Opinion: The bright side of the Great Resignation: You now have a better chance to be promoted at work

People hoping to break into the upper echelons of management often complain that it’s a revolving door of the same candidates over and over again. Not so.

The Great Resignation has thinned the ranks. An era of specialization has resulted in a shortage of experienced business leaders. And every company is looking for A-level talent to diversify its leadership team.

As the head of an executive search company, I am observing this development.

In many ways, the opportunity for advancement has never been better. Here’s how emerging leaders can do this, and how senior management and corporate boards can identify promising talent.

Ask for new challenges

In our parents’ generation, companies like IBM IBM,
and Nortel trained their own managers. Aspiring managers may move five times, giving them the opportunity to build new teams, communicate effectively with different business silos, and understand every corner of the organization.

These days companies are growing too fast to train new leaders. Top talent is isolated in their areas of expertise with little opportunity to build general managerial skills across the organization. And those who show promise early on are often lured away by competitors.

Combat this by taking the initiative. Challenge yourself regularly, whether geographically, in developing new products or in learning completely new skills. If you’re a VP of Marketing, ask to work in finance. If you are an IT executive, apply for a job in sales. These are ways to build your reputation in new places with new management teams that set you apart.

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Continuing education

Continual education is a hallmark of a great candidate. It shows that you are curious, studious, and intellectually honest—key criteria for C-suite consideration.

Top schools like Stanford and Columbia offer courses that can complement your skills. Finance people can learn technology. PR managers can study product development. After all, companies are interdependent. You don’t want to be seen as a one-dimensional leader whose talents begin and end with your specialty. If you’re a salesperson who can’t read an income statement, you’re showing that you’re not ready to take on broader responsibilities.

to take risks

companies like Amazon AMZN,
have thousands of managers. This is your competition to reach the next level. You won’t excel at playing it safe.

The silver lining is that most companies are understaffed, making it an ideal time to take on additional responsibilities and introduce yourself to the wider organization.

Ask to lead projects no one else wants to touch, from rolling out new company-wide software to tackling an underperforming department. It’s a chance to build a team from finance to HR and build trust beyond the group you always work with.

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If you’re the one who keeps raising your hand, you’re sure to get noticed.

Expand your presence

A decade ago, networking events were packed affairs. You were just another face in the crowd. Now 10 people could attend due to Covid and remote work.

Nonetheless, the best players still emerge, knowing that these events are crucial to staying at the forefront of the profession. This is your chance to find mentors and meet the brightest minds in your industry.

Imagine the powerful

Board members are often involved in hiring C-suites. Best way to meet them: Volunteer on charitable bodies.

When a C-suite becomes available, these boards are the first port of call for executives. First they poll this group for possible candidates, then they ask the remaining board members for names of A-level talent who may be under the radar. Here’s your chance to be added to one of those lists.

When corporations are understaffed, nonprofits are even more so. Yet their boards are filled with smart and powerful people. You will get to know them on a more intimate basis, learning from their wisdom and demonstrating your own.

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transition options

Maybe you’ve hit a glass ceiling. Maybe the above options are not available in your company. Now it’s time to demonstrate your risk tolerance.

With the economy in turmoil, organizations are increasingly wary of hiring the wrong C-suite. They hedge themselves by hiring interim managers, who are often tasked with handling a specific project, whether it’s a merger or the rebuilding of an underperforming department.

With a temporary position, you show the courage to think outside the box, to take initiatives that others shy away from. You’ll improve your skills, learn about new organizations, and build your ability to be successful in any situation. These jobs often become permanent. If not, you still have expanded your marketability and knowledge base.

In my experience, few companies want the same old people. They make succession plans and hope to fill them with fresh blood. Today, maybe 70% of the candidates I place are diverse.

With chronic staff shortages, companies are under tremendous pressure to expand their talent pools and diversify their management. The C-Suite opens like never before.

Your task: Prove that you are ready.

David Kinley is CEO of Bluenose & Co.

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