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My career goal always has been to get into a position with responsibility, either in the field of project or team management. I finished a business engineering masters degree recently and already have almost five years of experience in working in information technology, but without responsibility for leading a project or a team. I have been looking for a position where I can take over at least a bit of responsibility in order to gather further experience and with it better chances for taking even more responsibilities later on.

Unfortunately, all the open positions in my country for project or team manager requires to have already some project or team management experience. Even the Junior ones! I mean, isn't that kind of a deadlock? How is anyone supposed to get first management experience if you are required to already have this experience?

I am somewhat frustrated at the moment about this situation, and I have been looking for such positions for almost a year now. My current employer already gave me a few unskilled, temporary workers to assign them tasks to for some months due to high workload. My chief and I agree that their work was done good and I also stated that I really enjoyed the time I could delegate my tasks to them and achieving the goal. Also, I heard that training people would be a good skill for a future leader position. This is why I immediately took over all training responsibilities in my former and current companies and still do them up to this day as a part of my work. Unfortunately, none of these activities are "leadership" positions with responsibility officially, so they do not help me at all when applying for management position.

Just to be clear - I am not talking about how to make it with low experience in the workforce in general. I am talking about no experience in managing teams, budgets, projects, and risks. Also, I am happy with my current employer and position for now, but as every person in this world, I am just trying to reach my personal goals, and this goal is of course forcing me to give up my current position.

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    Not a direct answer to your question, but I hope you find this helpful: It might seem silly, but coaching youth sports really helped me to become a better leader. If there are opportunities to volunteer in your area, you should consider it. – Lumberjack Aug 19 '16 at 13:32
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    Never, ever forget the Peter Principle - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_principle – Moo Aug 19 '16 at 14:00
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    Training people is a leadership role; if you're consistently managing trainees you can definitely put it as a responsibility on your resume and talk about it in interviews as leadership experience (plus mention you actively sought the role) – Adam Martin Aug 21 '16 at 12:00

10 Answers 10

49

The easiest way to become qualified for a position is to start doing the tasks required to do that position. Start looking for how you can:

  • Take responsibility for something
    • A surprisingly large number of people never want any responsibility for anything if at all possible
  • Aim for a project lead position
  • Influence other people
    • Training, helping, etc
    • Mentoring others
  • Include cost analysis as part of your decision making
    • The further in your career you get, you likely will have more responsibility and more opportunity for this

Also I should add that a lot of leadership isn't forced. Some of the best leaders I have known have not had the title to go with it. But they had the influence of a leader by being a leader.


Depending on how serious you are, non-profits and volunteer organizations are almost always in need of people who will do that above list. If you find it difficult in the work world look to volunteering.

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    How are you supposed to take responsibility for something when it's your manager's job to take on the responsibilities? You should really elaborate on that, because I never found the advice very actionable. – Mehrdad Aug 21 '16 at 5:53
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    @Mehrdad I don't know of many managers who dislike employees making their job easier. Find ways that do this. Almost every manager has projects they don't want to deal with or want to make go away. Volunteer to lead those or find ways to help your manager not have to spend their time on them. – enderland Aug 21 '16 at 14:00
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Companies are highly unlikely to hire you for a management job when they can't see whether or not you are qualified to do the job. You don't have experience and they are unlikely to want to give you a job just to see if you can do it. Remember that as a manager, you have the opportunity/risk of much more damage if you do something wrong than you do as an individual contributor.

You will need to try to gain some experience with your current employer. Talk to your boss about running the next project that comes to your team. Check your companies internal job postings (if they have them) to see if there are opportunities with other teams. A company that already knows your work is more likely to give you a chance.

