Jennifer Terrell’s Key to Career Advancement

Jennifer Terrell
Apr 10, 2019 · 7 min read

Do you want to get promoted to the next level in your organization, like… yesterday? Nashville’s own Jennifer Terrell, a former LivingSocial Sales Executive, shares a secret that will help you do just that, and quickly.

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Have you had this experience?

You’ve put yourself out there. You’ve mustered up the courage to ask your employer or your direct supervisor what you need to do to put yourself in a position to be considered for the next role. Good start. Now they’ve given you a laundry list of things you can work on to eventually demonstrate that you’d be a good fit if given the opportunity. So you go to work on that list, which takes a ton of focused work on your part. Good for you. But, you’re not really sure how to find development opportunities to become a ‘thought leader in your industry’ or to display your success to the world once you’ve mastered being a ‘leader amongst your peers’ (these are real things we, as supervisors, tell people to help them get prepared for the next level). Meanwhile, while you’re trying to figure this out, someone else gets promoted who doesn’t look anything like the image your boss has laid out for you and now you’re mega-frustrated, and you feel like giving up on your self-development effort. And worse, you still aren’t promoted and still don’t have any tangible steps to getting you there.

As someone who has been one of the fastest-promoted employees at every company I’ve worked at, and as a supervisor who has now had two decades in management and has promoted hundreds of people, I’ve lived on both sides of the equation. This has enabled me to marry the two together and discover the true secret to getting promoted.

I stumbled upon this secret, actually. My friends used to say “You are the luckiest woman! These opportunities just keep popping up and you are in the right place at the right time. Good for you.” And I believed that, as well. What a coincidence that I was at my first sales job for only 3 months and the company was growing so quickly that they were adding an assistant manager role on my team and they offered it to me! And then 6 months after that, I got moved to a bigger division without even asking, still an assistant, but with a larger team. And then 4 months after that, they opened a new region and offered me the sales manager job, where I became the youngest manager in the company at only 25 years old. I mean, that’s some pretty awesome luck, right?

I was with that company 13 years, and rose as far as anyone could go in leadership, reporting directly to the President. And then I went to the next, much bigger company, where it happened again. I was able to move 4 levels in a three-year period, ultimately landing the highest role in sales leadership, again reporting to the CEO. My luck lightning had now struck twice.

Or had it?

As I looked around, I wasn’t the candidate that had the most well-rounded skill set. I wasn’t the one that had mastered the laundry list of bullet points that HR and my supervisors had given me to focus on in my annual reviews. I wasn’t even the one, sometimes, who had the very best sales results. So, what was it about me, that compelled other leaders in my organization to have faith in me to take on the next challenge?

I’ve come to the realization that it’s something that was pretty unique to me when compared to my peer sets at those times in my career. It is the fundamental way that I’m wired that translates into a way of operating that absolutely resonates with my superiors and employers. It makes people want to give me a shot, even when I still have areas for development. It makes people root for my rise, even when I’m not asking for it. And most importantly, it gives people faith that if they give me responsibility, I am going to deliver on their behalf, no matter what. Here it is and it’s so simple. I always put my supervisor’s needs and desires ahead of my own. I am always considering the company’s goals and objectives first before I think about what I’m trying to accomplish. That’s the secret. Super simple to say, but really hard to do, actually, because most people aren’t wired that way.

How did I come to think and operate this way? I got lucky, because I grew up in a small business family where I watched employees taking advantage of my amazing father over and over and over again. They assumed because he owned the hardware store where they worked that he was rich, so it was no big deal if they cheated on their timesheet, or no-showed their shift on Saturday, or didn’t give the greatest effort, or even if they took just a little from the till every now and then. And the worse people were, it seemed the better my father treated them because he was simply generous that way. I watched people become entitled, in a generation long before that was a buzzword. And, I think that put me in a position to be the opposite kind of employee when I came of age (side note: it also killed my entrepreneurial spirit).

So, when I got my first job out of college and I was in sales, I remember some specific instances that definitely showed there was some delineation between how I and my peers thought about things. One of them was this: at a sales meeting early in my career, all the other new sales people were basically complaining to our sales manager about how hard the job was and how they had heard that other companies were paying a higher commission rate, and they wanted to know if the company was thinking about changing the comp structure. As I watched our sales manager trying to fumble through the answer, which was “no”, I just sat in the back of the room keeping my mouth shut. But I remember thinking “I’m getting 25 cents out of every dollar that I generate for this company, and my boss still needs to get paid, and his boss, and the receptionist and the copywriters and the janitor, then the company has to pay their taxes, and the light bill. How do they even make a profit? I’m never going to put my manager in a position to have to justify that to me!”. Our manager maybe didn’t notice it at the time, but he would eventually come to realize that I was on his side.

That fundamental perspective allowed me at every stage in my career to just naturally be curious about the hardships my supervisors faced. It caused me to think about how I could keep from causing them any more pain and suffering than they already had. Eventually it led to me figuring out how to be as helpful and supportive of them as I could be, and finally it developed into my full-blown persona that exists today, which is that I am an excellent #2. I’ve learned that amazing things happen to me when I go to work every single day thinking about nothing other than how to make my boss successful. How can I help them achieve their goals? Maybe it’s simply staying out of the negative crowd, like I did when I was younger, or maybe it’s taking on some responsibility of theirs that I know they hate doing, like gathering all the data for the Friday report. Or maybe it’s something like hitting my numbers at all costs so they look good this quarter, and certainly it’s apologizing and taking full accountability when I don’t.

But here’s the key: authenticity. There’s a fine line between ass-kissing and being a genuine supportive subordinate. To be truly authentic in your efforts, means to be laser-focused on helping your boss and your company achieve their goals, without any expectation of what the outcome will be for you personally. You have to be doing it because you want your supervisor and his supervisor and the executive team and ultimately the company to be tremendously successful. You have to do it because you know that success of your organization means more opportunities for everyone within the organization.

“So,” you ask “what’s the quickest way for me to put this new attitude in motion without looking like a manipulator?”. Good question.

3 easy steps:

  1. Get your mind right and truly shift you’re thinking, starting NOW.
  2. Don’t be subtle. Go to your superior and tell them some version of “I want to make your business my business”. Ask “what are the three things that keep you up at night?” Tell them that you want to help make them as successful as they can be. And tell them that you have no expectations in return. Maybe even be truly transparent, and tell them that you read an article that resonated with you and you’ve shifted your thinking from “what can I do to help my own career?” to “what can I do to make my company successful?”.
  3. Stay focused and deliver on your new brand promise. Help your boss achieve their goals and celebrate everyone’s success when it happens (even that coworker that gets a coveted promotion).

Having been on the other side of the equation and being the one giving out all of the promotions these days, if you take these steps, I will bet on your long-term success over someone who checks all the boxes in terms of skill set any day of the week.

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