college or graduates less than 5 years out are in management roles. Friends who work at startups and non-profits say there’s a lot of quick promotions and young managers. Corporate tends to be slower, and in the management case, I think sometimes this is better because only 5 years of work experience is…..not a lot of time.

      1. Dan*

        Not all non-profits function like a startup. My non-profit employs 7,000 people and functions more like a corporation.

        What’s really true here, is that, ahem, size matters. Being a VP at a 5 person startup isn’t all that impressive. A VP at a 7,000 person org? Different story.

        At my org, you aren’t becoming a department manager with 5 years of experience (let alone VP). We have people-management functions that give junior people the opportunity, but they’re not, how do we say… glamorous jobs. You have to want to do them.

        1. all aboard the anon train*

          Sorry, I just meant it as an example. I definitely should have mentioned smaller non-profits, which is what I was thinking of, rather than a larger more corporate like environment.

          But yes, I do think size matters, probably both in terms of experience and whether or not you’re going to get a specific position.

    6. Graciosa*

      Our entry level managerial positions generally post with a minimum of 8 years experience required, and the successful candidates often have more (openings are competitive!).

      Five seems way too early to be concerned, but I am always conscious of the fact that not every industry works on the same schedule. I didn’t catch any mention of other people being promoted ahead of the OP, but if she is worried, she might try checking out the linkedin profiles of successful people in her field to see what their career paths looked like to get a bit more of a benchmark.

      I would also note that one essential managerial skill is the judgment to assess what things are really critical and what can be set aside or done acceptably with less effort. When I see someone who is working harder (more hours?) than anyone else, I worry about whether they have this judgment and what their expectations would do to the functioning of a team.

      There is enough of a drumbeat at work for more, More, MORE without putting someone in a management role who focuses entirely on hours as proof of success. I need managers who can identify and manage the truly important tasks while protecting their team from overwork and burnout with wasted effort.


        This is a great point. I work in an industry where overtime is not the norm unless you are high up the org chart. There are a few people in my office who routinely skip breaks and work late, and talk about that as a sign of dedication and hard work. Management sees it as a sign of bad time management.

    7. AnotherHRPro*

      It really does depend on the industry and company. The OP really needs to look around and see what is “normal” in their organization.

      1. B*

        Some places pay like $30K to a manager, so yeah they aren’t going to get a lot of well-seasoned people in the role. Maybe there are a lot of 26 year old managers in certain fields.

        I would be curious what industry OP is in. Going back for more degrees seems like a bad idea when experience is more important.

        Also, managing your own expectations is necessary, so OP may want to start there.

    8. EA*

      I am around the OPs age, and from my peer group, it massively depends on industry. I would be way young for management. I have friends in certain industries who are starting to have direct reports. I had a friend at a start-up who was a manager at age 24 (which was disastrous).

      1. Sunflower*

        Yup totally. My sister works at big 4 acctg firm and there is a very clear promotional track there- I think you are promoted to manager after 3-4 years. People I know in sales have been promoted to manager or director fairly quickly as well. So if OP is comparing herself to people outside the industry, she should stop. This can also vary if you’re talking about managing projects vs people- big difference there.

        It’s really funny as in my industry, most coordinators have about 5 years of experience. My friend, who works in non-profits, has one more year of experience and is an assistant director. You’d need about 20 years of experience to get that here. She’s looking for a new job(and possibly to change industries) and told me she refuses to go down to a coordinator role but I don’t think she realizes that titles vary so so much among industry that she’s gonna shoot herself in the foot.

    9. Stranger than fiction*

      In my bubble, my experience is the same as yours. And as someone pointed out, there’s only a finite number of managers at any given company. The smaller the company, the less opportunities usually. Sometimes a company will create a new management position tailored around your expertise and to fill a new need, but that is rare imo.

    10. Terra*

      It depends a lot on field. For example, in customer service based fields basically anything above entry level usually involves some kind of management.

    11. Lizzy*

      As mentioned in previous comments, this is relative to your field and even your region. I live in Chicago and everywhere I look – from networking events, association events, conferences and on LinkedIn – there is a bevy of people between the ages of 27-34 who hold managerial or even senior leadership positions. I hardly find people my age (30) who still hold coordinator or associate level positions. I barely making ends meet as a temp marketing assistant at a foundation; it is definitely demoralizing to see people my age getting positions like Manager of Teapots or Director of Teapot Initiatives while I am struggling to find a coordinator-level position. Even my boss (he is a CMO) help his first Director-title position at 25. I can understand the LW’s frustration.

      But again, this is relative to my field (non-profits) and the area of the country I live in.

  6. LiveAndLetDie*

    OP, you sound like you’re in a hell of a hurry to get to the top, and this does not align with what is often the reality. You graduated 5 years ago. That is a short while ago in the grand scheme of things. Being a stellar employee and showing initiative can and will get you up the ladder, in a company that values you and where you have proven yourself, but it isn’t something you can “fast track” in a lot of industries. It takes time to move up the chain, even when you’re a stand-out employee.

    1. LiveAndLetDie*

      One other thing to note, OP–“working more hours than my counterparts” isn’t always going to be seen as a positive. If you and your counterparts all have the same job and are all skilled and capable in that job, it’s going to look like you can’t manage your workload, not like you’re going above and beyond. Be careful about sending the wrong message.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Or, it looks like you value time over effectiveness, and I’d be leery of promoting someone who herself puts in those sorts of hours, because I might worry that she will expect her team to.