  • Are there exams that one can take and pass to prove (or at least indicate) that one is qualified? – Robert Columbia Aug 20 '16 at 17:15
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    There are certifications you can get (PMP, for example) but without experience to go with it, not sure it will help much – cdkMoose Aug 20 '16 at 17:30
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As much as you want to believe a masters degree and 5 years of experience is enough to start at a low level management position, believe me, it ain't. First time managers are never hired, they are raised from within. As some of the answers indicate, you need to do something to catapult yourself into a management position where you are currently working. If you are working for a behemoth corporation with people glued to their management chairs and never wanting to give up by retiring or taking new responsibilities, you might want to consider a less mature company as your next employer.

As a roadmap, try to find a project that others are balking at due to slim chance of success or bad management or some other reason. And improve the situation. Turn the tables and make the project something that everyone wants to be a part of. Also, I feel something in your question that you want to manage people more than you manage a project. There is a downfall in that idea. Especially in IT, where the workforce is extremely intelligent and/or well educated, managing them like you manage assembly line workers is impossible. Someone, somewhere said, "managing IT personnel is like herding cats". They are independent. They have a plan on their mind. And right or wrong, whatever you say, will hardly make a difference. They will do what they are thinking until they miserably fail, if they fail, that is. And if you play "I am the manager. Do what I tell you to do" card, you will find yourself in a world of hurt.

So, put your people management dreams aside for a few years or maybe a lot longer. Focus on bringing few projects to success from their failing or stagnant status to prove yourself to your management and then you may get a formal manager position. At that point, "nobody hires a manager with no management experience" condition goes out the window. There is no magic bullet to make you manager overnight or over a course of few short months. It is a process that you have to pay your dues for.

  • Basically, I do not care if I manage people or budgets or both. What I like is having responsibility for reaching specific goals. Why? I dont know. Enjoyed leading projects in university and also, I do like to think strategically. It is not a power-hunger thing, I am being honest. – Acroneos Aug 19 '16 at 13:42
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    Are you under the impression that someone will hand you a project and say "go manage this project" ? even at your current workplace, this is a far stretch. First time managers, usually shine among the crowd of people who don't want responsibility. If you see a project around where you work, which is failing due to bad management, get yourself attached to it. Since no one wants to be on a sinking ship, you will not have hard time. Then bring your critical thinking skills to the table. And if the project manager is expecting failure, he or she will hand the reins to you in no time flat. – MelBurslan Aug 19 '16 at 13:51
  • The smartest thing a manager of experienced developers can do is to be an enabler. Make it possible for your employees to do something they believe is a good idea. Also, remove as many obstacles as possible, that they have in doing their job - be it bureaucratic, technical or resource-related. – Juha Untinen Aug 20 '16 at 9:46
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Take up some volunteer work on the side, and get a lead or management role in that capacity. This will boost your resume twofold. Employers love to see volunteer work, and it will also give you the management experience you need to advance your career.

Look especially for local charities, as they are always in need of people, and go from there. I did volunteer work to get back into the IT industry after being out of it for five years. It works. Good luck!

6

Here's the strategies I'm not sure that you've tried...

1 - Get Promoted Within

It is, by far, easier to be promoted in a company where you are already known and trusted. This usually starts with the work you've already done - supervising the work of lower level employees on a temporary basis, or owning the completion of key areas of work - even if you are not in charge of anyone. Usually you need to demonstrate both timely and high quality completion of work as well as a skill at working with people and having collaborative, positive relationships. Also - showing good judgement in when and where to ask for help.

If you haven't gotten feedback on your work in this area, and in particular what your boss thinks you can do better - get it. Understanding your weak points (everyone has some!) is key to working toward this goal.

Also - have a frank discussion with your management on do they see this role being available to you in the near term. If your company isn't growing, then the internal route may not be possible. If you don't get a straight answer, take a look at the company. If it's not growing in headcount and all the managers have a lot of experience and are no where near retirement, there may not be any opportunity here.

2 - Look for lead positions rather than manager positions.

In many cases, a first time management position may be described as "lead" rather than "manager" - a lead is often someone who has authority over the completion of the work, but is only an advisor on the performance of the staff (as in hiring, firing, career development and performance reviews of direct reports). It's a bit easier to grow into management when you start as a lead.

