The pivotal point in my career was over 20 years ago in 1987. I went to work for a new company and I made a change from operations management to human resources. The road in operations was very difficult – but that’s another story.

While in retail operations, my focus was to help run a store. In my new role, I was in an office environment and I was deficient in a number of administrative skills. I remember taking home the big Compaq portable computer to teach myself how to use programs, e.g. WordPerfect (which appears to be the choice of lawyers) and Lotus. I could not justify learning to use a computer during work hours.

About three months into my tenure, the company receives an Affirmative Action Plan audit letter from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). Our auditor is arriving within 30 days, and of course, the plan and records are not up to date. Compiling the information and doing the analysis is very labor intensive. And, let’s not think about the fact that the OFCCP’s watchful eye is on us for a past infraction.

My boss has never been through an audit, nor has he written a plan. Now is not the time for modesty, I speed dial to the corporate experts asking for guidance. I research how to construct a plan from scratch. I review the previous plan and find it to be incomplete. The decision is obvious, start from scratch and do it right.

We make it through the audit with accolades. All I knew is that I spent all my waking hours making it right. Little did I realize that project might have put me on the radar screen with superiors in the company!

The Sector Human Resources department was creating a High Potential Management Program. I was invited to be apart of it. I was the only internal candidate. All the other participants were fresh out MBA graduates from targeted schools.

For the next four years, the company navigates my career, provides me opportunities to parachute into high impact projects and initiatives. The experience accelerates my technical and business growth. The management knew what I did not know and thoughtfully weighed what was best for my career and the company; creating a win-win scenario. Along the way, I find a great mentor. I meet a lot of talented people and realize they do not receive the same consideration. I wonder why.

The company continues to infuse the program with external candidates. I reflect on what might be their reluctance to consider internal candidates, it might be:

  • Your boss has to nominate you. My bosses sponsored me.
  • It’s hard to unplug someone from their current role. Bosses feel they invest time in you and want to reap the benefits. My bosses were willing to put the company and my career interests first.
  • Bosses see all the warts in their internal candidates. Let’s remember the externals have them too; we just don’t know what they are!
  • Fresh outs are often more mobile and they accept the reality of being transferred. I was open to moving since I was single.
  • Internal candidates are just too far along in their career, we want them early. I was within my first year of employment with the company; three years with another company.
  • Minimum educational requirements of MBA were hard to find internally. I had the requirements.

Maybe I was lucky. I was definitely in the right place at the right time. It took drive, initiative, flexibility, adaptability and risk-taking to undertake the path. Bosses never know if their internal candidates will make the same sacrifices until you ask them.