This is a short post but worth sharing. You probably already know this but bears reminding. We once had a candidate who came in for a pretty competitive position, meaning there were several very good applicants. He had the traits you would want – great understanding of the position and skills needed to succeed, relevant experience in a similar industry, strong “toolbelt” of skills relevant to the role, seasoned people management experience, and strong communication skills. Still, he blew the interview and never got an offer. Why?
He talked about his existing employer in a negative fashion too frequently. Yes, in some (or many) situations it’s okay to state up front that you are looking for a new situation. Maybe your company is laying off people left and right, maybe your company got acquired or went through a merger and there is no longer a “fit”, or maybe the company moved. All of those are legit and you can still paint them in a non-negative light.
This candidate had been at a very successful company for some time, yet it was undergoing change to adapt to the market. He simply got caught up with what I call the “good old days” syndrome; he couldn’t help himself from bringing up examples of how they used to do things and the new changes just weren’t working.
Needless to say, many interviewers caught on to this and it was enough of a negative where the hiring manager decided the candidate was not worth pursuing. No manager wants to hire a complainer – most people are great when things are going their way, but how will they react when or if things go south, even if temporarily.
It just goes to show even the smallest things can cost you an offer…so don’t complain about former employers or even portray them in a bad way (even if it is justified). It shows a lack of common sense, especially in an interview. Of course, this seems obvious but I have seen this occurrence happen time and time again over the years – I can’t remember a single one of those candidates ever being hired either!
So you’ve been toiling away as an individual contributor and have aspirations of being a manager – but how do you get there? Well, there’s actually many ways, but these are the most common:
- Promotion on same team – team grows or maybe your boss takes on additional responsibilities, and you get promoted as a lead or supervisor on your immediate team. The other common case is your manager leaves for another role and you interview for and receive her role.
- Promotion to new team – a manager leaves another team and you interview for and receive the role as a promotion.
- Battlefield Promotion – your manager is laid off, fired, or quits abruptly. Your manager’s boss or some senior management member informs you “you’re the new boss” for now. This is more common in startups or companies with limited funds – they can’t wait or afford to hire a replacement and you already know the team and processes in place.
- New Company, New Position – this is not as common for a first management position because you are an unknown asset, and most companies are not willing to pay for your mistakes until you learn how to manage.
- Get an Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from a Top 20 school. You might get a chance to manage right out of school even with no practical managerial experience, strictly from credentials alone. This movie can end in disaster though.
- Management Training Program – not as common anymore, but some larger companies used to admit high potential candidates into training programs geared towards grooming future managers.
#1 is the most common since it is controlled and you have some room to make mistakes while also learning from your manager who (presumably) supports the move and can coach you. I also feel it gives you the best chance to succeed, because there is a good support system and hopefully some official management training.
Okay, at this point, I assume you really do want to become a manager and understand the responsibilities involved. We’ll have a separate post on that in future hopefully. Just remember, stuff rolls downhill from above and problems flow upwards from below. Ultimately you are responsible for your team and their actions – your team will make or break you. Contrary to popular belief, you will most likely work much harder as a manager than you did as an individual contributor (if you care about the position at least).
Be an Exemplary Employee
You don’t have to be a superstar, but you better be good. Know how to be a good employee and make life easy for your boss:
- Show Maturity – this is paramount and probably the number one thing senior management is wary of. If you have a reputation for being a hothead or complainer or just someone who says or emails boneheaded things, you can pretty much forget about being considered for management.
- Be Reliable – do you complete things when you say you will, even the not-so-fun items like status reports? Show up to meetings on time. Take good notes so your boss never has to repeat himself.
- Competency – again, you don’t have to be a superstar but you should know your team’s technology, processes, and people. Your teammates should respect your work and opinions or you won’t have a shot at leading them.
- Be a Team Player – it sounds cliche, but show you work well with the team, even the more difficult folks. Volunteer to help in crisis situations. Even if you disagree with decisions, after you state your case and a decision is made, back it fully. Be willing to take on lousy tasks without complaint.
- Exhibit People Skills – yes, this is very important. Show that you can work just as well in one-on-one situations as you do in group settings. Make your boss believe she can send you as a team representative to other team or even customer meetings. Show your cool and patience in tense situations. Continue reading
Okay, if you’re already in the IT/internet/software industry, you might have a pretty good idea of what the various positions pay. It does vary greatly from position to position, as well as location. Here are some general guidelines first:
- Metro areas pay the most, with Silicon Valley (San Francisco to San Jose), New York, and DC (lots of gov jobs) leading the charge.
- Large, *successful* companies (think Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc.) pay more – there is very high competition for talent and these companies have deep pockets and stock to compensate aggressively.
- Rapidly growing startups, mid-size, or pre-IPO companies can also pay more handsomely (think Facebook, LinkedIn, Netflix); they compete for the same talent and often outbid their larger counterparts.
- Finance and trading are the other areas where talented IT folks make a salary premium with large potential bonuses.
- Non-technical companies usually pay the lowest – they are not competing for top talent across the board and their software/support requirements are usually not as stringent.
- In terms of relative salary ranking of IT areas, from highest to lowest: software development roles, operations roles, sales/professional services roles, quality assurance and test roles, IT support or helpdesk roles.
- Management salaries can vary, but it is not uncommon for senior or principle level engineers to make more than their managers. Top level tech talent is hard to come by!
Now how do companies actually compensate their staff? Each company has their own philosophy. Obviously, every position will have a salary component (some *only* have a salary component). Others may throw in cash bonuses, stock, options, or other perks. A quick list below. Just a disclaimer – the information in this article is based on 2012 and what I have observed (or heard from reputable sources) regarding Silicon Valley based companies.
- Salary – your salary based on a 40 hour (yeah, right!) work week.
- Sign-on Bonus – a one-time cash bonus to get you onboard and to offset other expenses or compensation you might be giving up in your current role. Typically anywhere from 5K-50K. Managers may get a heftier amount.
- Stock Grants – more popular recently, these are grants for actual stock shares (not just options). They typically vest (when you actually own the shares) after some period of time. It is usually some time function like 20-25% per year. For example, you may be granted 400 shares that have 25% vesting schedule over four years – at the end of each year of employment you would be given 100 shares of stock.
- Stock Option Grants – these give you the right to buy some number of stock shares at a predefined price (but must be exercised). For example, you may be granted 40,000 options to buy the same number of shares at 10 cents each. If it was a 25% four year vest, you could exercise the option at the end of your first year to buy 10,000 shares, which would cost you $1000 to exercise.
- Annual Bonuses – these are cash bonuses that could be based on your performance, your department’s performance, your company’s performance, or some combination of the above. Of course, they’re not usually guaranteed.
- Commissions – if you are in sales, this is likely a large component of your overall salary target. There are typically escalating commissions as you sell more.
- Employee Stock Purchase Program – not really part of salary, but if the company offers and ESPP, it usually means you can buy your company stock at a discount, typically 15% below the lowest market price. This can be a nice little bonus as well.