There are a few things that we have at Mercatus that I couldn’t do without (these make for good questions to ask about where you work now or where you want to work, to help determine if you have to move out to move up):
The culture of the organization. Is the place you work the sort of place that rewards ideas and performance, or do you need a fancy title or a hefty résumé to go with that (or in place of it)?
Mentors. I’ve been fortunate to work for brilliant people who took the time to work with me. Much of the way I approach a problem—whether it’s public policy or personnel—has been shaped by what I learned from them. Do you respect the people you work for enough to learn from them, or are you more inclined to snark and resent the weekly team meeting where your boss drones on and on?
Know-How. There are some skills that are particularly scarce, and picking them up along the way can make you a good candidate for more responsibility. Things like project management, personnel management, and judgment. The way to pick these up is to dig into each job you have. You need to be “that guy that gets things done” no matter what things need to get done.
Measure your success by the level of responsibility your organization entrusts to you. This should increase over time, even if the size of your office doesn’t. One big mistake people make is to treat their first position as a formality, to think that they only have to put in their time at the entry level before moving up to where they really belong. If that’s you, you’ll probably end up putting in your fair share of time—and a lot of it.
Understand how the role you have, no matter what it is, contributes to the goals of the organization and what you need to do to do it well.
Brian Hooks is the Chief Operating Officer for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. This post is an excerpt from the Institute for Humane Studies “Creating Your Path to a Policy Career” guide.