On the Clock

Think You Aren't Qualified for the Job? Think Again

History is filled with people who took on daunting roles and turned them into successes.

A few years ago, after growing several business units, a marketing manager got a huge promotion to CFO. It was a great opportunity, but an incredibly daunting one: The manager didn’t have a background in finance. How in the world, he thought, would he be qualified to helm the company’s finances?

Maybe you have astute tech skills, but not the machine-learning expertise for new role calls. Or maybe you’ve moved from managing two direct reports to overseeing 50. Whatever the deficit, executive coaches say more hiring managers are recruiting and promoting people who may lack complete qualifications, thanks to a tight labor market and low unemployment rates. “There is a war for talent,” says Suzanne Bates, CEO of Bates Communications in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

One study found 60% of new managers underperform in their first two years.

The tussle over good candidates has led companies to promote within at a faster rate than before, and often without adequate training. A survey on career development conducted by the American Psychological Association found only about half of the respondents said they have the opportunity to develop necessary leadership and management skills needed in the future. The result: A study from the Corporate Executive Board found 60% of new managers underperform in their first two years.

With fewer than half of companies offering training programs for new managers, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and underqualified. Here’s how to change your perspective—and raise your qualifications—for the job at hand. 

Listen, listen, listen.

In your new, overwhelming role, it’s important to demonstrate humility and an eagerness to learn. “There’s a difference between seeming confident and seeming cocky,” says Kathy Robinson, founder of TurningPoint, a Boston-based career coaching firm. Begin by spending the first few months focusing on building relationships, and doing more listening than talking. Your aim is not to make promises but to pick a lot of brains, looking for insights into what your role should be, what team members and colleagues need from you, how things were run before, and how they could be improved. “You can start to develop a point of view and strategy for whatever area you’re in,” Bates says.

Know what you don’t know.

One of the biggest mistakes made by people who may be underqualified for a job is pretending to have all the skills that were meticulously listed in the job description. That’s because it’s extremely hard in pressure situations to admit what you don’t know. But the more you acknowledge those deficits, the better off you are to learning those skills. “The question is how much work you need to do to fill in the gaps,” Robinson says. 

Tap your resources.

Once you figure out what you don’t know, seek ways to get up to speed. You can immerse yourself in relevant conferences or industry events, use your mentors as sounding boards, and ask former colleagues for guidance. It also helps to find a sponsor within your company—someone who advocates for you instead of just advises (which is what a mentor does)—who can bring you in on critical decisions and be invested in your overall career development at the firm. And don’t forget about people who may be below you in the chain of command, particularly if they’ve been with the company for a long time. These individuals often know a great deal about what’s happening on the ground, and can offer you different perspectives that will help you see the 360-degree view.

Coaching trumps directing.

The best managers, argue career experts, are those who coach—or help a person maximize his or her performance—instead of merely telling people what to do. What coaching means to managers, though, is often nebulous. In a recent study from executive coaches Julia Milner and Trenton Milner, managers were asked to coach individuals. But many of them actually demonstrated a form of consulting—essentially giving the other person advice or a solution. The researchers realized that most managers didn’t understand that coaching is about pointing out strengths and offering insights, but ultimately “letting the coachee arrive at their own solution.” By doing this, not only do you learn how to be a better manager—you also, ultimately, are helping train the next wave of managers for the future.

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