In one sentence: just start acting like you’re already a senior on the team.
I remember the day I got the email announcing that my coworker Leah had gotten promoted to Senior Digital Marketing Strategist. “What? Leah isn’t already a senior!?” I thought to myself. I mean, she was always running around and talking to her team lead Joe about the different projects she was working on. I’ll always remember it because it was the day it dawned on me that I could simply just start acting like a senior too…
Though it took a little over a year for a senior position to open up on my team, it worked. Not only did I get the job, but Joe at one point actually said to my team lead “What? Jason isn’t already a senior!?”
But that isn’t my job, won’t people think I’m a jerk?
- There’s more than enough work to go around and every leader would love to see you take the initiative and tackle some.
- Most of your teammates are really busy and will welcome you figuring it out for them and taking things off their plate.
- Leaders take initiative without being asked, so you’ll get props from other leaders for joining the club.
Benefits to you:
- You’ll get the skills you need to succeed as a senior starting on day one
- You’ll get concrete examples to use in your interview
- You’ll get visibility so that you are on the hiring manager’s list of top candidates before the job is even posted.
Here are three concrete things you can start doing next week:
1) Always Take A Shot At Solving Your Own Problems
When you’re a senior, there’s a lot of figuring it out on the fly. I’ll let you in on a little secret about being a subject matter expert: I don’t know the answer to half the questions I get asked. I just Google the answer, ask on Twitter, or click things until I figure it out.
Now I do ask quite a lot of questions – so don’t think I’m telling you that you shouldn’t ask for help. But when I ask questions it’s after I’ve already taken a run at it myself, so I’m asking questions about nuance, or getting different people’s takes on a judgment call, or asking ‘I think this is how it works, does that sound right?’
My last piece of advice is that if something looks weird to you, take a few minutes to investigate it whether it’s your responsibility or not. You get a good sense of the weird things you’ll be expected to support as a Senior.
2) Speak Up In Most Team Meetings
Start paying attention to who consistently speaks in every team meeting – it’s usually team leads, seniors, and the people who you think of as informal leaders. Come on and join the club.
Not sure what to talk about? Ask clarifying questions, build on people’s ideas, or share a different interpretation or experience. You can even start small and prepare in advance – maybe a question you had or a trick you stumbled on earlier in the week.
An aside for those who are fully remote – use your webcam all the time, even if no one else is. Business is about relationships, and seeing your face will help other people feel a stronger connection to you. Never underestimate the power of sharing a smile with someone.
3) Do Short Term Projects Outside Of Your Day-To-Day Work
Short term projects are great because they help you get a lot of different experiences under your belt. They also have an end date, meaning you can tell the story start to finish in meetings, and recognition usually comes once a project is completed.
Where to start? Answer a question you have or solve a pain point. Start small and focus on things you can fix by yourself (or with routine support from others). Your team lead is probably aware of a couple if you can’t think of any. When you’re done, measure the impact and share your story.
Now this isn’t to knock long term projects, like leading the same weekly or monthly initiative for a year. Those also provide critical skills. If you’re working on one of those stick with it, and also add some short term projects to the mix.
Some Experience Required – Start Today
For most people, getting promoted to senior is their first formal leadership role. What I see time and time again is that the informal leaders are the ones who get promoted to formal leadership positions. Which makes sense – senior isn’t an entry level position and acting like a senior today means you bring the most experience to the interview. If you consistently execute the three steps above you’ll be in a great spot the next time a senior position opens up on your team.
Ready to start acting like a senior? Part II covers big picture ideas and longer term strategies you can work on over time.