        I work late sometimes when I really don’t want to. I make a huge point of telling my team that I don’t expect them to do so, and in fact that I value the fact that they work effectively and then leave on time.

      2. all aboard the anon train*

        Definitely. At my current company, working more hours just shows that you don’t know how to manage your time. No one here thinks it’s a good thing. It’s one thing to stay late occasionally to finish a project, but working more hours than coworkers every night shows something is wrong.

        1. AnotherHRPro*

          Agreed. Working more hours isn’t what get you ahead. It is what you can do. Are you improving processes? Implementing new ideas? Making significant contributions? What I am trying to say is, what have you actually accomplished?

        2. Koko*

          There was an on-point Onion article recently (link to follow) about incompetent staff feeling underappreciated that included the gem:

          “A simple thank-you from the higher-ups would be nice,” said Garten, who spends nearly 60 percent of his workweek making personal calls from his desk. “Yesterday I stayed late in order to finish up some work I’ve been putting off, and nobody even noticed.”

      3. One of the Sarahs*

        Yes, this! It seems like it’s counter-intuitive, but standing out by working more hours than colleagues in the same roles should be a red flag to a good manager – and I’ve never got my head around Exempt/Non-exempt (I’m a Brit!) but there can be real legal implications if staff are working extra hours and not being paid for it (over here, the European Working Time Directive sets out the rules about it all)

  7. LBK*

    I wonder if the OP has worked in industries where promotions tend to happen a lot faster, like retail or food service? Five years sounds pretty early to me to get into management in the corporate world, which can be an adjustment from the service industry where it’s not uncommon for people to start moving up after a year or so.

    1. Jadelyn*

      Hell, I got *hired into* a keyholder position (so basically, lowest-level shift supervisor) at my actual first retail job in my mid-20s, simply because I had gone to college. Not sure how they thought that would translate to retail/supervisory acumen, but there you go. So yes, coming from that environment could definitely skew one’s perception of management-advancement timelines.

  8. LQ*

    You talked a lot about the roles you are taking on and activities you are doing. It is also helpful to stop and reflect on how you are doing them. When a coworker comes to you and asks you how to do a task do you guide them and help them? Or do you just do the task for them? When you are lead on a project do you do all the work or do you divvy the work up to others in a way that lets them shine? When projects are out do you volunteer to lead them? Working more isn’t always showing leadership. (I would like to point up…or down to the post from earlier today!)

    You said that your company has offered you mentorship opportunities. This is a great chance to also talk to your mentor and see what skills they think it would be useful for you to develop, not just technical skills, but the human kind. What does your org want to see in leaders? I’d also look around, how long before people get promoted at your org? At mine? It would be 10-15 years to get into a management spot unless you were very unusual. Some places have much faster turn around. What is the promotion speed?

    1. INTP*

      The mention of all of the extra hours and tasks caught my eye too. I feel like young people and especially women are taught that the key to getting a promotion is to work hard enough to deserve one, never being too good or too busy for any task, but it often doesn’t work out that way. A manager needs to be able to prioritize and delegate, and things like doing work yourself that could easily be given to someone below your pay grade or less busy than you and working longer hours than your peers might raise questions about your ability to allocate your time effectively as a manager, as could spending time on one thing well beyond the point of diminishing returns (like serving on multiple networking groups, when at the OP’s level this probably doesn’t bring significant money and value to the company versus being in one group, and pursuing two degrees instead of one).

      I think it might be helpful for the OP to focus future efforts on looking for opportunities for new tasks or committees within their own department, on something closer to a management level (maybe something strategic and ideas oriented). It seems like you can do the social stuff like network and show leadership to your peers, so a project that grows your experience to a higher level on the work side will make you a more complete candidate. It will also be better for perception about your ability to prioritize than serving on another networking committee. This is assuming other people are being promoted to management on a similar time fram in OPs company, otherwise everyone is correct that 5 years is early to be concerned.

  9. TootsNYC*

    A couple of thoughts:
    1) there have to be openings. Smart companies don’t promote people just because that person is ready to move up. They promote people when they, organizationally, need a manager. Either because someone leaves, or because they’re reorganizing or expanding.
    I once had to say this to a junior colleague; she was the assistant, and there was an associate and a dept. head. She wanted to move up and was angry that she hadn’t been promoted automtically at a year. But I had to point out that the tasks and responsibilities of the dept. as a whole were not changing. And were adequately being met w/the current arrangement. If they promoted her, who would do the expense reports? and the company was getting its needs met w/ the current higher-earning people. If they moved some of those people’s work over for her to do (after a promotion), they wouldn’t be spending their money wisely.
    Sometimes, you have to move out to move up, I pointed out.

    2) Sometimes people want to hire from the outside. I confess that people would probably not like my philosophy much, but I’ve often seen situations in which organizations would have benefitted by bringing in someone who has worked elsewhere. Instead they end up w/ someone in a very high position who has only ever worked for that organization. They simply haven’t learned as much as someone who has moved around and worked for other organizations and other top managers.
    I’ve seen promotions that made a lot of sense to me–but often those were people who -had- worked somewhere else before getting the lower-level job they were moving up from. They got their “broadening” and their “seasoning” before they came to the place that gave them the promotion.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I absolutely agree that it can be good to bring in folks from the outside. I like to see individuals promoted from within, but I’ve seen cases where it has gone wrong because the employee did not have the necessary skills. It would have been better to bring in someone from the outside. Sometimes there isn’t anyone available inside the company with the right mix of skills.

