Getting to the first rung

Dear Bob,

I am a quite extensively experienced IT professional.

I have been managing UNIX systems, from the times when people used to ask "what is unix?". Due to, first geographical disadvantages, I was only able to do contract jobs. Once I assumed I established a career path, by accepting a permanent employment, the downturn in the economy, deprived me from that position. Then I found myself again in the ranks of contract employees.

As you can figure out from my past endavours, I have been involved in many projects with many employers of mine and have a higher understanding of IT's business value. I can see the grand scheme of things when a project starts while the others are still trying to grasp the basics.

I am confident that my skills and past experiences qualify me for a supervisory (read as: management) role much more compared to what-so-called managers I worked for, but when it comes to climbing up the management ladder, I am still standing on the pavement, miles away from the proverbial ladder.

When I see some organizations loking for management candidates, they are speaking of "management experience" than the subject matter experience.

Without a management position, one can not get any management experience. So I found myself in a chicken-egg dilemma.

How do you think that I should tackle this obstacle? I am not after the "Manager" title on my business card but I am out for making things better by the experience and the know-how I bring in my tow.


- Catch-22 live from trenches of IT

Dear Catch ...

This isn't an unusual situation. In fact, it isn't limited to getting into management -- it's just plain hard to get hired for any position if it's the first time you'll have done the job. It's as true for a DBA or Java programming job as for an IT management role.

How to overcome it? Well, I supposed you could just lie on your resume, but I don't recommend it. Among the many disadvantages are these: (1) you might get caught; and (2) you might find you aren't as qualified for a management role as you think you are.

You're right to think that subject matter expertise is important for managers. It's just the starting point, though. Being a successful manager requires some core skills like budgeting and cost-center management. It also requires the ability to formulate and set goals for other people and to make sure they accomplish those goals without falling into the trap of accomplishing the goals for them.

Just for starters.

Which is to say, there's a reason companies want to hire experienced managers: A lot of first-time managers fail at the role and decide they'll be better as individual contributors after all.

So far, I haven't solved your problem. Actually, I can't solve your problem. Only you can. Here's one idea that might help: In general, your chances of being promoted into a role you've never done before are better than your chances of being hired into one. Which is to say, a manager is more likely to take the risk with someone who's showed a lot of potential than with a total stranger.

The best way to persuade a manager to take this chance is to show leadership among your peers. It isn't much of a risk to take someone who's already succeeding as a leader and put them in a leadership role. The best first position for someone who wants to break into management is project management.

So do your best to put yourself into a situation in which you're the logical candidate to lead a small project. Once you have that bit of supervisory experience you can start to leverage it to get more supervisory experience, and you're on your way.

One other thought, which I hope doesn't offend you: From your letter, you'd benefit from polishing your communication skills. Assuming your resume and cover letters read as the note you sent me, your sentence construction, grammatical errors and spelling miscues make you look un-managerial, regardless of your actual capabilities.

Remember: Most people hire themselves. Your goal isn't to argue with that tendency. Your goal, during the hiring process, is to do your best to appear to be as much like the hiring manager as possible ... not facially, of course, but culturally and linguistically, which is where the rubber meets the road.

- Bob

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