I own a own small business and have done a lot of interviewing over the years. I’m the one sitting on the hiring side of those interviews, and there is one question that gets asked by almost every person:
“What opportunities are there for advancement?”
I hate that question because in my business, like most small businesses, there’s basically everyone doing the day-to-day work and then me. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for pre-defined corporate advancement. Yes, we have big plans as a company and hopefully those advancements will be in place some day. But I’d like to suggest, even if that happens, there is a much better question to ask:
“What opportunities are there to contribute to the business beyond this position?”
That second question is a huge shift in mindset from the first. Instead of trying to figure out how to climb a corporate ladder, you’re trying to figure out how to build a new level. It’s a question you should ask not just in an interview, but whenever you want to move “up” in a company.
Here are the five steps to building the kind of position you want to hold in your company.
Step 1: Master your current position.
How do you get started? Become really good at what you were hired to do. This will not only impress your boss and let him or her know you can be trusted with more responsibility, but it also allows you to see where the business needs help.
In our company, which mostly repairs broken iPhones and iPads, we have three core duties for everyone:
- Be awesome at fixing devices.
- Be great to customers.
- Be a fantastic coworker.
Truly mastering those three skills will help you understand where we need to improve in our repair process, how we could better service customers, and you will have gained you the respect of your coworkers. Now you’re ready to contribute in other ways.
Step 2: Just ask.
Every boss or small business owner has a huge list of things they need help with. Here’s just a few of them for my business: online marketing, in-store marketing, web design, A/B testing, Research & development, store front design, vendor management, and much more. In addition, I know which of those are the most immediate or potentially profitable things to do.
Your company’s list might be different but I guarantee you there is a list. If not on paper, in someone’s head. So try to figure out what the most immediate needs are and how those align with your interests and abilities.
Step 3: Use your free time to get started.
Everyone wants to get paid for the work they do but sometimes we have to invest our time upfront without pay. In the case of college, we actually pay someone to let us work hard to develop a skill.
If your company needs help with it’s blog, start reading about blogging and then write 7-10 posts. Bring them to your boss and see what she thinks.
Maybe your company doesn’t have a good mobile site (or none at all). Build something simple and show it off.
Come up with 5 ideas for A/B testing your company’s shopping cart page to increase conversions.
This list could go on for pages but I’ll spare you. Just realize that if you want a new position in your company, you’ll probably need to spend some of your free time developing the skills and putting together a portfolio to show off.
Step 4: Justify paying for this new position.
Small businesses are strapped for cash, so no new, paid position is being created unless it can be tied directly to helping the business improve its bottom line. Some things are easy to quantify – like increasing cart conversions by 20% or becoming an outside salesperson that brings in $250K in new business.
Some things are a trickier – like blogging. You’re going to have to show you’re both a good enough writer and savvy enough online marketer to get people to read the blog regularly and then show the value of each of those regular readers.
Fortunately, if you do step #2 above, you should already be doing something your boss knows will create value for the business. This means your big hurdle is showing you’re really good at whatever it is you want to do.
Step 5: Continue to execute and quantify.
You’ve successfully completed steps #1-#4 and your boss has given you the chance to spend part or all of your working time on this new position – and he’s paying you for it.
Now the rubber has hit the road because your work has become highly visible – bosses pay close attention to things they’re paying for.
This means your hard work is just beginning. First, you need to make this position succeed. Secondly, you need to spend some of your time proving the position is adding value to the company. Work with your boss to find meaningful metrics for the new job and then make sure to report those regularly. Nothing ensures future rewards like proving past success.
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