      1. Kira*

        I’ve also seen where internal promotions of people who had (mostly) only worked at the same company led to a really odd culture where everyone agreed with each other about everything. People who had a different point of view were listened to, then promptly fired. The 20% of management roles that brought in outsiders had really high turnover because the long-term employees wanted somebody just like themselves.

    2. One of the Sarahs*

      Yes, this. I was wondering if OP sees their career path as staying in this company for life, and getting promotions, because that model just doesn’t seem to exist any more. OP, I would advise that if you’ve got an idea of the kind of role you want, to look for these roles in other companies and start applying to them, because it’s completely common to get promotions through moving companies.

  10. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

    I simply cannot understand why I haven’t been promoted into some sort of managerial role.

    This may seem like an obvious question, but is there a position for you to get promoted to?

    I have had *really* good people on my team that I can’t promote, because I simply did not have a position to put them into and creating a position is a huge undertaking that requires a lot more than my approval.

    1. Jadelyn*

      +100 Getting a new position created and approved is a PITA, frankly. The new position’s manager has to request it, HR will likely be involved in creating or updating a job description for it (with all the potential back-and-forth with the hiring manager that can entail), if they use set pay scales or ranges then someone has to benchmark it for that (which might include needing approvals from someone at an executive level, like a HR Director/VP or a CFO or something depending on the size of the org), the department or other second-tier manager has to approve it, etc. Creating brand new positions is a big process with a lot of moving parts, so no manager is going to undertake that lightly.

      1. TootsNYC*

        and they shouldn’t undertake that process unless there’s an actual business reason for it to happen. Unless the business is growing a lot, there may not be a need for a new managerial slot. If they currently have what they need, creating another management spot can be counterproductive.

        1. Jadelyn*

          That too – I didn’t think to add it, but absolutely. Adding positions just for the sake of adding positions is how you end up with such an overinflated payroll cost that the company ends up eliminating positions and laying people off, and nobody wants that.

        2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          Exactly. Honestly, there are times I think we are too top heavy because people have inflated titles to match their egos (I know, snarky), and it’s the last thing I want to add to my team.

          If I make 8 of my 10 writers “lead writers” how do I even structure that?!

  11. TechChick*

    I agree with earlier comments. What about being in management makes you think that that is where you have to go next? It reminds me of Michael Scott from The Office and how obsessed he is with being MANAGER for the sake of being in MANAGEMENT.

    1. Koko*

      It was so tragic, too, because he was such a great salesman. And so, so terrible of a manager.

  12. Carrie in Scotland*

    Also on the going back to school thing…now you’re going back to school – so part time study? – is it really the best time to be juggling a promotion plus studying?

    1. irritable vowel*

      For two graduate degrees at the same time, no less. OP, you seem to be stretching yourself pretty thin already. If you were offered a managerial position next week, would you even be able to handle it with your other commitments? You have the rest of your life to be a manager if that’s what really interests you in your profession. Better to look for ways you can distinguish yourself in your current position, definitely let your supervisor know you’re interested in advancing in the company, and don’t forget to take some time for yourself, too!

    1. LiveAndLetDie*

      That part didn’t alarm me all that much, but I did kind of assume it had to be two that are extremely related (like Accounting & Finance, or something).

      1. Dan*

        Alarm might be kind of strong, but it raised my eyebrows given the context of everything else written.

      2. Juli G.*

        I think my alarm is more around why is she choosing to do two? Is it a combined degree program or is this just another push to be promoted? Because extra degrees aren’t the easiest or best path to a promotion.

        1. LiveAndLetDie*

          Yeah, that I can understand. It’s possible the OP is in a program that makes dual degrees easy (as others have mentioned, for some programs it just means ‘take 5 more classes’). However, based on the overall tone of the letter I get the impression that OP thinks that overworking themselves is the only way to get ahead, and is trying to cram as much as possible into as short a time as possible to achieve the max goal. Rushing, rushing, rushing…

      3. SL #2*

        Or a dual-degree program. Several schools in my region offer a 3-year MBA/MPP program (that I’m looking into right now); it’s possible the OP is enrolled in one of those.

    2. all aboard the anon train*

      I have a good friend who received her MA in Journalism and is now going back for her MBS because someone told her that the only way to get a better job/promotion is to have a MBA. It’s BS advice imo because she’s in tv journalism, but her company is paying for most of it so at least she’s not going to wallow in loan debt.

      1. Dan*

        Keep in mind the OP is pursuing TWO degrees. It appears to be simultaneously, not sequentially.

        There are things that are interesting enough to me where I would consider getting a second masters. But two at the same time? Oh hell no.

        1. Liza*

          I’m going for two graduate degrees right now–but they have so much overlap, I’m only going to be taking five more classes than I would have to get a single degree. Sometimes it happens.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      Eh, there are a lot of dual degree programs out there. Also, some people just really like formal education. I’d be a professional student if I had the time and money to do so. Sadly, I have not yet won Powerball, so off to work I go.

  13. Chriama*

    As evidenced by today’s earlier letter, I think you have to treat a managerial position like any other job you want to get. What skills are they looking for? What sort of work experience to managers have? What do you see in job postings? It’s not like school where if you keep doing a good job you get to go to the next grade. Being a manager is a skill, and you need to demonstrate you have the right skills before you get the job.

