How Do I Ace This Test?
July 25, 2009 12:36 PM   Subscribe

Where do you want to be in 3 months/ 6 months/ 1 yr/ 3 yrs within the company? My boss asked me to write a response to this when I challenged him about my lack of career direction. Obviously I have my own thoughts, but beyond that, what specifically is *he* wanting to read when I turn this in? What will help convince him to put me on the fast-track to where I want to be?
posted by forallmankind to Work & Money (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Not enough detail to answer; what is your position, experience, education and desired goal (i.e.., where you'd like to be)?

Without this I don't think anyone could offer other than advise in the most general, broadest terms.
posted by Mutant at 12:40 PM on July 25, 2009

Erm...where would you like to be? 'Cause if you know that, I think that's the answer. I think he wants you to convince him that you have ambition to rise in your profession, since ambition tends to compel people to work hard and diligently, causing him, as your boss, to become rich and successful.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 1:01 PM on July 25, 2009

I usually write about how, in three years, I don't want to be writing about where I'm going to be in three years. Very meta. Unfortunately, then I get the inevitable lecture on how my attitude is bad.

Of course, three years from that time, I am where I want to be. And, it turns out that they don't make you do this bullshit when you are charging them an hourly rate.
posted by jrockway at 1:01 PM on July 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well, your development is your responsibility. I've always had to identify my goals and identified what I thought was required to get there and then my mentors would either help me fill in gaps or help me identify where I was slighlty off track and we put a development plan together based on that. Nobody is going to present this kind of thing to you on a plate.

So work out where you want to be in three years and work it backwards identifying concrete milestones within those timeframes - the idea is to demonstrate what your goal is and how you are going to get there.

The fact that you ask this question makes me think you suffer from lack of progression, because you either have mentioned an unrealistic goal to your boss or a realistic goal but lack appreciation of how to get there (or fail to communciate this at any rate) or else have a vague idea of where you'd like to go but nobody has ever progressed to a vague idea...
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:02 PM on July 25, 2009

Best answer: What your boss is looking for is some indication that you have goals and a specific plan for getting there, rather than just a generalized sense of frustration due to lack of progression (which seems to be all you've shown him, as suggested by your original question).

To answer his challenge, think about where you want to be at the 3-year mark -- what level, area of concentration, etc. If you really want to knock his socks off, also include how you want to be viewed three years down the road.

Then, consider what positions, experiences, projects, exposures, etc. you will need to get you to that desired 3-year goal. Be sure to include any training, coaching, or other developmental activities you will need. Emphasize how you can make those happen, but also mention what you'll need him (or someone else) to do to enable you along the way.

If he wants your responses in writing (which it seems he does), add some introductory paragraphs or a cover letter indicating -- if it's so -- that this has been a very useful exercise for you as it has made you think through how you can best realize your own aspirations while benefiting the company, and has also helped you see that much of the impetus must come from you with just a little bit of help from him (or others).

Much of this advice emanates from my belief that he threw this back onto you because he felt that you were whining a bit or at least expecting someone else to take charge of advancing your career. If you don't believe this to be the case, then you may need to modify or even ignore my advice.
posted by DrGail at 1:08 PM on July 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Ask yourself.. Is there room for advancement within your department? Is that the best fit? Would another position within the company be more appropriate (is it one where the skills and/or knowledge you have know would be beneficial to that department and there would be room for advancement there)? If the positions you want require more education, or managing people, etc, how do you plan on acquiring those skills? Do you know the job requirements of where you want to be in 3 yrs.

You will always know yourself (and where you want to be in the company) better than your boss. Your boss will know the requirements for advancement/hiring better than you. So make sure you get feedback on your performance, what certain positions require, help your boss identify your strengths, but in the end you have to take responsibility for your career.

Note: The leadership performance grid (example 1, example 2) might be one way a manager is looking at to see who's ready to advance
posted by ejaned8 at 1:11 PM on July 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: OK - I work in new media (DVD production) so I - nor any of my colleagues - have a template of career progression as if we were accountants or lawyers or whatever. I have an undergraduate degree completely unrelated to my job - all of us pretty much fell into this business which sprang out of nowhere, rose to it's peak, and is now going slowly but steadily downhill.

So I don't have mentors, people who've gone before me, pre-established milestones. This also makes long-term projections somewhat challenging, not to mention the appreciation of how to get there. If it counts for anything, I have 9 years experience in this line.

But I'm not looking for you guys to write this response for me; I'm more looking for thoughts on what my manager would like to read *beyond* my specific desires. What would you make *you* think I'm the guy to back?
posted by forallmankind at 1:21 PM on July 25, 2009

Life is not school; it's not a test. It's not something you "ace".

I don't think you should write what your manager wants to read. This does a disservice to you and to your manager. If you treat this as a game, that's all it will be. But if you're honest with yourself (and your manager), you'll both be better off for it. Do you understand what I'm saying?

You wrote: Obviously I have my own thoughts...

Then this is what you should share. This is what will give you — and your boss — the most benefit.

...but beyond that, what specifically is *he* wanting to read when I turn this in?

How could we possibly know what he wants to read? You don't seem to know, and you work with him.

Again, I think the best approach here is simply to be honest. That's the only way you're going to "ace" this.
posted by jdroth at 2:03 PM on July 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If this is a job you like, think of what the perfect job, incorporating what you're doing now, would be. Do you want to become CEO of the company? A Partner? Manager of the Creative Division?

Now, you may not be able to get there in 3 years, so make a guess as to how long it would take you to get to that position. Is there education you'd have to gain? Networking you'd have to do? Money you'd have to make?

