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by Alex Wison via Fairygodboss | October 04, 2017


woman on laptop

It’s been said that other people sometimes know us better than we know ourselves. That can be especially true when it comes to finding new job opportunities.

The best kinds of leaders are those that care about their employees and want them to succeed. A key part of that is recognizing that talented employees can do more when given more responsibility, seniority, and oversight.

When DowDuPont Inc. CFO Howard Ungerleider saw how well Beth Nicholas performed as an accounting director, he promoted her to global finance director for Dow’s agricultural products unit.

“It was one of those moments where you pause and the tummy turns a little bit,” Nicholas told the Wall Street Journal. “You should feel uncomfortable when you take a new job because the opportunity to grow is so vast.”

Nicholas spent a week pondering the decision but ultimately said yes. It wasn’t long until she proved Ungerleider’s instincts correct; under Nicholas’ leadership, her unit posted record earnings. Ungerleider eventually promoted Nicholas to the role of chief tax officer, a position she’ll assume in January 2018.

It can be difficult to push people into jobs that they don’t feel qualified for, which is why it’s incredibly important for bosses to be proactive in acknowledging talented employees. Ilene H. Lang, president and CEO of Catalyst, believes that supervisors best support promising employees when they advocate for them within the workplace.

“Effective sponsors also provide career coaching and guidance that enables protégés to make broader and more strategic contributions to their organizations,” Lang said.

This is especially true for advancing women in the workplace. Research shows that women tend not to apply for jobs that they aren’t already highly qualified to do. When bosses recognize talented female employees and encourage them to apply for a “stretch job”—a job that they have the skill set to succeed in but doesn’t seem like a natural next step or fit—they’re contributing to the growth of the entire organization.

In Beth Nicholas’ case, Ungerleider knew that she didn’t have the traditional credentials of other corporate chief tax officers. She may not have attended law school, but Ungerleider saw Nicholas’ excellent collaboration skills as a more crucial asset to DowDuPont Inc.’s company-wide goals.

Jessica Bigazzi Foster, a senior partner at consulting firm RHR International, says that these moments benefit bosses on a personal level as well. When leaders recount the stories of their careers, “a consistent theme is that somebody took a chance on them and helped them make a significant leap—without checking all the boxes,” Foster said to the Wall Street Journal.

If you’re looking for your significant leap but don’t want to sit and wait for somebody to notice you, here are some proactive strategies you can utilize today:

  • Figure out what you like. Yes, it sounds simple, but doing this is how program manager Catherine Zelenkofske moved from software building to human resources. She sat down with the company CEO and determined the parts of her job she liked the best, then looked for positions where she could own those attributes. But, unlike Zelenkofske, you don’t need to wait for an invitation from a CEO to do this. Spend an afternoon self-reflecting and see what you come up with.
  • Become visible. The next time you’re in the elevator with an executive in the company, take the time to introduce yourself. You don’t have to have an elevator pitch ready. Just extend your hand and say, “I don’t believe we’ve met yet, my name is …” and go from there. Ensuring that employees and executives across multiple departments know who you are is important in determining your next step. Even if you end up moving to another company, you never know who could help you find your next step forward.
  • Listen to what people say about you. I’m not suggesting that you eavesdrop on every conversation to find out what people like about you. Rather, the next time somebody casually compliments you or acknowledges your success on a project, really listen to what they’re saying. Do they see something in you that you don’t? Don’t hesitate to ask them to clarify a statement so you can better understand their perspective. If they see you as an excellent public speaker and you’ve never felt that way about yourself, it may be worth exploring that skill set more.

This post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, which helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.