    1. AnonMurphy*

      There is a bit of a catch-22 with most external postings wanting management experience in order to consider someone as a manager. Many of the folks I’ve talked to were first promoted to management internally; plus you have to be creative in finding ways to get the experience without the title.

      1. Chriama*

        Fair enough. But the bottom line is you need to get the experience. You don’t just become a manager by virtue of having worked long enough.

  14. Mando Diao*

    There’s no indication in the OP’s email that there are any managerial positions are even open. It looks to me like she may have fast-tracked herself into a bit of a corner here: she has decided to go back to school, for degrees that possibly make her over-qualified for her current role, which could make her employer think that she’s planning on moving on eventually.

    I would also be very cautious about how you present your roles within your church. While that leadership experience is better than nothing, I would be wary of someone who insisted that church doings had obvious and direct equivalencies to professional business practices, or that an involvement with a religious institution trumped anyone else’s job history. Personally, it wouldn’t take me very long to feel put off if this was something that kept coming up.

    1. On the Phone*

      I don’t think it’s the fact that’s it’s a religious institution that’s the problem, just the fact that it was not a rigorous work environment. I wouldn’t put much weight on the extracurricular leadership stuff, either.

      1. Chriama*

        Eh… you can get pretty involved at church. It’s like any other type of volunteering or extracurricular activity. There’s always the perception (true or not) that you’re held to less rigorous standards than as a paid position. But given that OP has no direct managerial experience I think the extracurricular/volunteer stuff could be parleyed into getting 1 report. Definitely not a whole team though.

  15. Joshua*

    Hi Alison & All–

    Follow up to this question. Any tips you might recommend for preparing yourself for a management role while working for a small company. It’s not likely that I’ll every be promoted internally. How can I position myself in my current non-managerial role so that in a few years when I go elsewhere I might be able to take on a management position? How can I use and grow those necessary skills when there aren’t opportunities in my very small team?


    1. Ignis Invictus*

      Joshua what industry are you in? Useful advice is going to be highly dependent on your industry. The best utilitarian advice I can give is to head out to lynda.com and amanet.org and take every course / webinar you can find on: leading when you are not in charge, project socialization, managing up, managing out, & gaining influence.

    2. One of the Sarahs*

      I’m sure you’re already doing this, but put your hand up for any short-term projects or roles that will give you experience – and specifically ask your manager about this, along the lines of “I’d really love to get some experience in X,Y,Z (make it specific, too) – is there anything I could do about that?”.

      I’d also really recommend looking for mentoring, and the opportunity to job-shadow someone in the kind of role you’re thinking of.

  16. AFT123*

    One thing that is a tough to swallow but to keep in mind – in school, you can basically guarantee an outcome; you know the expectations, you work to do well and exceed those expectations, you get the grade you wanted.

    In the professional world, it really, really doesn’t work like this, at least or especially not in specific time frames. Expectations are different to every person out there, there has to be open opportunities, there are ALWAYS factors outside of your control (they want to hire externally, they open a position because they already know someone they want for it, you don’t know who you’re competing with, etc), and I think for many people who are hiring into corporate management positions, 5 years is simply not going to be a long enough work/experience history to be considered for management. There are some companies or industries where this isn’t the case, of course.

    Also, for one management position, there is likely going to be a large funnel of people who are very qualified that apply. Even if you’re amazing and checking all the right boxes, the other 4 people interviewing may bring something unique to the table that trumps.

    Just don’t get discouraged – it isn’t likely to be a reflection of your worth or ethic! Keep working to better yourself and your organization, and remember that anything you do only adds to your value, regardless of what position you hold.

  17. AnotherHRPro*

    To advance, you need to demonstrate that you to a) demonstrate an aspiration to advance, b) demonstrate that you are able to perform at that next level and c) be the most qualified candidate.

    To demonstrate your aspiration, you need to talk to your manager about your career interests. What are your short and long term aspirations and why? Really think about this. Do you know what you want to do? Do you know what skills and abilities are required? Do you know what it will take? And be open to your manager’s feedback about what you need to work on. Even if you disagree.

    To demonstrate that you are able to perform and even excel at the next level really watch those at the next level. You need to show that you will perform as good as or even better than current incumbents. Talk to individuals at that level. What is their job like? What do they think are the important skills/abilities/knowledge? Then look for opportunities to demonstrate that you have those skills/abilities/knowledge in your current role.

    The hardest part is actually the last. Being the most qualified. This may very well be out of your control if you are already performing at your highest level. If there are a lot of qualified candidates you may need to leave your organization in order to advance.

  18. TinyTim*

    One of the most important things I’ve learned over the years is you are almost guaranteed to get nothing unless you ask for it. If you are exceptionally qualified, they may seek you out and groom you for management but I think that is rare. I just had a junior person in another department ask me how they can get on my team. The primary thing I told them is they need to let my manager know they are interested. All of their other efforts are wasted without that step. Bare minimum, OP should be bringing this up in the yearly review and asking what steps to take.

    As for what my manager looks for, it is somebody that is already sort of managing, even if only their own work. Who is actively taking things off their manager’s plate when possible? Who sees the big picture? Who naturally steps up during projects? A lot of people want management because they want more money and that is the only option to move up.

