I am a firm believer that one of the keys to developing your career is learning from others’ experiences. Today I’d like to share Diane’s story about running after a job title and what she learned through the process.
Diane always thought that the way to get ahead in her career was to stay with one company and work her way up. So during the five years she spent with a small graphic design firm, she continually documented her achievements and made sure management knew of her individual contributions to large, important accounts. She volunteered for tasks that nobody else wanted to do, she followed all the spoken and unspoken rules of the office, and she made it a priority to do whatever she could to keep company morale high.
Diane asked about being promoted on several occasions but was always told that, since it was a small company, the only way she could move up was if her boss, a department director, left. Eventually, Diane figured that the only way to grow in the company was to stake her own claim. She went to the president and asked that she be granted co-director status on a level with her boss.
The president agreed and said he would pass on the news to Diane’s boss. Diane began to work independently, but before long, she started to wonder if the president had ever informed her (now former) boss of his decision. She knew for sure that he hadn’t when she was called into
his office and told to either follow the department director’s orders or consider leaving.
The president never admitted that he’d agreed to promote Diane, who was shocked to be reprimanded by the very same person who’d granted her a promotion just a few weeks prior. Stunned, Diane agreed to “get in line,” and immediately began looking for another job. Diane finally realized that she was never going to get where she wanted to go by sticking with this company. Her experience and expertise weren’t being recognized, and she wasn’t being given what she deserved, even when she’d insisted upon it.
When she began looking for work at other companies, she assumed she’d have to make a lateral move into another designer position, rather than a director position. But she wound up landing a director position that also provided a substantial pay increase. Her new employer told her he recognized that at her previous job, she’d been doing director-level work all along.
Beware the small size of small business. Diane refused to acknowledge the signs that there really wasn’t room for her to grow upwards, with this particular employer. That’s sometimes a hazard of working at a small ma-and-pa place of
business, where growth often occurs slowly and the status quo is often highly valued. Unless the company happens to be going through an expansion phase, your career may also follow that status quo pattern.
Diane was determined to earn a better title for herself no matter what the cost, and what it wound up costing her was that very title she so badly wanted. She should have focused instead on finding unique ways to increase her areas of expertise, such as asking for special assignments or volunteering to explore new areas of growth for the company. By building her skills set and experience, she could market herself in a more valuable way in the future, whether to this same company or to a prospective new employer.
Don’t copy titles. By asking to share her department director’s title, Diane inadvertently made herself expendable, because how would it hurt the company to lose an extra director when they’d already survived just fine with only one?
Be willing to take a promotion without a pay raise, at least at first. At times, the career-forwarding wherewithal that comes with gaining skills and experience may ultimately benefit your career more than a pay increase, especially if you enjoy learning new things and finding ways to make yourself more marketable. If your employers tell you that they want to promote you but can’t afford to pay you a raise right away, try to negotiate for one down the road. You might agree, for example, that you’ll receive a percentage of the profits that come from the new growth you bring to the company.
I hope you will learn from Diane’s story. If you find yourself in a similar situation as Diane early in the story, reach out and we can plan a course of action for you.