Do you dream of landing the top job one day? Start working toward that now.
Mid-level managers can take several steps over the next five or ten years to increase their chances of heading a business unit or becoming a chief executive officer. These steps involve achieving certain goals and imbibing some qualities that recruiters look for in top-level managers. Here are seven guidelines to get you started:
1. Get varied experience
Don’t get stuck in your job, role, or even field of work–try at least two or three job functions over a period of time. Human resource chiefs and recruiters typically look for people with varied experience when hiring for the top job. Even having worked in different cities or countries counts, because it shows how adaptable you are.
“Rolling stones today gather more moss,” says Satish Kalra, a professor of human resources at International Management Institute in New Delhi. “If you have tried your hand at few things…you get first-hand experience of those things,” he adds.
Ideally you should try to get some experience in sales or another client-facing job, to learn about what clients think of your company’s product or service.
Unfortunately, recruiters say, individuals often don’t want to change roles or locations, and try to maintain the status quo. It’s harder to switch roles if you come from certain fields like information technology or human resources, but that only means you have to try harder. Further education or lateral movement within the company can help.
This may sound contrary to the point above, but experts say that ideally you should be a specialist in at least one role. That goes a long way in earning respect from your peers and juniors.
“Diverse exposure is very important, and at the same time, expertise in one area is critical,” says Aparna Sharma, president of Noam Management Consulting, based in Gurgaon.
So, if you are a finance professional, stay in that field until you become a specialist or authority on it. Then you can consider doing some shorter stints in one or two other job functions to get a general understanding of how they work.
3. Get more education
Getting a mid-career education can help leapfrog your career.
What you study depends on your goals.
One obvious option would be to sign up for an executive or full-time management program, where you can learn about strategy, business development and so on. Or, you could do a specialized course on leadership-development, or people-management, skills essential for a top-level manager.
You could also potentially learn about a totally different job function than what you are in currently. “Education can also act as a bridge between moving your career from one industry to another,” says Nirmit Parekh, managing director of 3P Consultants Pvt. Ltd., an international executive search firm based in Mumbai.
He suggests getting such an education from a well-regarded institute after at least five to seven years of work experience.
4. Take risks
One easy way to get noticed by the bigwigs is to sign up for tough projects. Maybe the organization is looking for someone to start a new initiative in a remote town, or you have an out-of-the-box idea that could help increase the productivity of your team.
Go for it. Take calculated risks. Of course, that means life might be uncomfortable or very tough for a while, but the payoff can be huge. When hiring for the top jobs, HR chiefs and recruiters often look for people who have a willingness to learn and do things differently.
5. Join a start-up
If your current organization doesn’t give you the chance to be bold or try new things, your best bet might be to join a start-up. This is an extreme case of risk-taking, because it could mean lower pay (if at all) and the chance of failure is large. But it’s a great way to learn a lot about running a business, managing people and several other things in a short period of time.
Young companies are always short-staffed, so “you need to multi-task (and) you need to manage crisis on a daily basis,” says Mr. Parekh. “Two years working in a start-up could be equivalent to five years in a large organization,” he adds.
A less risky option would be to spend time with small businessmen, says Ms. Sharma, the consultant, because they understand everything from cash-flow management to marketing.
6. Keep up with the world
To reach the top, you need to know a lot about what’s happening in your industry, and even related industries.
“Today, many of the functions have become knowledge-driven,” says Prof. Kalra of the International Management Institute. He notes that manufacturing today relies heavily on technology, which is changing fast. A manager who doesn’t keep up with this pace would have little chance of reaching the top spot.
You also need to be clued in to what’s happening broadly in the world, ranging from the global economy to currency moves, particularly if your company has a foreign presence.
Everywhere in the world, networking is key to career success. This is especially true for high-profile jobs, which are often not advertised openly. If you know the right people, and enough of them, it will be easier for you to learn of vacancies when they come about.
Share your tips for getting to the top in the Comments section.