Monday, February 27, 2012

Why time doesn't equal promotion

I was recently given a promotion at my firm.  While it came with a boost in pay, I was just as excited about my new job responsibilities: I'm now doing the things in architecture that I always liked to do: programming, planning, and helping a client assess their space needs compared to their budget.  It's a long way from what I was doing 11 or so years ago fresh out of grad school--redlines, stamping drawings for a partner to sign,  more redlines, digging through old paper files for drawings from 1971, and did I mention redlines?  When I was given my promotion, one of my bosses commented that there were people in the office that had more years of experience and.or had spent more time at my firm than I had, yet they didn't get this same promotion.  

I have my own reasons for believing why I got a promotion that others didn't.  (I'm sure the owners of the firm have their reasons for promoting me as well.)  I have noticed in the past when, all things being equal, I would be given an opportunity over my colleagues.  If you read the results from various sociological and management studies over the past several years, it wouldn't seem possible: I'm short (when tall people are supposed to be favored in the white-collar world) and I'm female (when men should be favored in a field like construction). Up until the past couple of years, I looked younger than my age (a fact I bring up due to the nature of architecture, where age and experience are what confer respect more so than even gender).  For whatever reasons, I was given opportunities to succeed by my managers, and I seized and made something of those opportunities.  Doing this enough times gave me a variety of small promotions until I finally got this big promotion.

To be sure, not everyone wants to climb the ranks at a company or in their profession, and that's okay. However, it gets a little uncomfortable when people at a firm see someone being promoted and being given more perks, better projects, more leeway, etc. when that someone has less experience at a firm or in that profession.  Of course, there are instances of injustice--a member of the design staff becomes privileged because they get along with just the right person, or they're protected because their dad or uncle is part-owner in the company.  I've said before on this blog that experience in architecture is important; it takes a long time to know all the stuff we need to know, and part of that knowing is knowing what you don't know.  However, time spent in the profession isn't the be-all end-all.  Time spent working isn't enough on its own to earn a promotion.

So what does increase your chances of promotion?  There are as many factors, I suppose, as there are firms at which to get promoted.  Here are a few that I've found common to several firms (culled from discussions with friends at other firms as well as discussions with the people at my own firm):

  1. Not all experience is equal.  Five years working on strip malls isn't the same as five years working on prisons.  Three years working for fly-by-night developers isn't the same as three years working on government contracts.
  2. Do it right.  I'm not going to give you more complicated or interesting tasks if you can't or won't do the more basic tasks correctly more than once.  Skimming through your tasks and making mistakes shows me that you're not ready for bigger tasks.  And never let the following words pass your lips: "It doesn't matter."  If I'm paying you to do it, it matters.  And if it matters, it has to be done right.
  3. Don't just succeed, exceed.  You get a C for doing the job I asked you to do; you get an A for doing it really well, maybe even providing some extra that I didn't think I'd need but I do need.  The best way to succeed and exceed it to ask questions: who is this for? how will this be used? what will be done with this when it's complete? will we be changing this again after a meeting?
  4. Look the part.  Wear a shirt with a collar. Save the low-cut shirts and short skirts for the weekends.  Ditto for cargo shorts and flip-flops.  People who consistently look professional are people that can be sent to a meeting in a pinch or an emergency.
  5. Act the part. Be a professional and I can put you in professional situations. Even if you dress well, I'm hesitant to send you to a meeting alone or even to bring you with me to a meeting if you can't act professional.  Answer the phone like an adult ("Hi, this is Karen" instead of "Yeah?"), don't chew gum or suck on candy, don't sigh or roll your eyes when someone says something that means you're going to have to redo something or do some extra get the picture.
  6. Attitude is everything. Not every day will be magic, but please don't let that drag you down. Someone who can do even the most soul-draining of grunt work with a positive attitude, or at least an attitude of "well, at least it's something to do, and this too shall pass", can make all the difference. 

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