Prescribed Passages – Do You Fit In?

By: | July 31, 2017

Before you get a promotion, you’re supposed to work your way up through the ranks. First, you’re a low-level manager. You cover a single division, then another, and then, if you’re doing well, a third. Then you make senior management.

This fit factor paves a defined path to success. Do you fit in based on your willingness to follow in the footsteps of those before you, without deviating from traditional expectations? In some jobs, there is no fast track to success. Moving up the ranks requires fulfilling certain rites of passage—paying your dues and earning that partnership, tenured position, or a seat at the executive roundtable. Often, such jobs entail years of grueling hours and low pay, but the carrot at the end of the stick is wealth, prestige, choice appointments, special schedules, job security, and so on. Consider these scenarios:

  • Interns at a prestigious law firm work for free, earning resume “points” that count toward a future partner-track position.
  • Young professionals vie for the opportunity to shadow senior executives at a large company—a necessary rite of passage for leaders in the industry.
  • Teachers with newly minted PhDs toil for years at small, out-the-way colleges, making little money, biding their time until they’re eligible for tenure.
  • Young doctors go into debt, paying their way through several required years of medical school and internships, gaining the degrees and experience necessary to pull down a six-figure salary.
  • Television news anchors move from small- and mid-market stations to larger markets to prove their ability to connect with larger audiences.
  • Senior Leaders know that they will have to relocate to another city or country to round out their portfolio.

Prescribed Passages: Finding Your Fit

What you need to know about yourself:

Every company has a prescribed way in and up. For most established companies the pathways are obvious and non-negotiable, but for some, especially in new industries, it can be much more challenging to discover the prescribed passageway to success. It’s important for you to determine whether you’re the kind of person who feels most comfortable in places that push you down a clear career track. Do you take pride in being part of a profession with longstanding traditions and clear expectations, where loyalty and long term employment really pay off? Or do you fit best in an organization with more mobility, flexibility and change that is less bound by seniority and tradition?

What You Need to Know About the Company:

  • Is there a clear pathway of progress up the leadership ladder
  • How long are you expected to remain in a job?
  • What’ too long too stay in a job before you’re seen as “marooned”?
  • Are there some leaders or departments you must work with to be seen as “legitimate?
  • Is working in multiple locations important requiring you to relocate?
  • Can you enter into the organization from another company as long as the level is appropriate? Is it possible to gain “insider status”?
  • Are rotations to departments and areas outside of your expertise important or viewed as a detour?
  • Is there any evidence that any one with your identity make up (race, gender, age, religion, accent, marital parental status) has successfully made the passage to senior levels?
  • Do people get to the end of their prescribed passages and feel victorious and proud or broken and hazed?