Recently, I met with one of the people that I mentor. She was concerned because she found people across the company with more senior titles, jobs, and more responsibility than her, but they didn't have more experience or better skills. Somehow, they were at the right place at the right time to make big career jumps that others, like her, haven't been able to do. She asked if I knew why and I had a few answers for her.
1. Many people curse reorgs (or team restructuring) because they don't like change. But it's inevitable so don't just wait for them to happen and be upset at the results, set yourself up to be on the winning side of a reorg. Who are the key players on your team or larger group (division)? Who are the most influential people? Or basically who do you need to impress to make sure your experience and skills are valued and considered next time there is a reorg? It's like surfing a wave, you either prepare enough to ride it out or it topples you into the water. And every time a wave occurs, there's another one right behind it.
· I've been in reorgs that have moved my career forward, in some cases substantially. Early in my career, I had a choice to stay with my team (which turned into the Visual Studio UI team) as an individual tester or move to a new team (Visual C++ team) and become a lead. I didn't know anyone in that team, but I took the lead role. That opportunity was there because the reorg opened that lead spot. I was considered for it because I had completed some innovations for the team that got visibility up to the management (the people making decisions about the reorg). Later, when two teams were merging, I didn't even know they were looking for a test manager. There was one test manager from each team but they needed four, not two. So each test manager picked a lead to promote. And I was that person. Again, I had positioned myself correctly by doing good work and marketing it to the right people who made these key decisions. Now granted, that's the positive.
· For every time a reorg has been favorable, there's a time when it's been unfavorable. I inherited teams that made my job more difficult and my ability to succeed much harder. I had the whole management team above me replaced which gave me no clout to help me get a career boost during that reorg. Each time it's different, but the one rule that remains the same is that if you are doing good work, you need to get the visibility and credit for it from the key decision makers in the organization.
2. You need to let those decision makers know that you are interested in furthering your career. Don't be shy about your ambitions. Ask for what you want. You may not get it, at least not right away, but at least your management knows you want it. Then if that opportunity comes up, they will think of you.
3. And finally, you have to accept that sometimes things just aren't fair. Sometimes, they may even feel random. Having the experience and the skills doesn’t mean you are the right person for the job. There may be reasons you don't know or don't have control over that allows one person to move up the corporate ladder faster than you. I expect if you are a competitive person, this may drive you nuts. But watching others progress is a fact of life and you need to deal with it and not get upset, just get more ambitious and wait for that next reorg.
Ironically, between the time I had this conversation with the person I am mentoring and publishing this blog, I was given new responsibility. Along with owning the Test team for the Microsoft.com homepage and download center, I now own Release Management and Internal Support - two responsibilities I may not have gotten if I didn't follow my own advice.
I hope you get to surf the next wave too, and not crash under it.