Director Level

What direction is your career heading?

The Director Level title

I recently received the following email from a reader who was looking for advice on what steps they could take get to Director level / VP level. I thought this was a great question and worth sharing.

Mr. Nasty,

I have been in the workforce for about 8 years working for a couple of different companies. I have been working for a fairly large company with a good brand and am thinking about leaving for greener pastures.  My goal is to become a Director level or VP level within the next 3-5 years, and ultimately a VP. I am not seeing it happen at this company. I feel like working at a Start Up will give me a lot more opportunity to grow with a company and expand my skill set in a compressed amount of time. What advice do you have for me as I begin my job search?

Great question and thanks for writing in!

I share my feelings around start-ups here. Based on personal experience, I would not be where I am without my corporate experience, but I received 10X more opportunity when working in a growing start-up. 

Instead answering the question “What steps can I take”? I thought it might be helpful to talk about what I look for when hiring or considering a candidate for a Director level promotion. Getting to Director level and getting to VP are two different roles. This will differ from company to company, but in my opinion Directors are thinking strategically but are more tactical than strategic. VP’s are more strategic than tactical and not very worried about the tactical day to day stuff. When I think of a VP, I think of someone who is managing an entire discipline for longer term goals. When I think of a Director, I think of an individual who manages 1 or maybe 2 subsets within a discipline.

For small to medium sized companies, lets say we have a VP of Sales. The VP of Sales has the following direct reports: Director of Outside Sales, Director of Inbound Sales, and Director of Sales Operations. Any one of these directors could be an individual contributor OR, they could be leading a team.  

This is my personal opinion, but Directors and VP’s, have the ability (or show the potential) to do the following:

  • Communicate effectively two levels above their current title. If you are a VP, you can effectively communicate with SVP’s and C-level exec’s. This doesn’t mean small talk in the elevator or over beers.  The ability to deliver confidence that you can, and will make a difference to the bottom line is paramount.  VP’s can effectively pitch strategic initiatives and convince senior peers to buy into new programs and ideas. Everyone has ideas, but Directors and VP’s can move ideas from proposal to funding, and through successful execution.
  • VP’s have breath and depth of experience.  If you are in marketing, you don’t just have experience in brand marketing, you have experience in brand, social, PR, and content marketing.  You won’t be an expert in all of the marketing categories, but you will be able to make a solid business decision when presented the facts. No company should expect you to be an expert in all of the sub-disciplines because you will be surrounding yourself with colleagues who DO have specific depth. The thought is that at this level VP’s will be managing a larger group and that group is going to be diversified in its talent and responsibility. When you are manager or a director, you are generally responsible for a number of direct reports who are all working with the same sub-discipline that you do. When you are responsible for 15- 20 people as a VP, that group will be composed of different sub-disciplines and the leader of this group needs to understand and have experience with these different skill sets.
  • A VP has experience managing multiple sub-disciplines to specific company goals. Depending on the size of the company, a Director is usually on the tactical side of the department implementing the Vice President’s strategy for the entire department.  A VP will think of the other departments as the entire company works towards the goal. 
  • At the Director level we should be able to represent our company to the outside with similarly titled customers and vendors?  A VP will usually work with VP peers outside of the company. This means knowing the company’s business, presenting yourself in a way that is representative of your peers, and being able to entertain and host these customers.
  • A VP will have earned the respect of not just their team but across the enterprise. VP’s will inspire not just their individual team but inspire across the enterprise. VP’s will have credibility across the enterprise. Think about the all company meeting where all of the heads of the departments got up on stage and gave their quarterly updates.  If you are a Sales VP, you have the respect of not just Sales and Marketing but of the technology and operational departments as well. You probably don’t write code, but you understand technology and leverage all the tools for your company. If you are the VP of Technology, you understand the trials and tribulations of the sales and marketing departments and these departments have confidence in you to build the product.

If I were to give advice to someone wanting to take their career to the director level of leadership, I would recommend a few things:

  • Meet with other VP’s on a regular basis.  AKA, find mentors or advisors that are at least a level Sr. to the Director level.
  • Update your manager about your long-term goals.  If you do not let them know where you want to go, they won’t be able to help you get there.
  • Act, communicate, and dress for the position you are gunning for. If you want to be at the Director level, you will need to look, act, and sound like a Director.  If others don’t see you working at the Director level, it won’t happen.  Not on an occasional basis, but day in and day out.  Consistency is the name of the game.
  • #PMA Positive Mental Attitude.  VP’s over come any and all problems; they don’t add fuel to the fire.

Hopefully this provides you some insight into how I think about both roles.

See you at the after party,


nasty:  an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone that is good at something. E.G.  “He has a nasty fork ball”.

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PS.  I wouldn’t be doing you right if I didn’t say the following:

This is a hard observation and I don’t know all the facts.  If you don’t see yourself getting to Director at this company, it will be tough to land a similar title at a similar sized company. Directors overcome obstacles no matter how complicated. Regardless of the company politics one thing that VP’s have figured out is how to maneuver within ANY environment, not just their own. Working in a larger company is just a matter of scale. VP’s are hired to work with counterparts from other company’s including customers, partners, vendors, etc.  They are paid to not only solve problems but keep the company out of them. Examine how you are working within your current company. There are no excuses for Director of VP. Low performing employees, politics, and tough executive teams will not be an excuse for a Director. If you are NOT making progress, we should re evaluate what we are doing at the current company.

entry level job search

She didn’t take time off after graduation!

