What’s so unique about Blake Thomas? Well, it’s not like he invented the next Facebook. And he didn’t invest in Google to make a fortune. What’s so great about Blake’s story is that he represents you. He’s an intelligent and hard-working IT Professional from the Chicago suburbs who has seen some great success in his career.
Just three years ago, MMD Services helped place Blake at Enova in a junior-level Quality Assurance role. Since then, he’s received several promotions, one just a year into the job and the last one 18 months later. Today, Blake manages teams of QA Engineers, leading multiple projects and guiding his teams to success. Take a look at our conversation. I think his strategies will be highly useful to many of you!
Maria: My first question is an obvious one … how does a Junior QA Engineer become a Manager in just three years?
Blake: People often base their expectations for their own future based on experiences their parents had. Sure, they hear inspiring success stories but they seem like a long shot. And the only thing they can view as “real” is the example of their father or uncle putting in decades of hard work with their company and then achieving promotions as they retire. This philosophy is no longer true. Your next promotion won’t come because of your loyalty and perfect attendance. Your employer is looking for added value and tangible results and they are willing to buy your commitment if they see the importance of doing so. It is a perfectly reasonable plan for your first promotion in the first 12-18 months of your employment. I say “plan” because only with this goal in front of you can make all the rights steps to show your employer that you deserve it.
Maria: So how do you work this plan into your actual job description?
Blake: View yourself as a business and your employer as a client. As a business, my main focus is to see that my client continues to want more and more of my services. What is important to my client? How can I solve my client’s problems? This simple concept helps me constantly evaluate where to best focus my efforts achieving maximum results and visibility. Simply understanding your employer’s business model and priorities will steer you in the right direction.
Maria: So what if your immediate supervisor is just not backing you up in these efforts?
Blake: I feel like it is all in your approach. I hear folks use a lot of “I” as they discuss their ideas and accomplishments. This how you lose touch with your manager and your teammates. Even if you were the driving force behind this great thing, you still had a manager who allowed you to concentrate in this area and a team that picked up the workload while you did that. Recognizing this fact will allow you to naturally present things in a “team-friendly” manner. Your manager will automatically get behind you if you are not just presenting your idea but an added value initiative that can be facilitated by your team.
Maria: So you’re pursuing new ideas and your boss is behind you. What’s next in setting yourself up for the actual promotion?
Blake: There is usually a position that is a natural next step, or perhaps your company’s organization is flat and might benefit from additional leadership. Once you see a realistic opportunity, make yourself an obvious choice for a promotion in the eyes of your management. What that means is start doing the desired job now. You don’t need to have a title to lead but you certainly need to show leadership qualities to be seen as a leader.
Maria: But if you start leading without the title, don’t coworkers have issues with taking direction from a peer with no actual seniority?
Blake: Everyone is different, so some will cooperate and some would need to buy into it. This goes back into the culture of “value.” Support from your peers is something you need to earn by looking at what’s important to them. The person that is showing you resistance may have a great idea you can help facilitate and quickly he goes from rival to ally. I would like to add that being an effective leader will directly depend on how you are received at the peer level today and earning their respect is essential.
Maria: So now that you have laid out a “roadmap” to promotion, here’s a potential roadblock: what if your organization is too small or too conservative to allow you to grow?
Blake: Absolutely. Therefore, before selecting a job in today’s world we need to consider the opportunity for growth that you can realistically see during the interview process.
I interviewed with a well-known fortune-500 company that has been around for over a century, and I received a competing offer at the same time with my offer from Enova. Enova was a just a few years old at the time, but I ultimately chose the opportunity at Enova because they presented themselves as a culture where results, efficiency and ideas were valued over face-time and suits. My interviewer wore denim and a baseball cap, but he asked intelligent questions and was able to answer all of mine with clarity. I saw that this is a growing organization where new leadership will be added but still small enough setting for me to be visible.
Maria: So you’re saying is one may need to switch jobs if they see a dead end?
Blake: I would encourage everyone (including my own people) happy or not, to interview periodically. You are a businessperson and the only way to be sure that you are in the right place is to look and see what is out there. If you come back from an interview and you still feel that you are in the best place, then you actually know this to be true. Such an approach shows intelligence and drive and that is the kind of people I want on my team. The person who makes best decisions for themselves is likely to make best decisions for their organization.
Maria: Thank you Blake for your direct and honest answers. Readers take heed … his story could be yours!