As an ambitious (young) professional you want to advance quickly and certainly prefer to take up a management position yesterday rather than today. I myself also decided very early on to take the path of management and already in the first semester of my studies thought about how I can get into such a position quickly and, above all, how can I be good at it?

I would like to tell my story and then honestly show a few results from my assessment center on managers. Especially when applying for a position as a department head, for example, you measure yourself as a 30-year-old against people who are 20 years older. So you have to try to catch up 20 years in just 5 years of professional life. But how does it work?

Preparing for a management career starts early!

During my studies I already specialized in management and learned management as a craft. I made preparations for this for 5 years, which I would like to list below.

Reading and practicing

What you can do during your studies is to gain your first experience in clubs or as chairman of the student council, as I did for me, and to read many books. You can already read the entire management literature, which basically hardly changes at first. Then the master’s thesis should also go in this direction and possibly a doctoral thesis, as with me. Really learn management as a craft – it is not a privilege but a discipline that can be learned.

Reading tip: Literature analysis

Look for mentors

Then look for mentors – ideally who are currently managers themselves. There are also programs at the university (buddy programs). Now ask these people openly: “Would you make me a team leader and why not?” – The answer to my question was very frightening for me and I wrote down the feedback in detail.

Reading tip: Find mentors

Watch manager

In my position as a working student, I also had the opportunity to observe managers. How do they work – what do you do well and what do you do badly? What makes these people different from other people? I also went to a management consultancy and was also very close to managers.

Reading tip: Away from the employee mindset

Find new leadership methods

It is important that they understand that management and leadership is also a craft like programming etc. So you can learn. The problem will always be that you will be accused of having no experience. Then you just learn new concepts so that you cannot have any experience with them because they are too new.

Established managers in particular tend to undergo little further training. This is how you can set yourself apart with transformative leadership and participatory approaches. On the one hand, try to become a little like established executives, but set yourself apart with new concepts. In the end, you have to stand out as a young and modern manager. In the interview you have the choice between the established manager with more traditional approaches and the experimental approach with you and new methods.

Practice important skills and abilities

You should also practice skills that a manager must be able to do – presentation and language are important. Holding discussions, preparing strategies and process management are also important. You have to be really good at these points! The perception must also be lightning-fast! Established executives often rust – this is where you can set yourself apart. Look fitter, more vital and fresher! The necessary skills are:

  • Communication and presentation
  • customer focus
  • Promote cohesion and motivation
  • Reflection on your own personality
  • empathy
  • To take responsibility

The application: now it’s getting serious!

Now the time has come – you start your first applications as a manager in other companies or internally in the company. Now a comparison is made between you and other applicants – the difference: you are 15 years younger. But how do you assert yourself? I did several assessment centers between 2017 and 2021 and summarize a few statements here.

It is important to select executives very carefully – a study shows that otherwise executives are the real productivity killers: “Most employees only do what they should. Only 15 percent of people have their hands, hearts and minds at work. Most of the employees first and foremost wants to be inconspicuous: 70 percent of employees have little emotional ties and only do their job according to regulations. ” says the business week! For this purpose, over 1,400 employees were questioned in a study. The results are that only one in five thinks their manager is good and feels motivated. This also spurred me on: I wanted to do better!

Typical exercises: presentation skills, role play, group discussion and self-presentation

There are different exercises in the assessment – I would like to briefly address each of them and give tips – then in the next paragraph I will show a few summaries of the results of my assessment center. In any case, take part in assessment centers without a chance: you will receive valuable feedback.

In presenting yourself, it is important that you show vision. Mine is, for example, “I want to put the company’s ideas into practice and work actively with experts to implement them.” Show yourself as an active designer of your own résumé – show how you have been preparing for a management position for years and also say that it is not important to you to be the boss but that you enjoy tasks.

In role play it is important to have a clear structure and to listen actively. Ask the right questions. In group discussions, I always recommend that you position yourself as the moderator. Summarize the discussion on a regular basis. This is how you show yourself as a manager. In the presentation I recommend using a lot of stylistic devices and storytelling.

Reading tip: Storytelling

My results from various assessment centers

Now the question remains: what has the preparation brought me? Often only an application and / or an assessment center can answer this question. Am I good enough for a management position due to the preparation and professional experience in consulting?

