Advice from recruiters: Showing managerial readiness without prior experience

Many professionals are motivated to enroll in business school to increase employability and leadership skills. When entering the workforce, graduates with limited managerial experience have the tough task of proving to prospective employers that they are up to the task of managing employees.

The Portland State Graduate Business Programs staff spoke with three recruiters about how to best position yourself and your education during your job search. Their advice is to be realistic about experience and skills, rethink leadership experience, and demonstrate promotion readiness now. 

Be realistic about your past experience and present skills

On writing your resume, all three recruiters were adamant: do not embellish. “We can spot it a mile away when people are stretching the truth on their resume,” says Mike Stroud, Corporate Recruiter at Tillamook. When applicants use buzzwords and skills pulled exactly from job description, it can seem like a falsehood, he continues. “Another step of my process for interviewing new employees is setting up a phone screen, and that will yield whether they do have past experience.”

Recruiter Nathalie Ravenstein, Senior Director of Talent Attraction for SAP, an enterprise software company, also recommended being pragmatic about the timeline for advancement. “Being a manager is challenging, and newly graduated students are rarely ready. Many students say, ‘I didn’t go to school and bust my butt to get a second degree to start working at an individual contributor level,’” says Ravenstein. “You do start there, but because of what you learned, you move up much faster.”

“We look for behavioral aspects that we cannot teach,” Ravenstein emphasizes. An employer can tell the new hire about past problems and workarounds, but an individual must bring an innate ability to problem solve, to readjust their communication style to different employees and to be engaging and motivating. Ravenstein shared a comprehensive list of qualities that SAP looks for in prospective managers. 

List of desirable management qualities at SAP:

  • Ambition
  • Analytic Skill
  • Assertiveness
  • Bottom-line Orientation
  • Caution
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity/Innovativeness
  • Customer Orientation
  • Decision Making
  • Delegation
  • Developing Long-Term Goals
  • Developing Short-Term Goals
  • Energy
  • Evaluating Alternatives
  • Flexibility
  • Follow-Up/Control
  • Impact
  • Informing Others
  • Initiative
  • Introducing Change
  • Judgment
  • Listening
  • Motivating Others
  • Negotiating
  • Oral Communication
  • Performance Management
  • Persuasiveness
  • Presentation
  • Questioning
  • Removing Obstacles
  • Resolving Conflict
  • Sales
  • Scheduling
  • Selecting and Developing People
  • Setting Performance Standards
  • Setting Priorities
  • Solving Problems
  • Stress Management
  • Team Leadership
  • Team Orientation
  • Toughness
  • Variety
  • Written Communication

Rather than express these behavioral traits in a resume, Ravenstein recommends candidates use behavioral examples from past work experience in the interview and information interviews to convey job readiness.

Rethink your leadership experience

“Maybe they weren’t supervisors but had influence on cross-functional teams,” says Stroud. Applicants who do not have experience managing employees but can demonstrate their experience leading through communication and project management are attractive candidates, he says, Capstone and consulting projects serving as strong examples. He also looks at how applicants have progressed at previous companies. 

Dana Pratt, Principal of DCP Training & Talent Development, recommends showcasing volunteer experience. “Do committee work or sit on a nonprofit board. That way, you are demonstrating decision-making skills and fiduciary responsibility.” Professionals who have a gap in their resume should show how they developed new skills in their circumstance — for example, caring for an ailing relative, becoming a parent or taking time off to travel.

Stroud and Pratt both said that they do not automatically screen out applicants with gaps on their resumes but do ask about gaps at the interview. “Employers want to see that you’re active and that you have an active mind. And especially if you are applying for a B Corp or nonprofit, what did you do for your community?” She points to travel, mastery of a musical instrument or language, and community volunteer experience as facets that can make an applicant more interesting.

Demonstrate that you are ready for promotion right now

The recruiters offer these takeaways for professionals who want to make it clear that they are ready to take on management responsibilities.

  • Ask your manager what you need to do to get ready. Your first step is engagement and transparency. Sit down with your manager and tell them your goals. Ask, what am I not demonstrating today that I need for a management role? How should I go about attaining that experience?
  • Go to a larger company. It is harder to get to a managerial level at a small company, emphasizes Ravenstein. If you work for a company where, despite your best efforts, a management role is not attainable, find out from your manager what your gaps are, take that knowledge and apply it to a larger company, where there are many more opportunities for promotion and advancement.
  • Networking. Conducting informational interviews is a great way to let people know that you are interested in moving up. Information interviews lead to further connections — they can put you in touch with someone who is better aligned with your goals and can help you find an opportunity. These should be primarily face to face, and if in-person interaction is impossible, one on one. Additionally, attend meet and greets, meetups or internal trainings at your job that interest you to build relationships with like-minded employees. 
  • Practice telling your story. In the absence of proven work experience in management, it is your responsibility to convey your potential to a prospective employer. Reflect deeply on how you made an impact in past roles, why you decided to earn your graduate degree, and frame your story in a compelling way. Share your motivation for advancement! If you want the job for prestige or to help pay off student loans, “that is real, but an employer doesn’t care,” says Pratt. “Tell them your ideas about how you will add to the team or motivate employees.”

Do your homework. Commit to understanding your chosen career path. What is the average tenure in an individual contributor role? How are individual contributors typically primed for leadership? What does the company do to support growth? It is worth your time to become a leader with a company you believe in. “Most students start this process in their final year, when they should start it the moment they enroll in college,” says Ravenstein. “Invest in yourself, research the companies and talk to employees.”

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