It’s time to talk about the “J” word. In the world of hiring and careers, there’s a big bright line between people who seem green, like they’re still learning, still getting their feet wet, and those who are established, proven, and ready to progress into leadership. High-potential candidates get turned down by hiring managers and recruiters all the time because they’re “too Junior” – meaning they don’t have enough relevant experience, despite the fact that they might have been working for three or four years.
So at what point do you stop being seen as a “Junior?” in your career? The answer seems obvious, but it can in fact be a surprisingly intangible thing.
On one level, you stop being a junior as soon as you have three or four years of relevant experience. As soon as you’ve shown that you don’t have to hop between jobs every three months, and can stick it out long enough in a single role to be tasked with increased responsibility. You’ve shown some form of career progression – whether a promotion, or learning, or a broadening of scope.
Which all makes sense. But many candidates find that making that leap from “Junior” status to “Mid-Career” status is actually surprisingly hard. Maybe there’s another way to think about how to make that leap, putting aside pure years of experience as a metric (because it’s often not as relevant as boilerplate job descriptions make it out to be).
A thoughtful LinkedIn Publisher post by author Simon Sinek about the nature of leadership gives some good perspective on the topic. His central insight?
“When we tell people to do their jobs, we get workers. When we trust people to get the job done, we get leaders.”
It’s a bit buzzword-y, kind of like the sort of inspirational quote you might see being passed around on LinkedIn. But the central idea behind this insight is sound. It’s also pretty applicable to the question of what separates a “Junior” employee from a “Mid-Career” employee, or one who’s beginning to demonstrate true leadership potential.
Sinek’s basic point (and it’s worth reading the entire article to see how he develops it) is that “Mid-career” or “Senior” employees – a.k.a. leaders – are those who have learned to work towards results rather than process. They’ve learned to identify and reward results rather than process in those they manage. Junior employees are often those who are still learning the processes they need to use to be effective, so it’s not surprising that they’re more focused on “how to do the job.” It’s necessary. But it also doesn’t capture the big picture, and that’s what sets “Mid-career” employees apart from “Juniors” more than years of experience alone.
It’s why the resumes of so many “Junior” employees emphasize the “duties” they’ve “fulfilled” in their roles, instead of the achievements they’ve won and the improvements they’ve been able to implement. It’s partially because entry-level and “Junior” roles have less opportunity for those achievements on account of having less responsibility. But it’s also because a “Junior” employee hasn’t yet learned to see their organization broadly enough to see their own impact on it. They haven’t necessarily developed the strong soft skills – verbal communication, presentation skills, “polish” – needed to explain the positive impact of their efforts to senior management. That’s the big picture.
In a field like Supply Chain Management and Procurement, these skills really set people apart from the analytical, process-oriented roles as Analysts and Leads that define early careers. These skills, more than even people management skills, are what so many executives point to when we ask them what they’re looking to hire a “truly strong Junior” for a Mid-career (Manager, Senior Manager, etc.) role. So if you’re closer to the beginning of your career and you feel like you’re getting short shrift because you’re seen as “too Junior”, think about how you can develop these skills. Think about how you project these skills on your resume and social media presence. Think about whether your resume emphasizes process or results, and whether it conveys a curiosity and interest in the “big picture.”
The question of when a “Junior” employee becomes a “Mid-Career” employee is obviously in the eye of the beholder. It also depends on the field, size of company, and a bunch of other factors. But hopefully this post will get you thinking about the mindset and achievements you need to make that leap.