I Wish I Had Known: Mentor/Boss vs. Position/Title

In continuing with the trend of “I wish I had known”, here is today’s (which is a bit of a build on yesterdays); I wish I had known that more important than position/title, was the mentor/boss I was reporting to.

I Thought it Was All About Position/Title

When I was applying to jobs, I thought that the position/title was the most important thing (which usually carried with it a corresponding pay – see the connection?). I thought that getting the most senior role possible would accelerate my career – it makes sense why I thought that; it’s like climbing the corporate ladder, but you get to start half way up – the climb is easier, and quicker! However, I soon came to appreciate how wrong that was (point of clarification: I was very fortunate in the fact that I don’t think I have yet had a poor boss – I came to realize this from the affirmative, that by having a series of great bosses and mentors, I grew and learned so much more than if I had pursued a position or title).

Who doesn’t want to be an ‘account manager’ or ‘associate’ right out of undergrad? It seems great! You are given all this responsibility, all these opportunities, why does it matter if your boss is a tyrant?

There are a couple things that could (and probably will) go wrong. Firstly, if you are just going for a senior position, you might bite off more than you can chew. Perhaps it would have been better for you to take on a more junior role and learn the ropes from someone with a little experience, but you pushed for the more senior role. Now you are in a new role, in a new company, and all they see is you floundering. You don’t get what you are supposed to do, and your boss doesn’t have time to explain it to you. Secondly, where you start is no indication of where you will go. You may start at a slightly higher position then some of your peers, but you might also be there for the next five years. Excellent bosses have a way of identifying talent and fostering it – but you might have foregone an excellent boss for an excellent position. Poor bosses (which you may now find yourself under – weren’t you wondering why that position was open in the first place?) have a way of being threatened by talent. You may find yourself under a tyrannical boss, who takes credit for your successes and eagerly points out your failures (or at least doesn’t help you correct them).

I Learned it Was All About a Great Boss and Mentor

Really the most important thing is picking a great boss, someone who you want to work for and emulate. Someone who can teach you, help you grow, and guide you through the more difficult steps as you get your first post-school footing. Great bosses will help you grow and challenge yourself, and they will open doors for you – they will be perhaps the most crucial ingredient in insuring you get a great experience. Additionally, a great boss will shield you from the political forces of large companies, help you navigate management, and share lessons with you at every step – aside from making sure you have  a great experience, they will also ensure that it’s a long experience too (hopefully at least!).

If I Could Go Back

If I could go back, I would do one thing very differently. In an interview, when you get the standard “do you have any questions for us?” at the end, I would of used that time to question my would be boss (whether present or not). I would have requested to talk to him/her, and then asked; what are their strengths and weaknesses? What do they see as the potential for the role over the next one to three years? What are their plans and ambitions? Where do they see themselves in five to ten years? What can they offer a mentee? Do they see themselves as a mentor? What has been the result of their past disciples? How have they guided them?

By asking these questions, you insure that you are not only signing on for a great experience, but you are signing on with a great captain – a great mentor and boss. This is someone who will make sure you have the proper set on your sail, will watch out for you while you begin your career, and will offer you continued advice and counsel as your professional career develops.

 

 

Blair Livingston’s Blog

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