  19. corporate anon*

    This may be rough to hear and opinions may vary, but all of the examples you gave of leadership (managing two clubs, sitting on a steering committee, leadership in the church) aren’t really what I’d look for in a employee for managerial skills. To be honest, I wouldn’t really give them high consideration. Managing a club for school is very different than managing an employee where you’re responsible for their job and paycheck.

    Also, this is probably different for other industries, but networking or working later hours than your colleagues isn’t always a good thing. I’ve had people try to network with me only for a promotion and it’s not a great thing. Graduate degrees aren’t a trade-off for a promotion, either. A promotion – especially one in a managerial role – is everything Alison outlines in her response.

    Like the other comments have mentioned, why do you want this managerial role? Is there one even open in your workplace? Sometimes promotions only occur if someone else leaves and the spot needs to be filled. Consider if you just want a new role or if you really want to manage people. And, again, as other comments have said, 5 years isn’t that long of a time to be in the workforce. I can definitely understand wanting a promotion, but a lot of companies won’t promote someone to a manager with only 5 years because you’re still learning the ins and outs of the industry and the working world.

    1. Christian Troy*

      I agree with you. I am finding the question a bit confusing TBH, like you have to communicate to your manager about your interest and goals for career development. If there aren’t opportunities open at your current organization, then you might have to seriously start applying to other places and look for positions that would be a step up. You (OP) don’t have meet every qualification on a job ad in order to apply, but I’d be leery of putting so much value on the stuff you mentioned.

  20. Dan*

    Hi OP,

    So… you’re obviously in a hurry and impatient. But where are you really trying to go, and why do you want to get there? Why do you want to get there so quickly? I ask, because your letter doesn’t seem focused at all. It feels like you loaded your shotgun with bird shot and trying to hit anything that moves. Your actions don’t seem all that coordinated, particularly the two degrees thing.

    I have to be honest, I couldn’t put you in a management role right now, because I think (from your letter at least) that you lack soft skills necessary to succeed on the job and keep staff working productively. First things first, you really have to develop patience. You have to be able to focus. You have to be able to see things through. I don’t really see that here. First, the most important things that influence a promotion are things you do at work, not at church or school. And work takes YEARS to establish yourself. 5 is scratching the surface.

    You write about how much you’re doing. But how well are you doing it? You describe so many things (most outside the workplace) that I wonder if you have a track record of seeing things through to a successful completion.

    Second, how easily will you get impatient with your managers and future subordinates? You have to steer the boat, not rock it. The further you go up the food chain, the more sensitive you have to be to these things. As a junior staffer, you can walk in to your boss’s office and declare how the world sucks. You might be right. But you can’t get promoted at a functional place like that. Attitudes like that in a management position lead to disgruntled staff. Walking into your boss’s office, calmly describing a problem and reasonable solution? That’s demonstration of “not rocking the boat.” How will you handle it when your staff misses deadlines because the deadlines are unreasonable? That can be a problem.

    I may have read a lot into your letter, and you may very well not be doing the the things I describe. But the way your letter reads has “impatient” written all over it, and that’s something that can’t manifest itself at work if you do want to climb the ladder.

    1. LBK*

      I’m going to agree with your self-assessment that you’re reading a lot into this :) But I do think you’re right completely right about the examples being too heavily focused on what the OP does outside of work.

      In addition to your point about the absense of actual examples of work-related leadership, I think this is also problematic because it’s leading the OP to build a frame of reference for getting promoted at work based on situations that aren’t analogous. Getting “promoted” in a church, volunteer organization, extracurricular activity, etc. is totally different from getting promoted at work because half the time all it requires is being the only one interested. Even for elected positions, you can generally get them just by being well-liked rather than having specific qualifications for the role like a proven track record of effectiveness or experience in leadership. I think this can sometimes signal that someone has the natural qualities that could make a good manager, but in and of itself, I don’t think leading in these organizations can be considered equivalent experience to workplace management experience.

      You’ll have to do a lot more at your actual job before someone’s going to entrust you with a business that has metrics to hit and that will feel serious impacts based on the decisions you make.

      1. my two cents*

        I picked up an unpleasant tone in the letter, as well.

        At oldjob, there was a small team of dev engineers of various disciplines and skill levels. One guy, SirL, was a decent software engineer, mostly got along with the team, and could sometimes pick up firmware or hardware tasks from the other guys. He was CERTAIN he was going to be the new engineering manager – except no one wanted him to be their manager. Making SirL a manager would have been a poopshow simply because when he was in any position of power he picked up this awkward tone of condescension.

        There are plenty of people who are good enough workers that don’t cause issues, but the impatience and condescending tone (“so much better than my coworkers”) is just too much.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Wait, I don’t think that’s fair. She doesn’t say she thinks she’s so much better than her coworkers. She does note that she often works more hours, but that’s a pretty factual statement and it’s reasonable to be able to point it out if it’s true. (I agree with others that it doesn’t necessarily strengthen her for a management role, but it’s not snotty for her to note it.)

          1. my two cents*

            It’s the exclamation points coupled with the exasperated tone of”I simply cannot understand why” that rubs me the wrong way.

        2. LBK*

          Yeah, I’m with Alison – I read the tone more as genuine confusion (I feel like I’m doing the right things, why am I not getting rewarded?) than condescension or entitlement (I obviously deserve to be promoted).

