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Promotion tips: Breaking through to director level

Promotion tips: Breaking through to director level

Jess Coles shares his experiences and some tip in achieving a breakthrough to your first Board Director position.


Take a chance on me

I really wanted to get my first Director level role. I was like many who had worked hard and reached to a senior management position. I had been in my current position for 2 years and needed a new challenge. I felt ready for my first Director level role.

I started discussing this with my manager, himself a Board Director. He was encouraging with a lot of very good feedback.  The crucial problem was there was little chance of movement within the board. My manager was certainly  not going anywhere in the next couple of years.

I was offered a sideways move to another country which did not appeal. I was invited to join the board meetings periodically. It was frustrating and I could see no real route towards my goal of a board role at this company.

I decided to look externally and contacted several head hunters. The frustration really began. Most CEOs hiring a new director wanted to see previous experience at board level. They were unwilling to take a risk on both a new person and a person new in a directorship role.

Most recruiters tried to provide me with sideways moves with the promise of that upwards jump. i.e. no different from my current position. Recruiters sell to both parties – the hiring manager and the candidate. I had not positioned myself well enough to give them an easier sell to the hiring manager.

The doubt set in. Am I ready for this promotion? Everyone was telling me this is the hardest and biggest jump. I felt ready. I wanted the challenge. I had a great skills, experience and CV – just not with “Director” in the title of any role. Why wouldn’t anyone take what I thought was a small risk?


Why employers promote or hire a specific person

Employers have problems to solve. The hiring manager is looking for evidence of how you can solve their problems for them. They want to know where and how you have done this in the past. This gives them comfort that you should be able to do the same again in the future for them.

Work out what the hiring manager’s problems are. Be clear about these problems in your own mind. Work out how you are going address each of the key problems.


Make yourself their solution

The slightly harder part. Get really clear about your strengths. Why are they your strengths? What have you done before that demonstrates this?

Don’t think activities, think results. A hiring manager wants results, so you must talk in terms of results.

Interviewing is selling. Be confident about yourself, who you are and what you have done. Don’t forget that a hiring manager is wanting as much surety as possible that you will be able to achieve those results again. This is as much about who you are, your skills and beliefs as what you have done.


Landing a great role

I worked at understanding my strengths. I spent time detailing out the results that I had delivered in recent roles. Going through this gave me a lot of confidence.

I attended interviews which gave me practice at selling solutions to the problems the hiring manager might have. With each interview I improved. My confidence grew.

I soon landed my first Board Director role. It was exactly the right role for me, with lots of challenges, a large team to lead and a fast-growing business to help manage.

Looking back, the jump up to a Board Director was a jump, but not a huge jump. I was the final decision maker a lot more frequently which was a significant change. I was also expected to help run the business as well as run my function. These two changes made the promotion feel like a bigger jump than previous non-director moves.

If you feel ready for a jump to Board Director role – go for it. All the work put in is definitely worth it.


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Jess Coles coaches individuals to achieve a career promotion. Visit to book in a 30-minute no obligation coaching session with him or call 0203 500 6300