Of course, assessment centers are only snapshots and you can certainly manipulate them – but that’s never been my point. I wanted objective and true feedback on myself. I want to improve – which is why my feedback in the assessment has really always helped me. In the following I will show what has been recognized as good for me and what has been recognized as a learning area in the assessment.

What was good?

It is particularly good that I have a transformational leadership could demonstrate. This type of leadership is often called very promising in terms of agility. In times of digitization, demographic change and virtual teams, it is important to counter the increasing complexity through increased self-organization. My experience shows: Self-organization needs leadership – leadership that guarantees the necessary freedom to develop creativity and motivation, but also service provision and controllability.

A second strength is presentation and communication. Young people can set themselves apart particularly well here. Good powerpoints, clear, pictorial messages and eloquent language as well as the storytelling technique make the difference – according to the assessment, I was also able to make good use of all stylistic devices such as rhetorical questions, I-messages, active listening and the involvement of the audience.

A third strength is motivation and promoting cohesion. Here I included the employee particularly strongly. It definitely requires empathy and as a young person you can learn by talking to established managers and actively listening to employees.

A fourth strength was the customer and service quality. You learn this particularly well through my time at IT service providers, I think, and customer and service quality in particular are central components of agility. Just remember: The customer pays my salary – his wishes are a gift!

What else should I learn?

So far, every assessment has had almost the same recommendation, just in different words. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to think of it until 3 weeks ago. With the transformational leadership style, I would not be able to control people properly and also not be able to hold people accountable. That’s why it was suggested to me to learn a transactional leadership style – Command and Control – my absolute opponent.

I had a lot of arguments against it and discussed a lot with mentors about it – nothing convinced me that this style should be promising – above all, a search on Amazon for transactional leadership style only results in books with criticism or books from 1970. Nevertheless, I noticed that not every employee can always be motivated and that people also step out of line – so it is still important to use command and control from time to time. So I was convinced.

I now have an older manager as a mentor and am also learning something of this style to expand my portfolio of leadership methods. If numerous mentors and independent reports confirm this to me – then I will be happy to learn this better in the next 2-3 years.

Was the preparation worth it?

The question now remains: Was it worth it and was the preparation good enough for me to be able to take on such a position? I would say yes! – after only 2 years in the job I was a technical manager and after 4 years at 29 I was a disciplinary manager. After changing jobs at the beginning of 2021, I was even able to keep the disciplinary responsibility.

In general, the feedback was that I have mastered many skills very professionally – you can tell that I’ve read a lot of books and really learned everything – you hardly recognize hands-on in me. Everything depends on in-depth knowledge of management and leadership. That made me very proud!

What I am missing is experience – but I will collect it now. It is important for me to continue to grow and to consistently pursue my path. I am grateful for the great amount of feedback and will continue to implement it diligently.

Preparation does not replace experience, but it creates advantages

I think it was worth my preparation. The preparation does not replace experience, but you can better set yourself apart as a junior manager in the assessment. The extensive knowledge has also shown itself to be a USP: Modern teams often have to be managed with a high level of abstraction and methodological knowledge. Especially executives with long experience who define themselves as “practitioners” often lead with a pronounced hands-on mentality, which, with increasing complexity, leads to an overburdening of the executive and can make it a bottleneck.

You can surpass experience with new methods

In conclusion, in many cases I was even able to set myself apart from the scores of significantly older managers. I think that the fact alone shows that as a young person you absolutely want such a position. For me, the following applies anyway: Especially as a younger applicant, I have to give 200% as much gas and show that I want it! Nobody runs a marathon without adequate training! Not even you!

In general, the assessments helped me a lot in order to know what and how decision-makers think. Of course you can argue about anything, but in the end it is important to convince the decision-makers. I found the feedback from all assessments very valuable and always printed it out and read it very often – even months later.

Conclusion

It is not easy to become a manager and you have to prepare very well. As a young person, you have to catch up a lot and be quick. With good preparation and mentors, you can be well trained to start your job. Then it is important to build up skills and shine in the assessment with new approaches.

Of course, this does not replace years of experience, but you can only do it if you get a chance to implement it as a young person. I don’t know if I’m doing better or worse as an experienced manager, but my employees like to work for me and I think that’s the main thing.

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Author

I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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