          1. fposte*

            And I think she’s working really, really hard. But this is a “work smarter, not harder” situation; the OP just hasn’t figured out what “work smarter” means, and that’s what she’s asking.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            That was how I read it, too, though, to be honest, the confusion coupled with the fact that it’s unclear whether or not he/she has expressed an interest in a management role or spoken with a manager about what needs to happen to advnace did make me feel that the OP may be a little too immature yet for a management role.

            I’m sure timelines on promotion vary a lot by industry. I work in legal and was promoted to official management role about 10 years out of school (supervisory role a few years before) and a just-below-C-level role at about 15 years post-graduation. I am still one of the youngest people at my level by a good 5-10 years.

  21. Development Professional*

    It seems to me that 5 years out of college is a touch early to be so outraged that you’re not in a management role yet. Not unreasonable to have a management role at that point, but the truth is that it’s probably only VERY recently that you’ve been qualified and/or seen in that light by your own manager. I’m not generally one to play the “pay your dues” line, but it does take a certain amount of experience and perspective from time spent in the workforce to be a good manager. And as others have said, once you reach that point, a position then has to become available for you.

    Are there other management-type opportunities to build in to your current role? With projects, or by managing interns? This is how many people get their start in managing.

      1. my two cents*

        I think it’s the exclamation points coupled with the “I simply cannot understand why” line that brings the ‘outraged’ tone. Maybe ‘flabbergasted’ is more accurate?

    1. Anon Moose*

      Yes, and the idea that leadership in your extracurriculars in school and your current hobbies means… well, *anything* also strikes me as unrealistic/immature. Almost *no one* cares that you were head of your Rowing Club or editor of the student magazine after you graduate, particularly if it has nothing to do with your field of study. Same with volunteer experience or religious positions in your personal life. Nice to add some color to a resume maybe but it doesn’t equate to management experience in the workplace at all.

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        I think that’s what threw me off. I can totally understand a new graduate using extracurricular activities as examples, but someone who has been in the workforce for 5 years? No way. You should be using your examples from work. Even if OP is in grad school while working, they should still be using work examples.

        The only time I’ve used outside examples has been freelancing and even then I’ve only used it as an example when it was relevant to the job.

      2. One of the Sarahs*

        This sort of thing is so important. It’s like, secondary school achievements are great to use to get a first job, or to get into a university, but once that’s been done, they’re pretty meaningless outside of super-specific situations – and then university extra-curriculars are great for getting the first post-uni job, but again, fades into the background. Seeing job apps from someone in their mid-20s talking about what they did when they were hockey captain at 16 is just sad.

  22. You see that?! - They throwing cars! How can I not?!*

    I always tell people that promotions typically happen after you demonstrate the fact that you are working at the level you desire to be promoted to.

    Promotions are not opportunities to “show” your skills…you already need to be showing them. Once you move into the promotion, you then work on honing the skills necessary for the next level. It is a constant pivot up the ladder.

  23. Eugenie*

    My question is this: If you have never worked in management before, how do you know that it’s something you want to do? It’s not fun or glamorous most of the time, it’s hard work that requires very specific personality traits. It also means you don’t get to do as much of the “fun stuff” you initially got into your field to pursue. I’d think really carefully if this is something that’s appealing to you because you want to mentor and coach other employees to be better contributors, and thus strengthen your company, or if you want this because it’s “The Next Thing” you’re “supposed” to do and it comes with more prestige.

  24. L*

    I would be curious to know what graduate degrees LW is working on. Some graduate degrees are just learning additional information in class. Other programs are basically a job — they can entail really substantive responsibilities and lead to significant practical experience and achievements.

    tl;dr: there’s a lot more to grad school than taking tests and getting good grades.

  25. KayBoyd*

    I second all of the comments about being upfront with your manager about your goals and not to assume that they already know them. I have fantastic direct reports that want to move up and others that are very happy where they are and do not want to supervise. I have also had people very sure they wanted to move up or stay, who after a few years changed their minds. I make sure to specifically ask them about this at performance reviews (Where do you want to be with the company in X years.) but hope they will come to me anytime if they are unsure if we are on the same page. I had an experience as a young professional that shaped how I deal with this. I had been in my position for 6 years and was really, really ready to move to the next level and had worked really hard to show I had the skills for it. However, as a government job, they only had a specific number of positions and one had to open to be filled, they would not just promote you. I had a sit down with my department director and told her about my goal of moving up in the next few years. She was very straightforward with me and said that while I had the skills for the position so did a number of others in our organization who were looking for the same position, also she was not anticipating any openings in the next couple of years. I left frustrated, but I now really appreciate her honesty. At that point I started to apply outside my organization and had the position I wanted within 6 months. It turned out that there was not an opening at my old organization for almost 3 years and by that time the competition for it was fierce. Having a straightforward conversation about what I wanted and what she thought was actually possible was the best thing I could have done.

  26. John*

    Look into getting a mentor within your organization. It would be great to get someone invested in your future, and to offer guidance about how to navigate and succeed in your organization.

  27. Mindy*

    I would recommend that the OP think about why they want a management role. Companies prefer people who want to help other people grow and help the company succeed. The letter only mentions wanting to exercise “leadership” skills.