There is a difficult catch 22 in the range of having the supervisory responsibility for the performance of other employees. At least in the US, this where the lawsuits start. If the manager isn't ethical, responsible and respectful then he can open the company up to lawsuits. If the manager isn't able to comprehend and work within the company culture - then his direct reports may not thrive. If he's simply a jerk, the company risks loosing good staff. It's a lot of trust to put in a stranger.

A lead position is usually easier to acquire because the lawsuit/trust/risk realm falls on the manager. You may well be able to negotiate a lead position where you and your new employer recognize the goal of you becoming a manager, and if they love you enough, they may be willing to make an offer with a promotion plan in place to get you to a manager position provided you can meet their defined expectations.

3 - Network, network, network

Because management positions are so dependent on soft skills and trust, they are often also as much a matter of networking as interviewing prowess. There's a point in leadership careers where you are being hired for who you are more than what you can do. If you've had a depth of leadership experience that is not supervisory experience, then you should be in a position where you have a pretty wide personal network of people who have had lots of positive experience being led by you. Assuming they aren't all working with you now - reach out to colleagues in other companies who would recommend you as a leader and see what opportunities they would recommend and support you for.

As a litmus test, if you are reading this and thinking "I can't do this, my professional network is entirely within my current company" - then I would say you don't have enough leadership experience for a management role. Build that experience by taking on leadership roles that give you opportunities to collaborate with people unlike yourself - including in other parts of the company, and in other companies (either as vendors, partners or customers of your company).

Manage People in a Low Risk Environment

Volunteer groups of all sorts are always looking for good leaders. And in all honesty, I find volunteer leadership to be harder than paid professional leadership, because the motivations of your reports will be far more diverse, and their skill sets can be all over the map. If you can manage a team of volunteers doing something important, you have some GREAT management experience you can put on your resume.

Another Sad Truth

I've applied to numerous first-level management positions myself, and also interviewed candidates for such levels. I have to say - wow is there a lot of competition! In the roles I've interviewed, there have usually been a daunting number of good candidates for a single position - and most if not all of them have previous management experience. I've also spoken to several people in the tech industry who have taken all sort of level demotions to continue their management careers across companies (for example, a director becoming a manager, or a VP becoming a director). Some of this is that different companies will rate the same basic job functions differently - a VP of a small company may manage 25 direct reports with a small budget, while a Senior Manager of a big company does the same thing. But in other cases it's because the applicant just wanted to move to the company and they were willing to take a demotion of both role and responsibility to do so.

So.. why should a company hire someone with no management experience when they can hire a great candidate with excessive experience? Companies will select the best person they think they are likely to get... and in this case, many know that they can get someone with huge experience quite quickly.

4

When a company hires someone they don't know, they are taking quite a bit of a risk. They try to mitigate it as much as possible through interviews and such, but you can never really tell until the person is working for you.

When a company promotes someone from "worker" to "manager" they are also taking a big risk. Someone might be great at their job, and maybe even show some leadership potential, but until they are put in a position of power you can never tell.

It would be extremely rare to find a company willing to take on both sets of risk at one time by hiring a new employee with no management experience for a managerial role.

If your current company doesn't have openings for management positions that you can fill, find a job in a new company that is similar to what you do now, but during the interview process let them know what your goals are and find out if they hire managers internally. Most companies do until you get fairly high level.

TL;DR Without experience you're not going to find a manager job at a new company. Find a new company that hires managers from within, and get a job there that fits your current skill set.

3

Adding to the already excellent answers, there is a concept of "paying your dues" that is applicable here. Management training is to management what reading a book about blacksmithing is to making a sword: helpful background information that may or may not be useful in the real world, and that people already familiar with the craft may or may not respect in the absence of other compelling evidence.

An effective manager requires the respect of his/her team and the respect of other leaders within the organization. This type of respect comes largely through experience - progressive experience in a number of projects, most (but not necessarily all) successful. It may take more than five years of experience in your field to learn the basics needed to be really successful, to say nothing of the experience needed to guide and mentor others.

