How To Start Moving Up?

(Special article for our VACETS ladies - JT)

Market Thyself # 049

We rarely encounter a Market Thyself article only for ladies. So, we would like to dedicate this one to our VACETS ladies. We hope it will you move up high in your career ladder.

To stay out of the trap, you will have to plan ahead and be at least as savvy as your male peers are. The reward: You will get or create a job that, professionally, will take you where you want to go.

1. How You Get Stuck

Three basic tendencies allow women to be relatively easy prey for the trap.

First, they are more likely than a male counterpart to apply or accept a job with zero organizational prestige, believing they will earn increased recognition, according to Deborah Tannen, Ph. D., a gender-issues guru, communications expert and author of Talking From 9 to 5 (William Morrow, 1994). Men are more attuned to their relative status. Since they find it so painful and embarrassing to be subservient even for a minute, most men seek out jobs that offer some autonomy or high status from the start. Women, who are high-minded enough to fill supporting roles without feeling uncomfortable, can pay for their flexibility with a lack of recognition. Her willingness to do scutwork eanred the boss's praises but not her/is respect.

The second difference is that women may hesitate to speak up. Dr. Tennen says that years of researching the workplace have convinced her that to get a promotion or a better job, you have to ask for one. Men ask. Women wait.

Third, women tend to be not only more high-minded but also more adaptable than their male peers - and this can be a handicap. "People tell me outright that it is easier to give orders to a woman," says Dr. Tannen. Bosses appreciate this, right? Well, yes and no. Dr. Tannen contends that when men are told to run an errand, they may stall or even protest ("I'm busy here!"), showing bosses that they take their own agenda seriously. Women, on the other hand, tend to "drop everything and fax." The result: You may be seen mainly as an errand person - i.e., a perpetual assistant.

2. Get the Job You Want

With the above lessons in mind, it is smart to look out for dead ends even before you sign on for a job. Here are three strategies to help insure that your next position will be a springboard, not a trap.

a. Follow the men. It is important to study industry career paths, especially in fields dominated by men, where upward routes tend to be fixed. "Young women might want to ask themselves how young men enter these fields," proposes Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women. Or even go further: Ask yourself whether a man with your credentials would cover the job you are about to take. Your answer is sure to be informative, if not decisive.

b. Look beyond the job you are applying for. When interviewing, ask forthrightly about promotability. Once you have covered basic work issues - job duties, reporting structure, hours and salary - say to the interviewer: "I plan to do a good job. What are the opportunities for promotion?" Don't worry about appearing pushy. This is a perfectly reasonable question. Another tactic: Ask which people in the company have previously held the job, and where they are now. Have any become a top person? Were any of them women? If the answer seem encouraging, proceed; if not, keep looking whenever possible.

c. Negotiate the job title. Say you want to work for this company but do not want to risk getting stuck. Try suggesting a change of title - especially if the interviewer is your prospective boss who may have the authority to okay such a change. Remember that up to one third of all jobs nationwide are custom-created for people whom the company or the boss especially wants to hire. A better title can make a difference, even if those within the company know what your real duties are.

3. Love the Job you've got

What if you have the job of your dreams, except that now, two or three years after you started, it is beginning to resemble a nightmare. Your boss may hesitate to promote you because s/he does not want to lose your services. There are more productive ways to get ahead.

a. Ask for a performance review. When you have been on the job for six months or longer, ask your boss to set a date for a job review. Put this request in a friendly memo form. Say that you enjoy your job and want to continue your contributions to the company. At review time, tell the boss you would like to talk about opportunities for advancement. Ask her/im where in the organization you might best fit as your skills mature. Then ask directly to be considered for any opportunities that come up. As long as your performance is satisfactory, don't be timid. "I think unnecessary fear of rocking the boat causes many young women to feel trapped," says career adviser Jolly, adding that most bosses will gladly encourage a forward-looking employee.

b. Act as if. You have heard the expression, "fake it till you make it." This can be a trump card at work. "Often promotions go to the people who are already acting as if they had the higher role they are seeking," explains Dr. Tannen. That means you want to be alert to all extracurricular career opportunities. If you boss is writing a big marketing proposal, assemble a file of helpful statistics; if s/he is drafting the division's annual budget, suggest a strategy for cutting your department's cost. As long as you do not neglect your regular duties, s/he will be impressed with your initiative; if your efforts help her/im, s/he will be grateful. If and when a better position opens up, it will seem natural to promote you to a job that you have been doing. After all, attitude is 90 percent of success. Let people know that you are moving up.

c. Speak up. Experts agree that the corporate carpet is greener for employees who deftly communicate their interests, enthusiasms and needs - and usually those employees are men. Some well-meaning, hard-working women tend to throw in the towel when conditions become adverse, say the experts. You would be better off taking a tip from men and complain before quitting. Whether you are asking for a promotion or planning a little polite talk, schedule the meeting well in advance. You want to show you have given the matter serious thought.

4. Your Job: Love It or Leave It

Okay - so what if you have had your performance review (it was either glowing but vague, or underwhelming), and you have tried coming to work early, staying late, smiling, not smiling, and nothing has worked? It may be time to move. A move should definitely considered if you've been in your job for three years or longer and: (a) your boss knows that you want to advance, (b) peers or subordinates are being promoted ahead of you and (c) your efforts and opinions do not seem to be valued. But do not quit in a snit. Use the resources of your current job to help you find one where you can harness your energy and skills to get ahead. Here are some ideas.

a. Take classes. In larger companies, you can sign up for in-house courses in anything customer relations to computer network. Large and small progressive companies may offer you tuition reimbursement. If these are useful, take full advantage.

b. Make contacts. Attend industry conferences and parties (refer back to Market Thyself #042), and be open and friendly to staffers from other offices or companies. Write "I was glad to meet you" note. Network like mad (refer back to Market Thyself #033).

c. Upgrade your resume (refer back to No. 10 of Market Thyself #033). List your marketable skills as well as the responsibilities and accomplishments of you current job. Highlight aspects of your job that have to do with making and saving the company money. Then send out hundreds of resumes, in dozens of industries, if need be. Do not limit yourself. Also remember to take advantage of the Internet (refer back to Market Thyself #044).

(Caroline Hwang)

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