Unfreezing First Impressions

Pinched Cheeks
Photo Credit: Joi Ito@Flickr

Remember that aunt or uncle you rarely saw who still treated you like you were eight, even when you were in your teens or late twenties? If you work in a medium or large organization, chances are that a number of colleagues and managers think of you the same way. They probably don’t think of you as pre-pubescent, but they most likely do have an outdated perception of you. To them, you are still the junior software developer, assistant project manager, or level 2 business analyst. Their perceptions of your skills and experiences haven’t changed because they don’t work closely with you, so they don’t see how you’ve developed your knowledge and abilities tool box.

It’s just human nature to assume that if they aren’t seeing actual change and growth, that none is happening. You’ve been stereotyped as a younger you. While it’s nice for folks to think of you as youthful, being stereotyped just isn’t a good thing. It reduces your job growth opportunities, plus, for most of us, doing the same thing for years-on-end is mind-numbing.

So how do you unfreeze that outdated perception?

Few staff are lucky enough to have a manager who’s actively creating opportunities to expand their employees’ skill and experience base. It’s up to you to create new opportunities and perceptions of your skills, abilities and experience.

One way to do that is to get these colleagues to see you in a new light, one that demonstrates that you’ve grown past their initial impressions. Participating in cross organizational initiatives or committees is one good way to do that. This is particularly important if you don’t have a role with a lot of visibility outside your group. If you’re in a “hunkered down” role, how else will people know your skill set has evolved? So look for volunteer opportunities and let your boss know that you’re interested in these kinds of things.

There are other reasons why volunteer opportunities are important, starting with increased networking and exposure. We tend to socialize with people from our own units which conversely limits our interaction with other departments. By creating relationships with people in other areas, you are increasing your network of people who can vouch for your skills and abilities, not just confirm your social skills based on interactions in the break room. You also gain a glimpse of what’s happening in other departments. Understanding other departments informs how you do your own work. You may also find that what they’re doing is more interesting than what’s happening in your own area, and that there are roles worth pursuing there. Conversely, you may meet someone in another department who might be a good addition to your group.

Another benefit is that these volunteer opportunities give you a chance to try something new, to expand your skills. If you normally don’t have a chance to lead meetings, this might be a chance to get experience doing so. Do you have limited experience presenting in front or large groups? This might be your chance. Maybe it’s a chance to learn about business finance by working on a budget.

If you’re a manager, consider expanding staff skills by asking them to participate on cross-organizational committees. Not only will you help the staff person you assign, who knows, maybe someone from another department may decide your group is the place to work.

These are my latest ephemeral thoughts on the business of managing IT. I’d love to hear your perspective. Leave a comment or share a thought.  

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