As the Managing Partner, Recruitment Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison Knightsbridge, Samantha Wood has an insider’s perspective on how to move up in your career. She’s sharing her expert knowledge, not only on how to know when you’re ready for a step up, but also what you need to do to prove it.
By Samantha Wood
In the recruitment field, there’s a term for a certain type of job candidate: the purple squirrel. It’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek, of course, acknowledging that the employer’s initial list of requested skills and qualities (paired with the compensation they are willing to offer) can only be found in a mythical candidate.
Fortunately, companies aren’t really looking for purple squirrels — in this age of disruption, their needs are quite different. As recruiters, we’re accustomed to finding tailored position/candidate matches, but potential applicants can find those catch-all job postings daunting. The truth is, future success in a role doesn’t require you to check all the “candidate must have” boxes starting out.
This is a lesson I find particularly important for women. Statistics suggest that women only apply for jobs if they believe they meet 100% of the listed qualifications, while men are comfortable with roughly 60%. It’s a problematic gap: if you want to move up in your career, you’ll inevitably have to tackle jobs where you don’t meet all the criteria. These “stretch roles” are meant to be challenging, requiring you to develop new skills and improve your capabilities quickly, so it’s important to overcome those “purple squirrel” reservations if you want to advance.
Doing this successfully is a two-step process: first, figure out if you are actually ready for a stretch role; second, position yourself as ready to those making the hiring or promotion decision.
This begins with some honest self exploration. You need to have an awareness of your skills, but it’s important to think beyond the bullet points on your resume. To better understand your true capabilities, try reframing your perspective, asking yourself “can I do that?” instead of “have I done that?”
In doing so, you’re certain to discover skills and experience you may not have considered but that are transferable to a new position, or that set you up for quick learning in a new area. If you find this exercise challenging (or maybe even a little too easy), approach a mentor or some other person you trust who can help you assess your true skills and where they might fit.
Convincing yourself you’re ready to take on a stretch role is only half the battle — now you need to prove it to others. Start by showing a strategic mindset, demonstrating that you know how the role fits into the big picture. Rather than thinking and speaking in terms of how the role relates to the levels below it, focus on the impact it can have on the broader organization — and on how you are the candidate who can fulfill that potential.
This means demonstrating how your different skills and experiences translate to those required by the new role. For a position of authority, for example, you’ll need to show that you can handle and excel at leadership. Being able to manage people older than yourself is always a big plus, so if that’s in your work history, be sure to highlight it.
Keep in mind that proving your capability is often easier to do with an internal promotion. It can be challenging to be the step-up candidate or to change functions if you are also switching organizations. Staying within your current company means you not only have a known and proven track record, but you can also approach a manager for mentorship or direction.
Regardless of whether you’re interested in an internal or external role, or whether you’re in the “assessing ability” or “proving capability” phase of the process, take every opportunity to have open conversations where you express your goals. Making your ambitions known could be your proverbial foot in the door.
This brings me to my last piece of advice: be courageous. You don’t need to be a purple squirrel, but you do need to have the determination and ambition to push past any fears, take honest stock of your own potential, and go for that role that tests your limits and broadens your future.
Lee Hecht Harrison Knightsbridge helps companies simplify the complexity associated with transforming their leadership and workforce so they can accelerate results, with less risk. As leaders in Talent and Leadership Development, Career Solutions and Executive, Interim and Mid-Level Search, we assist organizations in finding new talent, and helping their employees navigate change, become better leaders, develop better careers and transition into new jobs. We have the local expertise, global infrastructure, and industry leading technology and analytics required to simplify the complexity associated with executing critical talent and workforce initiatives, reducing brand and operational risk.
To learn more visit us at www.lhhknightsbridge.com