Break down your estimate for your "dream job" into smaller increments. If it'd take, say, 25 years to become CEO, what would be the first fifth of that step? That could be your 5-year plan.

Break down your 5-year goal into 1-year increments. What can you do in that first year? How can you position yourself to get to that 5-year goal?

Also, if you want to impress your boss, think of where your industry will be in the length of time you're asked to look into. If you read about trends that will happen in your field within the next 5-10 years and see how you can help position your company to take advantage of that.

It doesn't matter if you biff what will really happen in the future, or if your plan isn't what your boss thinks is the right course for you. The exercise, I've found (on both sides of it) is to give both your boss and you a way to focus your efforts on what you're doing now and to see how to make you more happy in your job and give clues towards how you can best be utilized by your boss/company to help them achieve their goals.
posted by xingcat at 3:01 PM on July 25, 2009

I'm more looking for thoughts on what my manager would like to read *beyond* my specific desires. What would you make *you* think I'm the guy to back?

That really doesn't matter - either you have a goal in your current place of work and want to work towards that - then say what it is and how you will achieve it. Or you haven't got a goal. In that case it doesn't matter what you write of if you write anything at all.

If you have a goal but this cannot be achieved in your current job do the exercise anyway - it will help you come up with a strategy, will help you identify roles and environments where you can work towards your goal. And then start to implement the strategy.

If you haven't got a goal you're not going to progress. The guy would be wasting his time if he supported you.

So, assuming this guy is prepared to support you in general, the only thing he wants to hear is that you have a goal and are driven to achieve it.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:23 PM on July 25, 2009

Best answer: Ok, cheers for replying. He or she is going to be looking for a structure.

Don't be surprised if - given the relatively new nature of you field / position - your supervisor is as much looking for clues from yourself in this process as ready to contribute substantively. Although if he / she doens't have a clue that would be a BIG negative in my book (more on that later).

Put together a roadmap, but don't be too aggressive. Especially so with the three month milestone. For that I'd suggest action a "meeting of minds"; agreement between yourself and your supervisor on goals for your next milestone as well as entire development plan.

This gives you some wiggle room, but with a fair degree of credibility. Time to think and reflect, if nothing else.

Now to the longer term objectives.

What do you really, really like about this work? Here you've got to elevate yourself, look at what many MBA programmes call the "helicopter view". Try to isolate and identify broad themes and then fast forward; if these themes were relentlessly applied in your favour, what would you be doing in six / twelve months, etc.

Be both creative and bold here. Those who ask, gets is so so true in situations like these.

If additional education is called for note it. Whatever training or management support you need note it. Equipment you need, note it. Whatever you need to insure you success, you note it.

This is your chance to define not only a plan but also minimal requirements for your future. Be both aggressive and ambitious in your scope and requirements; falling back can happen, if necessary, along the way towards your goal. But whatever you need to succeed, note it now. You can't, credibly, later on claim "If I only had FILL-IN-THE-BLANK I would have succeeded". Your supervisor is (broadly) asking you what you need to get where you'd like to be. Answer the question completely.

But once you've defined these goals don't be surprised if you realise they are applicable elsewhere.

And don't be afraid to take that leap if present circumstances don't offer the opp.

Because you've completed this exercise you'll be far, far better prepared than many of your peer and your boss.

To be brutally honest here: I supervised lots of folks while I was working in banking. I was the kind of manager who had this plan already in mind for each and every one of my direct reports. It was the least I could do, as they were working for me, and on some level entrusting their career and future prospects to myself.

If your current supervisor listens more than talks when you two sit down to discuss, isn't prepared to contribute and is sorta amazed / shocked / silenced at the level of though you've put into this then (and seriously no disrespect to someone I've never met); you're dealing with a managerial lightweight and better off elsewhere.
posted by Mutant at 3:47 PM on July 25, 2009 [6 favorites]

beyond that, what specifically is *he* wanting to read when I turn this in?

Wrong approach. He's asking for specifically not that.

Don't try to trick him. Tell him the truth.
posted by rokusan at 5:22 PM on July 25, 2009

Tell him you want his chair as soon as he abdicates it for his next promotion. Link your professional advancement to his own. It feeds into his own vanity nicely and redirects his inquiry about your goals into his his own goals: it makes him the only thing between you and where you want to be. He won't ask again.

If it happens to be true, then you will show as the logical first choice to groom for the job. If it ain't, at least you get breathing room to decide what your goal is.
posted by EnsignLunchmeat at 5:55 PM on July 25, 2009

Response by poster: Some excellent responses here - thank you all for taking the time to answer; these contributions are exactly what I was looking for to help me make a more structured and effective proposal.
posted by forallmankind at 8:19 PM on July 25, 2009


He couldn't care less what you write - he may actually be surprised when you hand something in, and for what it's worth, I wouldn't bother writing anything. It's to make you realise you're a numpty for complaining about a lack of career progress when you haven't even got a career. Without a plan for the future - your plan that you made for you, not something your boss comes up with then you steer through on rails because you're entitled to it - it's just a job. Why should he care about your career when you don't enough to actually put some serious thought into it?

Sounds like some staff I've had over the years:

"Why haven't I been promoted yet?"
"Promoted to what? Did you apply for something but miss out?"
"No, I didn't apply for anything."
"Well, what's the issue?"
"I dunno. I just think I deserve more."
"More what? Money? Responsibility? Control? Creative freedom? Why? What do you think you've done to deserve it? What would you do with it if you had it?"
"I dunno. Oh, just forget about it. Nobody appreciates me."
"Um, OK. See you next performance review cycle."
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:22 AM on July 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

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