  28. Manager thoughts*

    Management and leadership are not synonymous. Management includes some leadership, but more than that it requires supporting others, making sure they have what they need to succeed, giving them opportunities to develop decision-making on their own, collaborating on projects, and generally keeping yourself in the background until you’re needed to provide direction or a sounding board. It also includes encouraging the team members’ development and being prepared to give feedback in a way that the employee is most likely to hear and grow from. New and aspiring managers should be reading management literature and practicing management skills in their non-management positions.

    When we look for a manager, we are looking for someone who is a good listener, who is calm in a crisis, who looks for the best in others and avoids unnecessary comparisons, who truly appreciates the diverse skills of the team, who uses “we” language instead of “I” language, who takes responsibility, who focuses on solutions, who always seeks to improve. As a leader for the team, the manager should also have big picture skills – the ability to create and communicate a vision for the team’s work, and the willingness and skill to continually analyze and evaluate with the goal of improvement.

    There are folks where I work who are pining for a management role, and like you, they will list off extraneous group projects and accolades as evidence of their readiness. Yet they will bring me problems that they want me to fix, and they will base complaints on comparisons with other employees (why can’t I have this benefit like Sarah does? as if the complainer and Sarah are interchangeable). They question their manager’s decisions and push back when they disagree with her approach. Their idea of leading is delegating.

    I am not suggesting that OP is doing any of these things, but management is more about character than accomplishment. I would suggest being the best supporter of others you can be, facilitating the work of the team you are on in order to practice management skills and show you are ready for more responsibility.

    BTW, management work is hard. And messy. Sometimes people are convinced it is what they want, but after a short time, they hand the role back.

    1. Koko*

      That’s interesting that you mention the “we” vs “I” thing. When I was new to the workforce, I was advised by more than one mentor to train myself out of saying “we” did something that in actuality I did, because it undercuts your accomplishments. It was also usually mentioned in the context of men more frequently using “I” statements and this being one of many reasons why men tended to advance faster and higher than women – because they were perceived as having accomplished more when doing the same things, because women verbally downplayed their contributions by diffusing the credit to a team.

      They didn’t mean to take credit for someone else’s specific contributions, of course – the idea was that if you were actually in a project-lead or team-lead role you should say, “I decided to do Z and accomplished X,” rather than, “We decided to do Z and accomplished X.”

      1. Manager thoughts*

        Of course there are times for “I ” statements, but overuse of the word suggests a self-focus that has not translated to good management skills in my experience. Think of the best manager you ever had. What kind of language did they use? How did you feel when they promoted themselves instead of the team?

        1. Koko*

          Yes, I’ve always liked better the managers who were part of the team rather than running it from above. I just always thought that it was harder for those kind of managers to get ahead. I’m glad to hear that some companies do value that kind of style.

      2. copperbird*

        I’ve had the same advice. Basically using ‘we’ statements does make you look like more of a team player which may impress your current manager (and will also make them look good assuming your team did something good), whereas using ‘I’ statements makes you stand out more from the team and may impress other managers.

        I’ve also worked in environments where the better you were at your job, the less likely your current manager was to want to encourage you to progress, because the organisation was run as lots of separate services so there wasn’t an overall sense of belonging to the same team other than the actual team you worked in. You actually had to apply for a new job to move teams.

        OP also hasn’t specified the industry. But in general it sounds like she(?) isn’t getting much feedback on how well she is doing or support in defining career objectives, so she’s looking at management as the next step up whereas there may be lots of other ‘steps up’ some of which could suit her better. Short form: beware heading into management just because ‘promotions mean they like me!’

  29. Mirilla*

    I’m running into a problem with getting a management position also. Years ago in retail I managed up to 5 people at a time. Then later in my office career I would occasionally manage one. Now I’m not managing any people, just accounts. I’ve been looking to get into a role where I manage a team and not having any luck because I don’t have “current” supervisory experience. I tend to naturally be a leader, look for ways for productivity to continue or increase when possible, like to make sure workers feel secure and not overworked, and streamline efficiency. I also know how important it is to fix problems rather than let them continue, and I can certainly be assertive in a non-jerk way (I do that now in my current role). Basically I know that I am management material because I’ve done it before and I’ve had enough bad managers to know what NOT to do. There is no room for growth where I am now, plus it’s a very toxic environment, but I feel like I can only find a job doing exactly what I’m doing now, with no growth potential. I feel stuck.

    1. TootsNYC*

      one aspect of managing you haven’t mentioned is:
      -identify business needs and move assertively to be sure they’re met.

      It’s important to think of the bigger picture, from a “loyalty to the company, not the worker” point of view. You can absolutely treat your employees fairly and even generously, and still be loyal to the company. But it’s not ONLY about the workers or the process.

      Just putting that out here by your comment, bcs you’ve got a great list going in your post, so I wanted this aspect to be nearby for someone else reading.

      I hope you can tweak your resume and cover letter, and your interview stories, to emphasize all the managing that you’ve done in the past. Good luck!

  30. De Minimis*

    Professional service firms sometimes will promote that quickly, but I don’t think that’s the OP’s line of work, since they also don’t usually keep people in the same role for more than a few years [the whole “up or out” thing…]

    One of my first managers told me, “My job is to help you do your job…” It always stuck with me.

  31. Katie the Fed*

    OP – I remember feeling a similar way in my mid-20s. I was so used to moving up to increasingly challenging things – I wanted my promotions NOW.

    I feel like a big part of being a good manager is wanting it for the right reasons, and I’m not sure you’re there. I think if you’re going to be a good manager, it should be because you care about the future direction of the organization, or about building the next generation of talent, or having a say in the strategic direction – something like that. In other words – your motivation should be about something other than you and your needs. That can be part of it, but it can’t just be about you.

