Beth Stroble | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Beth Stroble

Background:  

Founded in 1915, Webster University is a private non-profit educational institution with nearly 16,000 students studying at campus locations in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and online.

The Mistake:

Not doing the homework on what experience was necessary to land the next promotion.

I began as a faculty member. Then, when I had my first promotion into an administrative job, I actually skipped a step in the hierarchy. My mentor nominated me for the position. I applied and was successful.

I went from being a faculty member to being the associate dean in the school of education. The job was to be in charge of academic programs and oversee the preparation for an accreditation review. I worked with a great team and we did very well, but it didn’t involve line management.

The step I skipped would have given me line management experience. When I decided to actually seek the next promotion rather than being invited to apply, the lack of that experience made it much more difficult to get the promotion. I likely would have gotten the next promotion more quickly and easily if I had the experience or figured out some way to compensate or to get that experience.

There were probably a variety of factors that went into why I didn’t get the job I was seeking at the time. I was an internal candidate and an external candidate was hired. In higher ed, the external candidate is often favored over the internal applicant.

To fail to take a risk would be a mistake, but to fail to check boxes is a risk, too.

The Lesson:

Do your homework. If there is something in your record that’s going to stick out, then you’ve got to figure out alternative ways to show your experience. Take on projects, research, initiatives and sit in on hiring processes others are engaged in. Find ways to get that experience and have your mentor help you with that.

I took on some projects that gave me more supervisory roles. It took another year. Then I really did have to leave that institution and branch out and go to another institution to get the promotion I wanted. My new position and those after it included significant line management responsibilities, simply at different levels of the organization.

It’s good to take risks. One shouldn't ever think, particularly for women, that you have to check every single box before you put your name forward for a promotion or new position. Take calculated risks. Take educated risks. Check as many boxes as you can in gaining knowledge and experience. But use the advice of a mentor to decide where you can afford to take a risk of not checking a box and where you’ve got to round out your experience and background.

Now, as I look at my work in any given year, I try to make sure what I am doing covers lots of topics and keeps rounding out my knowledge base. And I’ve tried to keep going back to the things I did in prior steps of my career and keep those fresh. For example, I still do professional writing and publish; not at the level I did when I was a faculty member, but I’ve been purposeful about going back and doing more writing again because I don’t want to lose some of the skills I’ve gained.

The overall theme is to try to do your best to keep all doors open. To fail to take a risk would be a mistake, but to fail to check boxes is a risk, too. You should not err on either side. Also, find good advice to balance the two.

I never regretted taking that first risk. It opened up the door for what I truly love doing: making a difference, leading teams, improving how the university functions for the benefit of students. It was a risk worth taking, but I learned from it.

Beth Stroble is on Twitter at @websterpres and Webster University is at @websteru.

Photo courtesy of Webster University.

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