Is it better to move up in a role (promotion) or specialize in a skill?
January 14, 2017 8:40 PM   Subscribe

Is it better to move up in a role (promotion) or specialize in a skill?

I wanted to provide an update. In 2014, I had a concern that it might take 8 years to get promoted and I asked this question here.

Recently, I got promoted after 5 years with the same company and now a senior. My role is focused on guiding junior employees with their work and oversee several teams. However, there is one team in my department where I am not involved...and I want to join them because I want to gain some hands-on skills because it is very valuable if I want to switch companies down the road.

Is it better to move up (promotion) with a good job title or specialize in hands-on skill? I'm looking for opinions than a specific answer.

posted by Mountain28 to Work & Money (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Be the manager for awhile. You can learn a lot from guiding junior employees and doing so can strengthen your skills as you teach them and manage teams.

See if there is a way you can manage and also slide into hands-on skills with the one team or supervise those who are doing such.

Management experience on a resume as you move up is important.
posted by ITravelMontana at 9:01 PM on January 14, 2017 [6 favorites]

Yeah, management experience is more transferrable and impressive-looking than any specialized skill, unless you definitely only want to focus on that in your career (and maybe even then). Congrats on the promotion!
posted by ferret branca at 9:26 PM on January 14, 2017

Agree that manager experience is probably the better path. Generally other companies looking to hire a manager will want to see some prior manager experience, and having that title helps to establish you into that level. Besides, what's there to say that you can't get exposure to the work on that other team in a different while, while still being promoted?

That being said, the REAL question to ask yourself is: If you needed to find a job at a different company, what is the benefit of the promotion vs. the specialized skill set? Salary, # of positions you qualify for, speed at which you'll be able to find a job, stability of the new position, # of companies hiring for that position, continued career pathing, etc. etc.?

The other thing to think about is can you get the experience of that specialized skill set in a different way that can still give you similar "credentials" to future employers? E.g., a course you can take? Being a manager -- well, you can take courses on it, but companies looking to hire real managers really really do want people who were in management roles or had the chance to play the direct manager role.
posted by ellerhodes at 10:45 PM on January 14, 2017

You know, it really depends on what your work style/preferences are, and what you're interested in. Personally, I was excited about the challenge (and pay!) of management, but was hesitant because I didn't want to lose my skills edge (which definitely happens) and I was worried I would miss getting to really dig into the work. It turns out I really like being a manager - it suits me. So now I am working towards a senior leadership role. I do miss getting to focus mostly on the day-to-day work of the department, but the trade-off was worth it to me.

However, I've known other people who tried management out and didn't like it. They were good at their jobs because they loved them, and then when they became managers, they didn't get to do that job anymore! Or they didn't like the politics that comes with management. The good news is that you can always go from being a manager to an individual contributor, often at a higher level than you were at before.

Finally, it's worth thinking about whether or not your field has opportunities for advancement that don't involve management. If you go work on this other skill, can you get pay increases and increasing seniority in that role, or are you going to be stuck?
posted by lunasol at 11:44 PM on January 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Management is a specialized skill with broad opportunities. It requires a completely different set of skills from your analyst job. Some people like it, some people are good at it, and a select few are good at it while also liking it. If you've been given the opportunity, you should take it, at the very least just to see if you like it and/or are good at it.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:02 AM on January 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

If you like politics and people, go for a Management role.

If you like your craft above everything elae, specialize.
posted by Kwadeng at 12:17 AM on January 15, 2017

Whenever you have a chance to expand your skillset, go for it.

Staying in one position with the same company for a long time will eventually grow tiring. You become complacent and bored. At some point you'll want to move on.

I say if you think you'd have a passion for the other gig, why not give it a try?

Sure, management can be great to add to a resume...But, let me ask you this: If it took you 5 years to reach a promotion at your current company, do you really believe they value you? If you take a step towards management, you are locking yourself into an even longer commitment with a company that still might not value you.

Life is short. Take the little opportunities that arise every once in awhile. You will thank yourself later.
posted by curTeas at 1:01 AM on January 15, 2017

There are three ways to build a career:
  • Be a specialist
  • Own the delivery of outcomes
  • Lead people
They overlap a lot. A project manager also tries to lead people - but cares most about the outcome. A specialist will need to be accountable for outcome delivery. If you lead a team that never delivers, you won't lead them for long.

But those are the three main opportunities in most businesses.

Specialists are valued up to the point they can be offshored.

People who deliver outcomes have an enormous amount of fun, make lots of money and tend to have less stable employment.

Leaders are rare and awesome and are the ones who drive culture to make great businesses.

I have never hired a manager. Please don't be one of those.
posted by Combat Wombat at 4:35 AM on January 15, 2017 [10 favorites]

There is no "best" here. Combat Wombat has a decent summary. Early in my career I specialized in areas that was fun for me, despite being asked to manage. Those skills, with continuous development since, have been key to subsequent jobs. That was also in part because my view of the company's management format was that it was a bit dysfunctional.

Then I moved into management for a while, after moving states and jobs. That progressed to the point where I was solely managing which was too removed from my profession for satisfaction. I switched roles again to pick up what I saw as some needed technical skills to not be the company leader who didn't know how to do the basic skills of the profession (Revit, for any architects reading). Now I'm at a company that has a good perspective on the value of both managers and skill specialists and have a good balance of both.

I'd advise taking on the role you believe your company will best support for success. If that's not the decider, then the one you are most passionate about. Those should have a good overlap in any case.
posted by meinvt at 8:08 AM on January 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

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