How did you get into your first management role? Were you hired as a manager, or were you promoted into that role?

I have no experience managing direct reports, and I wonder if this isn't a fatal flaw if I were to look for a role as a manager somewhere.

I am a one-man team in my current job, and if anyone is ever hired to help with my job, they would probably report to my boss rather than to me. I work with cross-functional teams and outside contractors, but I can't fill the magic "has had the ability to fire someone" checkbox.

I wonder if I'm caught in the "can't get the job without experience, can't get experience without the job" situation, and I'm hoping to find examples of people whose first-time management experience was as a new hire. Does it really happen?

jib88's picture

This is a tough move, but obviously people can make this transition.

In my personal experience, the easiest way to get there is internally, either through a direct promotion up the line, or through a move to another line. For example, If I am hiring and looking at an external candidate, I am already taking a big risk that I make a bad hire. If the person I am looking at has not done the job before (i.e. no management experience), then that big risk becomes HUGE, and I would be very hesitant to consider someone. I've known people who have successfully made a move like this before, but it's much harder than doing this internally.

The best thing you can do is focus on building relationships and delivering great results. You need great relationships with people who are likely to be hiring directors in your company at some point, and often the way to get there is to get involved with initiatives that are important to them and then deliver like a star. Make them wish they had someone like you on their team. Another way to build these relationships - seek these people out for advice, either with projects you are working on or for career advice (ask them for mentoring help, for instance). The better they know you the more likely they are to take a chance with you.

Moving laterally is not a bad choice either, even if it doesn't get you line management experience. You should look for positions where you have the most opportunity to interact with a wide array of internal groups on cross-functional initiatives. This will give you the best opportunity to make connections with people who may some day give you that chance.


jib88's picture

 Sorry, left off that I got my first line management position by getting promoted to lead a team in a different department.


P.S. - Project management roles can sometimes be a good stepping stone. Not because of the role itself, but because it can give you good relationships, and gives you the opportunity to prove that you can get others to follow your lead

altadel's picture
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I was promoted from sysadmin to IT Administrator within the IT group of an academic unit. Likely tipping point in my hiring: I had networked, and could represent my unit across the University at the IT level.

Scott Delinger

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ChrisH__'s picture

While this does depends what level of the organisation you are looking at managing, I've found that most managers in companies spend far less time thinking about 'management' than the average MT listener. There is generally an assumption that an employee who is likable, trustworthy, hardworking etc (can manage their work) will also make a good manager of people.

The challenge in moving up, isn't so much that people doubt your staff management skills, but a doubt that you can manage the work responsibilities at that level (maybe strategy, reporting etc). That's why the other answers here have mentioned networking and relationships. If senior managers know you, and like you, they will usually assume that you can manage people just fine.

In your position where you are an individual contributor, look for ways to increase your portfolio of responsibilities, and do a great job of handling the additional work. Then, draft a business plan for growing your department that would require that the company hires support staff to report to you. I.e. "Hey boss, I'm getting A B C done on my own, but if I had two more people working on this, we could also achieve D E F. The additional revenue would cover the cost of the additional staff". I've seen this work really well for both hiring new staff and asking for salary increases.

flexiblefine's picture

I am the one-man web team in a company that operates about 100 retail stores, so there's not always a lot of overlap between what I do and what other people do. I have a "director" title and I report to a VP, so I'm not way down at the bottom of the organizational chart (even though not having directs makes it feel that way sometimes).

I do a lot of working in cross-functional teams, putting things on the web site or webifying processes. I've got good relationships with multiple VPs, and I have a reputation for being easy to work with and quick to understand things. An internal project I developed last year has been referred to as "the biggest thing we've done in 15 years" by our Sr. VP of Operations.

We've been hit hard by the recession, and I know there are more important hires to make before building a group under me (we laid off all the programmers in our IT department, for example). I feel like I've been here for years, dealing with an ever-increasing stack of responsibilities, and the future only offers more of the same.

The company actually hired outside contractors to work on an important web project this year, and I have spent time managing that effort. (I did wonder if my job was being outsourced, but it doesn't look like it.)

As for a potential target role, I've been looking toward something like my actual title suggests -- managing web development, doing more of the "what to do, why to do it, how well is it working" and less of the hands-on implementation.

Houston, Texas, USA
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