Problems vs. Solutions: experience

The other day I was thinking about what lead me down the path of entrepreneurship.

After maxing out my growth in a couple different roles for a company in Chicago, I applied for a stretch position in strategic account management.

It would be a new arena for me. One that would use my current skillset, but also allow me to learn and grow.

The multi-step interview process was rigorous, culminating with an hour-long presentation to the executive team.

I knew I had knocked it out of the park. The managing director said my presentation was by far the best of all the candidates.

But I didn’t get the job.

Why? Because I didn’t have experience in strategic account management.

The conundrum

I didn’t get the job because I didn’t have experience. I couldn’t get experience because I couldn’t get the job that would give me the experience I wanted to acquire.

It was a conundrum. And to be honest, the situation made me mad.

When I heard “No”, I made the decision on the spot to leave. It was a knee jerk response. Definitely not my most professionally mature moment.

I plotted my exit and started laying the groundwork to launch my own company—what would become a 7-year odyssey named Red Spade (but that’s another story).

While leaving worked out, staying could have worked too.

Had I been willing to interpret “No” as “Not now”, and then taken steps to build skills to close the gap between the position I was in and the one I wanted.

What about you?

Can you relate to wanting a specific professional opportunity, a new position, a different career, but lacking the necessary experience?

If you want to stretch and grow in a new area at work, your employer has to be willing to take that risk with you. What can you do to make the opportunity more likely?

When you lack experience, here are five strategies for closing the gap:

    1. Have a crucial conversation. Initiate an open, honest discussion with the powers that be. Without the desired experience on your resume, what will it take to be given an opportunity? What are the steps to get from where you are to where you want to go?
    2. Articulate transferrable skills. Can you easily articulate your transferable skills that will help you hit the ground running in the new role? Be able to make a compelling case for the “generic” skills you possess, such as stellar communication or effective leadership, that will be highly valuable in the role you covet.
    3. Own your education. Take classes, read, attend webinars, go to meetups and conferences—immerse yourself in the thought leadership of your chosen area. Be a master observer of those doing what you want to do. Volunteer and apprentice so you can practice the skills you want to build.
    4. Earn a mentor. Having a mentor is the surest path to growth—career and otherwise. But you don’t automatically deserve a mentor. You have to earn one. You can do this by being proactive in your professional life, open and interested in feedback, accountable, and coachable.
    5. Know your why. Be clear about why you want what you want. Simon Sinek said, “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.” Knowing your why gives you courage and keeps you motivated as you take steps toward what you want.

Looking back, I could have stayed and built skills in my gap areas. Taking these five steps would have shown a compelling commitment to what I wanted.

If I’d taken them, I’d like to think I would have earned an opportunity to stretch—and made a darned good strategic account manager.

We are not solely dependent on employers to dictate which skills we build and when. What can you do to take ownership of the body of experience you want to build in order to create the opportunities you want?