Why entry level jobs are so important:

The topic of the entry level job has come up with a number of friends graduating from college (seems I know a number of folks that want to take time off after graduation). These recent grads want to take a year off to travel, “find themselves” or “start a business”. The thought is that with the job market so tough, these graduates might as well do something other than look for employment. I always cringe when I hear this. Someone paid for that college education and it must be rough to not worry about getting an ROI on that 4-year investment. 

Entry-level jobs are thought to be some of the hardest positions to break into.  I disagree. I think that entry level jobs are the easiest to land because the employer knows they are looking for someone with no experience. What employers want when filling an entry level job is the right attitude. Think about it.  What kind of experience is the employer looking for when they know the candidate just graduated? This may sound harsh, but I think that many candidates just don’t how to go about their entry level job search.     

Hiring companies are taking a chance on recent graduates with no experience when hiring for an entry level job. Usually the only data points available to make a hiring decision is the grade point average and how the attitude that is present in the interview. Prior behavior is the best indicator of future behavior and grades are an indication of prior behavior.  With no real world experience right out of school, the decision to hire for these entry level jobs will come back to grades, the school those grades were earned and the in person interviews.  

Here is the main reason I don’t like to hear about college grads putting off their job search.  The first few years out of school are the formative years of your career, as well as the time where you will build a strong foundation for you future salary. Landing that entry level job as soon as possible after graduation (or before) is important because this position will set you up for the rest of your career. Land a job unrelated to your chosen field or with a lower than average salary, and your consequent positions and salaries will be impacted.  Put that job off one year, and you start the career chapter of your life behind the competition. 

Think of your entry level salary right out of school like you would the early contributions you make to your 401K.  These early contributions will compound over time and can make an exponential difference later in life. Start late on your 401K by 10 years, or even 5 years and you feel it towards the end of your career. 

A job looking for 1 or 2 years of experience may be willing to pay $45K a year, but if you were making $15.00 or $17.00 dollars an hour (approximately $30K – $35K a year) at your previous job, don’t expect to get bumped up to $45K. Expect to start at $30K or $35K and work your way up to the going rate.  

With this example in mind, I feel it is in the best interest of a recent graduate to do everything they can to try and land a job with a career path that leverages the chosen degree. If nothing else, establish a path for salary trajectory. A college degree and 1-3 years of corporate experience will provide you extra spring to your career launching pad, including: 

Solid work experience can be leveraged into your next position or promotion.  Those who put the career off are only playing catch up with their peers. More importantly, you will have learned a lot about yourself and how corporate life operates.  These are maturing years, and I (almost) consider them to be DOG years.  In these early years, 1 year is equal to 7 years of future career experience.  You will have the opportunity (I am not saying you will or that it is a guarantee) to mature more in the first 5 – 7 years of your career than you will later in your career.  You may go from Director to VP later in your career, but I would argue that the level of your corporate maturity will remain relatively flat at that point in your career.  

Don’t put off the entry level job 

If you decide to take a break, travel or start your own business for a few years right after school, this time off can be hard to overcome financially. Having a resume at 25 years old where the most important accomplishment is your college education will put you behind others that are searching for entry-level positions at the age of 21 or 22.  You are competing with candidates for the entry level job that will have limited or no real world job experience and when given the choice of someone right out of school or someone who took a break with not much to show, my bet is on the recent graduate. 

Those first few years are critical to employers because they are under the assumption that a number of corporate values won’t need a lot of training. With 2 years of experience, you may need training on the specific responsibilities of the job.  You will NOT need training, or will need much less training on: 

  • How to manage your inbox
  • Email ettiquette
  • How to go through a 90-day, 6-month and 1-year review. 
  • How to dress and behave in a 9-5 job.
  • What SMART Goals, OKR’s or MBO’s are.  You may not understand all three, but you get the idea.
  • Etc.    

Think of your early relationships with a significant other when you were back in high school.  I am confident this is more pronounced for women because guys mature later.  Lets say Betty Sue is hanging out with Joey and this is Joey’s first relationship.  Betty Sue needs to train up Joey and explain to him how to be a good boyfriend.  Although there are advantages to being “the first” if you are into that sort of thing, there can be a lot of head aches as well when dating someone that has never been in a relationship.  Joey learns a lot hanging out with Betty Sue and when the two break up, the next girl that Joes meets reaps all benefits of Betty Sue’s training.  Joey hasn’t learned everything about relationships, but he is a lot better off than before Betty Sue.  

And the guy that is hanging out with Betty Sue next will reap all of her relationship frustrations.  He is the one that needs to deal with all of Betty Sue’s baggage because Joey didn’t know WTF he was doing.  Please, no jokes about HR being the place where bitter Betty Sue’s (or Joey’s) go to work.  

There are advantages to being with someone that has been in a few relationships, and one of them is that they have been “trained up”. 

This is why you will see a lot of job descriptions looking for 1 to 2 years of experience.  With one of two years of real world experience, there is a lot less drama and training involved. 

We can all argue that a 25-year-old candidate is more mature than someone that is 21 or 22 but at the end of the day it won’t matter.  Employers are looking for an entry-level candidate that they fully expect to train up these new hires.  We are not looking for particular skills at this point, we are looking for a “go getter / ambitious” attitude and this will be determined via the resume.  A one or two year gap won’t be the reflection of a “go getter.”  

If you are working after graduation for a few years, it will be assumed that you have more “corporate maturity” than someone who wasn’t working that entry level job for a few years. 

So, don’t give up on your career before you conduct a methodical job search.  Entry level jobs are some of the easiest to land. 

See you at the after party, 


nasty:  an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone that is good at something. E.G.  “He has a nasty fork ball”. 

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by HRNasty

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