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5 steps to be next in line

Robert Half International

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Where do you see yourself in the next few years? For many workers, the answer is simple: in their boss's shoes. While you may not be overtly angling for your manager's position, you do want to make sure you're thought of first when your supervisor eventually moves on.

But distinguishing yourself as the heir apparent is about more than hard work or technical know-how. Being next in line also requires you to display workplace savvy, finely tuned social skills and a long-term view of the business.

Following are five steps you can take to make yourself a strong candidate for your supervisor's job:

1. Let your manager know

Just choose your words carefully. Instead of saying, "I want your job," which can come across as a threat, initiate a conversation with your supervisor about your career goals and desire to move up. Request his or her candid thoughts about the skills you need to build or improve and what challenges you might face.

Keep in mind you could receive feedback that surprises you. Your boss may point out weaknesses you did not know you had, for instance, or tell you that others in the department are more likely to advance before you do.

2. Don't assume you'd be better

When you're looking from the outside in, it's easy to assume you'd be better than your boss in the same position. But the challenges of your supervisor's job are likely much bigger and more varied than you realize.

In addition, remember that your manager has strengths and weaknesses, just like everyone else. Learn from how your boss not only uses his or her strengths but also manages weaknesses. An excellent strategic thinker who isn't great with details might delegate detail-oriented tasks, for instance.

Just remember that the boss is still the boss, and don't try to move up the ladder at his or her expense. No one wants to have to watch his or her back, and if your supervisor does not trust you, you will burn an important bridge.

3. Partner up

Aim to be your manager's right-hand man or woman. Ask if you can partner with him or her on projects or help out with certain assignments. For instance, you might offer to be a point of contact on a project the boss is concerned about leaving unattended while on vacation.

The boss might not be immediately comfortable delegating in this way. But if you show that you are up to the task, it will be easier for him or her to let go next time.

Working closely with your boss can help you learn the ins and outs of the role and provide reassurance that you are up to the challenge. In addition, your colleagues will begin to see you as a leader within the group.

As you work with your boss, note the nuances that make him or her successful. How does your manager approach peers in other departments when asking for support? How does your supervisor provide encouragement when the team is faced with tight deadlines? How does your boss manage the many requests that come his or her way?

4. Get training

Acquire the skills you'll need to move up by enrolling in relevant training courses or volunteering for stretch assignments. You may be encouraged to take on new responsibilities or even change jobs to gain the skills and experience you need.

You may also find it helpful to work with a mentor. Someone who holds a higher-level position or whose career path mirrors your own may be able to provide insight and advice. A mentor can also alert you to potential stumbling blocks or help you build a network of support.

5. Consider your replacement

It could be harder to be promoted if there is no one behind you who can assume your duties once you move up. So start thinking about who might be able to take your place.

It may very well be too early to formally begin training a successor. But you can work with your boss to identify someone who has the ability and interest to replace you at some point in the future.

Remember, positioning yourself for a big promotion is more like a marathon than a sprint. It may take several years before the right opportunity comes along. In the meantime, focus on the behaviors and tasks that will bring you closer to your goal, and regularly check in with your supervisor to make sure you're on the right track. That way, you'll be ready no matter when the call comes.

Robert Half International is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 350 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit For additional career advice, view our career bloopers video series at or follow us on Twitter at

Last Updated: 12/07/2011 - 5:53 PM

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