QIs there any way to fast-track
gaining experience? I'm 28, but because I did a PhD (I was going to
be an academic), I only got my first graduate job two years ago.
Some of the people I did my under-grad studies with are in
management now, and I don't seem to be making any headway to catch
up. I'm working as a business analyst in the electricity industry
on a three-year graduate program, and have no shortage of raw
technical skills - I've had some popular science articles
published, my degrees are in maths and physics, and I have been
tutoring for years.
Galia offers the following advice:
Now that's a hard one! Thank you very much for this question. It
took me quite a while to think it through, and of course, I'd love
everyone's feedback and perspective because judging by how very
well qualified our users are, there must be others amongst you who
have had experiences like these.
As you're clearly finding, your undergraduate peers have had a
lot of time to prove themselves and deliver visible results while
you were in Academia. Do remember that although publication is the
hallmark of success in Academia, corporates look for results in
their "own language". This means you'll need to:
- figure out how to find opportunities to broaden your
- deliver on those opportunities so you can start to build a
portfolio of achievements that are relevant to your new
- find a way that's appropriate to your firm's culture to make
sure people know about you and what you've accomplished
Women Aren't as Good at Putting Themselves Forward
Sarah and I have been doing considerable analysis on the ongoing
lack of senior women at the top of corporate New Zealand. One of
the common explanations is that women are less up-front about their
ambitions. In observing young graduates on the graduate programme
in the large company I used to work for, I have to say the men were
- generally speaking - better at putting themselves forward.
Women tend to assume (or hope) that their excellent work and
contributions will be recognised and they'll advance naturally as a
result. Reflect on your own tendencies. Are you your own best
saleswoman? Do you expect your good work to advertise itself? Even
if you don't see things this way, the reality is that even
well-advertised, excellent outputs are only part of the picture and
you'll need to do more if you're keen to fast-track into
Does Your Manager Know of Your Frustration?
Have you actually expressed your desire to fast-track into
management with your manager? I've observed over the years that
many corporate managers have a tendency to assume PhDs love doing
deeply analytical or technical work and have little interest in
taking on management roles. Because this IS true for quite a few
PhDs, managers tend to equate all PhD hires with these
characteristics. So you do need to make sure you're not placed in
this particular bucket!
An important step, in my view, is to share your ambition to take
on a management role with your manager/supervisor and ask her how
you can move into that from your current context. She might
actually have some very good ideas for you to implement. You can
ask that the steps suggested be incorporated into your regular
Get Noticed through Participating in the Right Kind of
Discuss with your manager what opportunities exist that would be
more in line with your management aspirations. Could you volunteer
to lead a project that involves managing people in some way and not
just analysing data?
Simply by signalling you're keen to take on challenges that
involve a component of working with people and getting results
through them, you'll begin to draw attention to your ambition to
fast-track your career. But of course, you must make sure you can
and will deliver on them!
Also, you don't need to rely solely on your manager to find
these opportunities. One worthwhile way to figure out how to
approach things, and who to go to, is to find yourself an internal
mentor (see below). Another way is simply through yourself, and the
effort you put into getting know people so that they have a chance
to notice you.
Find an Internal Mentor
You don't need to rely wholly on your manager to find these
broadening opportunities. Even though organisations have got a lot
of common characteristics, they are also unique in many crucial
ways. The best way for you to understand that 'uniqueness' is by
having someone in your firm that you trust to 'translate' the
political landscape for you. A very powerful way for you to do that
is through a good internal mentor.
My definition of an internal mentor is someone with whom you
have an informal relationship, and who's not your direct boss. He
or she needs to be knowledgeable about "how things work round
here". This person does not necessarily have to be more senior or
even older, and does not have to be a woman. A good mentor can help
guide you through the 'unspoken rules' of your company and help you
work out things for yourself, which you might not otherwise be able
to do. If you want to read more about mentors is and how they
differ to coaches, read one of our earlier Expert replies on the
topic, called "A Coach or a Mentor?"
If you don't have a mentor yet, make it a priority to find one.
This is not something you do formally; it is more about
'getting-to-know-people' and seeing who you really click with. In
order to achieve this, you'll need to really network
That networking word again! But I'm afraid it is really
important if you want to advance. I've heard and read commentators
who say that women aren't as good at internal networking and
getting themselves known with the 'powers that be'. Networking
internally will serve two crucial purposes:
- Finding good allies you can trust who might be good
- Getting yourself known among the senior management of the
In most organisations senior managers hold formal or informal
talent discussions (or both). They talk about who's up and coming,
who's worth watching, who's a star etc. The more they know you and
see you, the more able they are to judge whether or not you're
Of course, you may be a natural networker! But if you don't feel
confident about it, try the links below. Some of them are more
angled towards generating business, but they all have good
take-away principles to get you started:
Consider a Lateral Move
Finally, consider a lateral move. The benefit of this is that it
will take you out of your current role which might be seen as
'purely technical'. It can also send a clear signal to management
about your serious intent to pursue a management role. A lateral
role would not mean a rise up the hierarchy but might enable you to
gain experience which is more relevant to management.
Many former specialists attribute their later success in their
management career to taking lateral moves and gaining more
generalist skills. Alison Andrew's recent interview on
Professionelle shows a good example. And I found a great article on
how a sideways move can actually speed a career
onwards and upwards.
Keep your ears open to new developments that might interest you.
Again, the best way to find out about such opportunities is through
internal networking. Taking deliberate action is always the best
way if you're ambitious and want results!
After writing my reply I decided to turn to someone who's
been in a similar position. Rachel has a PhD and, like our user,
entered corporate life later than her under-graduate peers. Rachel
was kind enough to provide us with her perspective:
Having been in the same situation, I know how frustrating it can
be to see the careers of your peers taking off when your own is
just starting out. However, given that at 28 you have a PhD, two
years' work experience and are on a graduate programme, you are
obviously a talented and motivated individual and will achieve the
goals you set for yourself.
My advice at this point would be to take a quick reality check,
spend time working out what you are aiming for, and then make a
The Reality Check
Don't be too hard on yourself! You took a backwards/sideways
step when you moved from an academic career path into a commercial
role and it will take time to gain the experience needed to move
into bigger roles. On the other hand, while you may be behind your
age group peers, your added life and research experience will
probably mean you are well poised to move more quickly through the
ranks than your graduate programme peers.
Working Out Your Goals
With two years' work experience, this is a great time to take
stock and identify what you are aiming for. I would recommend
spending some time assessing your strengths and weaknesses and most
importantly what you enjoy about work. Some outside views might be
helpful here. The skills you developed during your PhD study will
always be with you, it's up to you to decide whether they define
your future or just enhance it.
Don't lose sight of the fact that management comes in many
different guises, what in particular are you looking for in future
roles? For example, do you want to be a generalist? a specialist?
leader of people? work in the same industry? or to build skills
that are transferable across industries? A clear picture of where
you want to be will help in your discussions with mentors,
colleagues and bosses as you execute your plan.
This is the time to take all that great advice that Galia has
given and figure out how you can use it to achieve your goals. I
would reinforce the value of talking to your manager, having a
mentor and networking.
A Final Word
There can be preconceived ideas about the 'over-qualified'. Many
people do not understand what is involved in postgrad study and
some can even be seemingly threatened by it (this came a big
surprise to me, and is worth being aware of). For me, my PhD was a
thoroughly enjoyable life and learning experience. I have taken
skills from that time and applied them in my working life, but I
know that it is only the results on the job that count at the end
of the day.
© Professionelle Ltd 2007