The transition from employee to manager can be a major milestone on a long career timeline. And while some workers make this transition through in-house promotions, receiving plenty of personal coaching and mentoring along the way, others need to find their own way over the bridge. Every day, all over the working world, ambitious employees are leaving companies that can’t give them the advancement they need and setting out in search of a new job at the next level. If and when you find yourself in this category, keep these key moves in mind and you’ll be better poised to impress employers who have never met you and will need evidence that you’re ready for a management position.
1. Leverage your leadership experience
You may never have managed a single “direct report” in your life, but that doesn’t mean you lack leadership qualities. Before you begin drafting your resume and cover letter, review your work history carefully. Make a list of all the times you were called upon to rally a team, win over an audience, or act as the point person on a complex project. Give each of these accomplishments a prominent place in your application.
2. Get ready to talk about “horizontal” or unofficial management
Unofficial leadership is a kind of gateway role in the move from employee to boss. You know you’ve faced this challenge if you’ve ever had to coerce, convince, motivate, or direct others while holding no official authority over these people whatsoever. If you’ve found yourself pushing someone toward a deadline, convincing someone to correct an error, or teaching someone a new skill from a peer or subordinate position, be ready to explain this in your cover letter and during your interviews.
3. Know the difference between a great employee and a great manager
The skills and qualities that make a strong employee don’t always contribute to success in a management role. In fact, these qualities can even hold new managers back, and this often comes as bit of a shock to those who have recently crossed the threshold. Get ready to actively leave certain qualities behind, including unquestioning obedience, unbroken positivity, “service with a smile”, reluctance to criticize, and reluctance to say no. Great employees have a cheerful can-do attitude, they never give up, and they do what they’re told. Great managers make difficult decisions, they frown sometimes, and they say no when they have to. Most importantly, they don’t wait to be given clear instructions and told exactly what to do. If they did this, they would be waiting for a very long time.
4. Clarify your long term goals
If you really want this leadership role, you may be asked to explain why. Where exactly are you headed over the long term? Where would you like this position to take you, and where do you plan to be two, three, and five years down the road?
5. Don’t apologize
As you apply for your first management position, the most frequent questions, doubts, and concerns you’ll have to overcome will relate to your lack of experience. Managers will scan your resume and raise an eyebrow over the fact that you’ve never held authority at this level before. This is almost guaranteed in fact, and a manager who doesn’t express skepticism on this point may not be acting in the best interests of her company. But don’t apologize for this deficit. Every leader has to start somewhere, and when you’re ready, you’re ready. You’re the only one who can make this call, and once the call is made, it will be your job to keep the conversation focused on your future, not your past.