CHS Careerist: Focus on the Person in Front of You

Jul 17, 2013

Recently, I came across an interview with career counselor and author Stephen Pollan.  In the Forbes article, Pollan offers several pieces of helpful career advice.  But the one that resonated with me the most was the importance of recognizing that you work for your supervisor, not your company.

“The person you report to is your spokesperson and your connection to your employer. You’ve got to become your own propagandist — and you do that through your supervisor.

If your supervisor wants somebody to take on responsibility at work, you’ve got to look like you’re protecting his back and front. That’s your most important job. Then you’ll get recognition.”

I had never considered this before, but Pollan is absolutely right.

Most junior employees don’t interact with senior employees often.  Even in a small office, your reach might only extend to your supervisor’s supervisor.  The people at the top of the office hierarchy, usually the people you want to impress and interact with the most, are the people who you will see the least.  You don’t often see the Member or the CEO having lengthy chats with the interns or junior staff, do you?

For the people at the top of the food chain to hear about you, the stories (good or bad) have to climb the ladder. Especially working for a larger company, the impact of your work is muted by the size of the organization.  Making your supervisor look good and ensuring that they see you in a positive light is essential to ensuring that the people higher up in the company see you as an asset.

So if you want the people at the top to notice you, you need to focus on keeping your immediate supervisor happy because she is the first rung of the ladder that leads you to the top.  And her opinion will determine whether the news making its way to the corner office is positive or negative.

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  1. Jenn says:

    I agree..mostly. This is true, in my experience, if you have a great front-line supervisor. I’ve had a mixed bag over the years. The one thing I’ve taken away from having less than stellar supervisors is to NOT be afraid of making connections with more senior employees. It’s great if you have that supervisor to be your advocate, but more often than not, you have to drive your own career and make your own connections. In the early days, I was always too afraid of my senior-level chain of command and didn’t build those relationships. Big mistake! And this is true especially with a big company! You are just a number, sadly. If you have senior-level managers open to direct contact, do it!

    • Mel says:

      I completely agree with you Jenn. I’ve had enough bad managers to know that there is a point where you need to make your voice heard (in a positive way) to upper management. Either that, or start working for someone who will be your cheerleader.

  2. Maggie says:

    Great post Belle!

    I completely agree and this blends nicely into the one piece of advice I always give. I firmly believe in junior staffers making sure they have some one to advocate on their behalf. I think I have gotten very far because I have had more senior staff willing to stand up for me. Whether I had done some great work and they made sure people knew I did that work or whether I did something wrong and they reassured senior staff that this was not representative of my normal work.

    I don’t believe your advocate need necessarily be your supervisor but having someone stand up for you in all situations is vital.

    -M

  3. Jenny says:

    I would add that this is particularly good advice for interns. I once worked somewhere where I did some unofficial intern supervision, and it became apparent that one of the interns did NOT think that she needed to impress me. (She saved all her good behavior for the fleeting moments when the big boss was around.) Huge miscalculation on her part. In our particular field, junior staffers like I was at the time are more helpful in getting jobs than senior ones.

    • Belle says:

      True story. I’ve had interns who thought they needed to suck up to the CoS or the Deputy and treat me like I was their BFF, not their supervisor. The CoS won’t remember your name in three months, maybe one month. But I will. And when they call the CoS for a reference and he asks me who you were, I might not have the best things to say if you were unprofessional with me.

  4. Maharani says:

    Great advice. Learn to get on with your boss at whatever level you are at-I am a senior executive-but I still have a boss and study to understand and get along with that person. A few years ago, I had a direct report, who from the day I arrived, went out of her way to antagonize me, for no reason that I could see. In my entire career, I have never treated any supervisor the way she treated me. Unfortunately, I received no effective help dealing with her. She has moved on but is still at my workplace. However, I will never exert myself on her behalf.

  5. SL says:

    This is so important. While at my (now former) internship this fall, I applied for a different internship at my home campus for the spring semester. It turned out that my future supervisor knew a principal at my firm and he contacted her for more information about my work. I hadn’t worked with that principal closely, but she was still able to start me off with a favorable impression before my interview because my supervisors and junior staff that I did work closely with had nothing but praise for me. You never know what a good impression can get you!

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