Demonstrating Professional Growth in a Flat Organization

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A recent response to my blog post on assessing your profile as prelude to selecting schools posed an important question: if you work in a flat organization, how do you demonstrate advancement and growth?  After all, your progress will be compared to that of other candidates who have regular promotions with clearly delineated expanded responsibilities.  In a flat organization, you may hold the same title for five years.

It is a point that your application must make clear.  Here are some ways to do so:

  • In your resume bullet points, when you summarize accomplishments/experiences, order them consecutively and put dates in parentheses before or after the point.  This way, if you have four years with a particular title, you can show progress within that time.  Also use details to highlight growth.  If the dollar scope of your projects increases over time, quantify those points.  Similarly, if you led three-member teams initially and now lead ten-member cross-functional teams, specify that growth.  If you started doing something new, describe it in a bullet point with the date, e.g., “In 2008, became responsible for managing relationships with clients up to $500K.”  The key is to look at your experiences and accomplishments and ask, “How can I portray them to reveal my professional growth?”
  • There will be even more opportunities in your essays to show your growth within a flat organization.  The most obvious is when you are asked (typically in a goals essay) to summarize your career progress.  Whether or not you have this particular question, look for a place early on in the set of essays to add a sentence explicitly describing the situation, along the lines of, “My employer, ABC Corp., is a flat organization, with no management ladder between associate and senior management.  Nevertheless, in my three years as TITLE, I have gone from ABC to XYZ.”  Provide examples, ideally one that demonstrates your progress relative to accomplished colleagues, e.g.,   “I am the only one among my 10 peers to work directly on-site with our overseas clients and to accompany senior managers on sales visits to China.”
  • Ask your recommenders to address this issue directly, and explain why to them (don’t just assume they’ll understand why it matters).
  • In the application form you will have to fill in information about your roles and positions.  Apply the same principles noted above to these sections, to the extent possible.

I have one final suggestion.  Don’t assume a subtle read.  Make the point more than once, but in different ways, to make sure it gets across.

Additional Resources

By Cindy Tokumitsu, co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Success, The Consultants’ Guide to MBA Admission, The EMBA Edge, and author of several articles and the free, email mini-course, "Ace the EMBA." Also author of the  NEW online mini-course, Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Choosing the One for You.

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