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I am looking for advice on handling a potential job interview topic. I am currently in a Senior Analyst role and looking to move in a more managerial direction. My technical skills, industry experience and track record of delivery are very strong. I expect hiring managers will be more concerned about my lack of management experience, which could be a chicken/egg scenario if I can’t be trusted with my own team without proven experience of leading one.

I have managed one apprentice for the past 2 years. I think this has been a good introduction for 2 reasons:

  • Their inexperience gives our relationship a kind of student/teacher dynamic. I know I can give feedback and advice without causing offense, and it’s often necessary as the person lacks the skills & experience to be simply left to do their work.
  • My employer has a formal apprentice/graduate development program, so I am forced to have regular meetings to discuss development and ensure they obtain sufficiently wide experience. I think when managing someone more seasoned, there’s a risk of thinking that since their work is being done, everything must be in order and skipping these tasks.

Outside of work, I am a keen long-distance runner and also coach other runners competing at a good amateur level – a major success was one of my runners qualifying for a national championship race. My query is whether this could be framed as relevant experience for a more senior role. In my mind, there are similarities:

  • A task/project with clear objective vs a race with a goal time/position.
  • I’m overseeing the delivery of both by someone else (this part of coaching is arguably harder since I have absolutely no authority over the person).
  • Running has its own KPIs for performance and training-load, that must be used intelligently along with more subjective considerations.
  • I need to understand my runners and tailor my approach to get the best out of them. For example, I coach one who is reassured by a long & detailed training plan; another finds this kind of structure stifling and becomes anxious when they see very challenging workouts written down. I consciously think about whether a situation calls for my parent/teacher/drill-sergeant hat.

Part of me thinks that this is just as valid as leadership experience from a more professional setting. But I also fear that some hiring managers will think it’s ridiculous from a supposedly experienced professional, and the sort of weak example a new graduate might give.

What is everyone's take on this? Has anyone been in a similar situation on either side of the table?

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What is everyone's take on this?

I suggest you focus on explaining about your experience managing this apprentice, if prompted during the interview.

Although coaching people does involve leadership and some other skills, it's quite different from being a manager in a professional environment, even more if that environment is not related to sports.

To me, saying that coaching runners is equivalent to professional managerial experience is a stretch...

However, your coaching experience is not completely irrelevant here, and if you see room to mention that during the interview then go ahead... but don't make that you main argument.

Also, try to see if any other things or aspects you've learned as a Senior Analyst can be helpful in a Managerial position.

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I'll be honest, that in my experience, the greatest majority of the time, folks make their first entrance into management within the company they are working for. At least in my industry (SW engineering) - the competition for a management role as an external hire can be even more fierce than for an engineer position w/in the same general seniority/pay band. I say that with a few different companies in my data set (though all in NorthEast US). As such, when hiring for a manager position, the company often has it's pick of seasoned managers making it hard on folks trying to get into the field.

It's often easier (as a manager of managers) - to promote from within when you have an employee with high potential but no experience as a manager. In that scenario, you know the employee, they know the company culture, they already have some useful connections -- they have advantages that a new hire does not, which counterbalance their lack of experience in the role.

That said, coaching and mentoring - in work and outside of work - is a good way to show a subset of the skills if you haven't had the opportunity yet. As others said - it's a subset. I'd put managerial skills into these buckets:

  • People development - like having an apprentice and mentoring runners.
  • Breaking down big and complicated things so the team can get them done. Also in this bucket is project and risk management in terms of the stuff you broke down and are trying to get done.
  • Able to build a network of peers - a big part of the job is being a translator for the technical stuff your team does into a sort of management-speak that will make sense to people who don't know what on earth you do - that's both your upper management (ie, "managing up"), and your peers with whom you collaborate to get stuff done.
  • Hard judgement calls about both people and the technical aspects of their work. Sadly, a big thing I check for is "could this person make a good hiring decision" and "can this person execute an employee performance correction and termination"? Those are probably the hardest to prove you can do until someone gave you the assignment to do them. They are also pretty hard to do in personal life, where you are likely working with a hobby or volunteer effort or similar personally rewarding endeavor, where you may well have a mandate to be more welcoming than a corporation would be.

So - it sounds like you have a good solid answer on the developing people side. And you've done it in both work and personal life... but think about the other 3 bullets.

IMO - it's fair game to draw from personal experience if you haven't done it in a professional context. I did the following stuff personally that helped me develop as a manager:

  • ran big events in an area of hobbyist interest - included directing others (some of whom were not good at getting things done) and making decisions about scope vs. timeline.
  • was a community leader involved in setting the norms for how the group I was a part of would act - that included having to give some negative feedback to create a healthier team.
  • served as a representative for stuff I cared about to larger organizations

That gave me some skills in some of those other areas that I could draw from as I leveraged my way into management. I was lucky enough to get promoted w/in my company, but I definitely learned from this stuff and would have respected anyone who used an example like that during an interview.

When talking about personal passions in an interview - even more than with work - make sure that you give a little bit of frame of reference, but spend more time on the work-related skills and less time on the context. At least in my case - many of my hobbies are pretty kooky, so I make sure not spend a lot of time on my quirks, focusing instead on the relevant aspects.

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  • This is very interesting. I was deliberately vague about my industry and location (it's not SW engineering in the NE US). But, the contrast has made me realize my line of work has far more of a gray area between an individual contributor and a manager than most, so thank you for that. Aug 7 '20 at 11:33
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While there are elements of sports coaching and industry management that share similarities, and lessons that could be applied to both if learned in either, they remain fundamentally different things.

To demonstrate this, let me ask you a question of my own: would you be happy for someone to take over coaching of one of your athletes, on the basis that they're an office manager and it's all basically the same thing?

I can't be sure of your answer, but to me the idea sounds absurd.

There is indeed a chicken/egg problem when it comes to getting the management experience you need to become a manager (I was frustrated by this for ten years before getting my break, so I feel your pain); but management is a serious and worthwhile discipline in its own right, that encompasses and requires many different skills, aptitudes, practices, knowledge, and experience.

Gaining those things takes time, effort, dedication, and (at some point) someone giving you a chance to show you can do it. Despite popular well-meaning advice, they cannot be short-cutted by creatively representing your employment history or spare-time hobbies, to make it look like something that was nothing to do with management was actually management, if only everyone can be convinced to look at it in the most conveniently flattering way.

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