If you want to work toward a management position, there is a lot of excellent advice here. Take full responsibility for the success of your projects, even in areas that aren't in your job description. Go above and beyond. Be an example for others. Be the person that everyone - on your team and elsewhere - looks to when they need to get things done. In other words, be a leader and leadership opportunities will naturally follow. Just understand that this is a journey - a process - and not a quantum leap.

2

Additionally, try taking on some leading or 'management' roles in volunteering. It does not count for much, but it may just tip the balance when applying (O, I see you have also managed ...).

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    I've got to fix that echo ;) – Retired Codger Aug 19 '16 at 13:27
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I have always considered it one of the great tragedies of management when one manager leaves a position and no-one internal has been mentored to prepare them to step up into that position. I would echo many here who have responded that there is too much risk to simply move someone up from the ranks without adequate experience. To almost everyone at any given level, it usually seems to them that they are ready and can handle the next level job. However, this is a case where you don't know what you don't know. Companies cannot take that risk, so unfortunately, someone else is often hired to fill the position, often from outside. Tragic and demotivating to the ranks, but a part of risk management.

As part of each six month performance evaluation, I generally ask my people what aspirations they have: area of expertise, next management level, country or city relocation, etc, regardless of what position they currently fill. And then we can almost always find significant mentoring opportunities to help with that. Also, every one of my managers are required to identify one or more persons in their organization to mentor toward replacing them, if that manager would ever leave their current position. And they are required to evaluate that person or persons as to where they are now, where they would need to be, and what specific mentoring or education steps are needed to get them there. It's subjective of course, and not perfect, but it works fairly well in some cases.

This certainly helps the person desiring to move up. But this also helps the mentor to be able to move up themselves, because someone can be made ready to fill the void when they do.

I also have had situations where I moved a non-manager person who was not yet ready, into a management role, based on their desire to move to a certain country and the technical knowledge fit for the circumstance, and I modified the organization to fit. In one case, a person expressed interest in relocating to one middle-eastern country, so I set them up with that opportunity, starting with 8 people under them. I set that person in my organization to report directly to me, rather than one of my managers where they would normally report, so that I could mentor them directly. Through mentoring, that eventually grew to 160 people. But I also knew this person had the potential, so I made the opportunity work.

What I'm suggesting, without knowing your particular company or circumstance, is that perhaps there are internal opportunities that can only be uncovered or created by frank discussions with your boss. There is nothing wrong, in most companies, with talking through where you'd like to see your career go. I, myself have had great opportunities in my distant past by simply suggesting to my boss's boss that I would like to take the reigns. Sometimes it will shock you how easy it was to move forward just by talking it through.

But again, your mileage may vary, depending on your company, boss, your own willingness to relocate, etc.

1

My current employer already gave me a few unskilled, temporary workers to assign them tasks to for some months due to high workload. My chief and I agree that their work was done good and I also stated that I really enjoyed the time I could delegate my tasks to them and achieving the goal. Also, I heard that training people would be a good skill for a future leader position. This is why I immediately took over all training responsibilities in my former and current companies and still do them up to this day as a part of my work. Unfortunately, none of these activities are "leadership" positions with responsibility officially, so they do not help me at all when applying for management position.

i'd like to disagree with what you are saying here. when you are delegating tasks to others, or when you are training them you are in a leadership position. it does not matter if that is official or not. you do right kind of work and you get the experience for it.

most important is your own self realization that you enjoy this kind of work. that is something that should make you more confident in applying for a management position.

i have a similar experience. i was not looking for a management job, because i didn't have any experience managing, until i started hiring people in my own small company, and with every year and every new employee my confidence in managing people rises, and should i ever give up my own business, by that time i'll be ready to take on a management job.

so be confident. use your experience, and expand it. when asked, own what you did. how many people you managed, for how long. how many you trained, etc...

protected by Jane S Aug 20 '16 at 11:20

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