    And what I’m hearing from you is that you want it for you – you want to be recognized for your work and you want to be in management because it’s a promotion. Those aren’t great reasons to sustain you – because if everything is about you, your team is going to suffer.

    I know now that I wasn’t ready in my mid-20s. I still wanted to be the rock-star go getting who leadership went to when they wanted something done right and they wanted it then. I had to be ready to give that superstar role up in order to manage effectively. It’s not about me anymore – it’s about my team.

    1. Jadelyn*

      “I still wanted to be the rock-star go getting who leadership went to when they wanted something done right and they wanted it then. I had to be ready to give that superstar role up in order to manage effectively. It’s not about me anymore – it’s about my team.”

      That…really jarred something loose for me to consider, actually. I’m very much that superstar whiz-kid go-to person right now, and I love it. I think I’m looking at developing toward managing processes, rather than people, but I do have some of that same sense of “Well that’s supposed to be the next step, right?” that the OP seems to have – so your comment definitely put some of the incompatibility between being a stellar individual contributor and being a great manager into perspective. Thank you for that.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        You’re welcome!

        I know it sounds trite, but enjoy it while you can. I think the more you move up the further away you get from doing the hands-on kind of work you once loved! I’m still doing work I love, but it’s very different.

        1. TootsNYC*

          true dat!

          I love being a manager; for me it was about having the authority to affect the priorities, and control what happens in the department. But I do miss the hands-on.

          I make sure I get -some- hands-on, because I’ve discovered that the folks who work for me aren’t always good at seeing where processes are snagging, or they accept inefficiencies or difficulties that I will work to eliminate. They don’t see possibilities, and they see problems as something to be endured, not something to eradicate.
          It wasn’t until I stood next to a subordinate’s computer and saw how slowly his screen was scrolling that there was any movement to getting him something w/ reasonable speed. He didn’t think he had a choice, and I didn’t know his computer was so slow.

          I will say–I love middle management. I don’t ever want to be upper management–too far away from what we do.

  32. Alis*

    You know what OP, it could very well just be that you’re putting a lot into so many different things, and not quite enough in the “right place” to grow towards this goal. Unless you’re sleeping two hours a night, I can’t imagine putting in above-FT hours, church leadership, other roles, plus two graduate degrees on top. Refocus and prioritize. Management is not just leadership, and many critical management skills are acquired through long-term experience in the field.

    Have you thought to just ask? What qualities do you think I need to improve if management is a future track?

  33. t*

    I will add, if your goal in all this is to be a C level executive, look for large companies that have a leadership development program. These are programs explicitly designed to rotate future leaders through different areas of the business. An MBA is often preferred for these programs, but the right experience showing initiative and leadership can also get you in.

  34. Eric79*

    I have had the experience twice, where I didn’t get promoted into a management job and the reason was that I was “too good” at my currrent job. One H/R person told me, it’s easier to find a manager than replace me.

    I thanked that person for her honesty and turned in my resignation. I also left the other job as well. At least the former job I left on good terms and remained friendly with the H/R director, (I remained in the same line of work).

    But as strange as it sound, yes often it’s easier to get a manager than a competent co-worker.

    And having management experience, I can attest to that fact, that a staff member that performs very well is worth it for me for the headache alone they save. Though I would never go as far as to halt someone’s advancement others would.

    Of course I have the advantage of knowing, that in the end, halting advancement doesn’t work as they person will only quick. In my case, they were out a good employee, a good potential manager, AND I took all that to their competitor across the street.

  35. Government mule*

    Sometimes there are agendas beyond your control. I was asked by upper management to apply for a promotion. After 2 months I was informed that no selections were being made and being reposted.

  36. Klaudia*

    Sometimes, you are *too good* in your current role. If you were put in a management role, who would do whatever it is you are currently doing, how hard is it to find you a replacement… very bad reason, but it does happen. Been there. I was even blocked from internal applications (without my knowledge…) because if I left my current role, it would’ve been supposedly devastating. I had to move on elsewhere.

  37. Lina*

    Unfortunately, in my experience, most of the time it comes down not to be able to have a certain experience or have a specific job required skill. But to having an ability to play political games at work. I have seen a lot of managers who are not only not displaying any technical skills but also have poor people skills. It is all about who they know and not what they know. There a lot of them out there. I was in management once, by sheer luck, since I don’t have influential backing and I remember a distinct feeling of being a part of “the group”. I listened to the directs, promoted talented employees, gave chance to those who didn’t have a lot of experience, had regular one on one meetings regarding performance and expectations, mentored employees and did a lot of other things that most managers I have come across don’t do. Most are cunning and very political and play a lot of management games. I was a straight shooter. Lots of people view getting into management as a job where they have privileges and tell the others what to do. Most gave poor people skills but rank very high on cozying up to the upper management skills. I am in IT and the number of talking heads with the lack of critical skills is enormous. It is merely a feeder for those with right connections. These people move around one company to the next greatly contributing to a dysfunctional and stressful environment in a workplace. They are usually fantastic at a lip service as well. Some simply steal their directs accomplishments and present as their own. And a lot of conversations about the empowerment are nothing but a lip service. I had very few dedicated and skillful managers. Most workplaces are absolutely dysfunctional and toxic.

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