I write this as a voice needing to be heard about career growth in the field of learning and development. This article is a compilation of conversations I’ve had with many senior professionals who are dedicated to continued professional growth while striving to develop talent within organizations both internally & as external consultants.
You, the Experienced Professional
You have several years of experience and a Master’s degree in your field. You’ve been a Senior-level, a Specialist, a Consultant, a Partner, and a Project Manager – but never a Training Manager. “Influence without Authority” is your mantra. The projects you led have been in the millions of dollars. You’ve interviewed, selected, and hired multiple vendor resources and made decisions on resource allocations and pay rates. But, you’ve never been a Training Manager.
You’ve run your own consulting firm for several years, hiring multiple subcontractors and developing their competencies on relevant software, project management, and client consulting skills. And yes, you’ve even had to fire someone you hired. You’ve run your budget to determine what software, office equipment, and marketing avenues to pursue, and which conferences/certificates to obtain to keep up with your own learning. You write proposals, network with stakeholders, influence, learn from and form partnerships with your peers. But, you’ve never been a Training Manager.
You’ve provided several years of service on the board of local non-profits in your field where you were in charge of a six-figure budget, including a year as president during which you lead a board of a dozen members and oversaw a chapter membership of several hundred. Your graduate school advisor asks you to come back and serve as part of a panel on successful alumni in the field. You are sought out by undergrad and graduate students, as well as those in job transition, for coaching on how to get into and succeed in the field. You’ve presented at conferences on learning topics such as building teams, leadership development, project management, business acumen, and performance management. But, you were never a Training Manager.
The Work Environment
Your bosses or clients are Training Managers, Directors, or Vice Presidents of Learning & Development. In a matrixed organization, your indirect bosses are leaders of functions such as HR, IT, or specific business units. It is not unusual that, at a minimum, 80% of your bosses have no formal background in training or learning and development. They have a background in sales, finance, marketing or engineering or other not directly applicable fields.
Executives at your organizations say that “learning people need to speak the language of business!” The managers you report to, as described above, have experience in certain facets of the business. They have the title “Manager” and yet, are not trainers, facilitators, e-learning developers, instructional designers, graphic designers, or video producers.
As a consultant, you work with several organizations where the Training/Design Manager, Director of Training, or Learning & Development Manager has few direct reports; several organizations have managers with ZERO direct reports. They are, in essence, program managers who own and train content on a particular topic. But, they have the title Training Manager.
After your years of experience internally at the senior individual contributor and program manager level – but not people manager level – and after building an external consulting business from the ground up, successfully building relationships and increasing profits for those who hire you and for the team you hire, you feel you are ready to lead a team at the manager level on an internal basis.
You apply for several full-time roles with no response. Soon, however, you get an interview for a direct hire manager role through a third party recruiter. The interviewer questions you on decision-making, experience with budgets, managing performance and developing people. She is impressed with your resume and the scale, variety, and complexity of project teams you’ve led and the tough decisions that you have had to make due to stakeholders’ budgets or time constraints. She asks to submit you as a candidate to the position.
Two days later you get a call from the recruiter. “I’m sorry,” she says, “but the company we’re working with says that they really don’t want to hire someone without previous management experience.” You ask, “What about running a business and hiring staff for the past several years? Managing subcontractors and clients nationally and globally? Or serving as President of a non-profit board for a chapter with several hundred members? Or being an internal program designer and project manager for leadership development programs valued at several million dollars annually?”
“That doesn’t count in their eyes,” the recruiter says.
Employers, Talent Development, Recruiters
Recruiters and Talent Development experts promote selling one’s “transferable skills,” those skills that carry across different jobs. (An example of this might be managing a team on a non-profit for 3 years to use skills that would transfer to leading a team in the corporate sector). Why then, does managing a team of consultants, or leading teams of non-profits, building relationships and executing and outperforming business projections as a small business owner, not transfer over to “counting” toward managerial skills?
You as an experienced professional count, as do the many others like you. You count, and you are out there, applying for managerial jobs. Perhaps the definition of what “counts” as managerial experience needs to be expanded. If a successful Sales Representative can become a Training Manager with no training background, then an experienced learning professional who has written, trained, facilitated, led teams, and project-managed hundreds of workshops, and demonstrated people leadership in several places surely deserves an equal opportunity to be a Training Manager, right?
“That doesn’t count in their eyes,” you were told. Your reply might well be, “Oh, then it’s not the kind of place for me to seek work.” The search for a place to fully utilize your talents, leadership, business, and management – and of course, training – skills continues.
A Hopeful Success
“How did you finally land your job back in corporate as a Training Manager?” You ask a colleague and friend. “I’ve been thinking about the same thing, but I keep hearing I don’t have the ‘management experience.’ I know you have a similar background; how did you do it?”
Your colleague sighs, “Oh. It was not easy and I heard the same thing you’re hearing – it took me two years. Really, it came down to someone giving me a chance. I have a small team and I still get to dig in and do the work.”
You are happy for your colleague; her perseverance has paid off after a long wait. She has also gotten an opportunity to work for a leader who believes in developing others.
She is a Training Manager. You can be too, with the right organization, willing to look past the title on the resume, and talk to the person who’s lived it.