Each year, scores of new technology graduates descend on the business world with aspirations of becoming IT leaders. Given the competition, it's not surprising those who ultimately climb the corporate ladder began their preparations during college. After setting their sights on senior management, they started amassing the skills and experience that would eventually propel them into a corner office. By the time they arrive in the workplace, they're ahead of the pack because they're ready to launch the next phase of their plan.

Student Experience  

Here's how to acquire the skills you'll need for a successful climb, even before you earn your degree.

  • Manage Yourself: "As cliché as it sounds, students should prepare for senior management roles by being able to manage themselves, especially when it comes to time management and taking personal responsibility," says Long Yun Siang, author and publisher of Career-Success-For-Newbies.com. "You must be able to manage yourself before you can manage others and you must be able to lead yourself, before you can lead others."
  • Gain Leadership Experience: From serving as a technology club officer to managing student projects, take advantage of every opportunity to gain leadership experience. Because management skills are universal, even managing others in a part-time job will help you prepare to reach your goals.
  • Find a Mentor: It"s not your technical knowledge that will catapult you into a senior manager"s chair, says Steven Cerri, a trainer and coach who works with technology professionals. Senior IT managers are selected for their leadership skills and their ability to use technology to create business solutions. Students shouldn"t expect to acquire that knowledge in the classroom, Cerri observes, because the only way to learn critical thinking is from a mentor."It"s important to ask mentors not what they do, but why they're doing it," says Cerri. "What you want to learn is their way of thinking, because managers get paid for their judgment."

    Many schools offer formal mentoring programs, but don't hesitate to network with alumni or local business leaders to identify a senior IT leader who may be willing to share their expertise. The faster you demonstrate your wisdom in the workplace, the sooner you'll begin rising up the ladder.
  • Acquire Hands-On Technical Experience: Real technical experience will not only prepare you for the workplace, it will expose you to a variety of industries, positions and managerial roles so you can target your desired position and begin planning your course. Internships, co-ops, summer jobs and student projects all provide opportunities to receive such experience, but if you aspire to be a senior IT manager, don't just focus on the technical aspects of your assignments. Interface with users and managers to understand the business challenges you're solving, and bring those analytical and problem-solving skills to the workplace.

New Employee Success Plans

Once you're hired, demonstrate your penchant for leadership, but not in a brash or overbearing way.

  • Bring ideas: Both Cerri and Yun Siang agree that offering up ideas is the best way to establish yourself as a candidate for leadership. Meetings are an excellent venue for demonstrating your innovation and leadership potential, Cerri adds, because they allow you to influence others without having authority over them. "Come to meetings with ideas, but show your leadership capabilities by not fighting for your ideas," he says. "Be open to the ideas of others and make sure all ideas get put out on the table by facilitating discussions and asking questions."
  • Find a Mentor (Part II): Successful business leaders have often been coached by a series of mentors throughout their careers. Find a mentor who has already travelled the path you want to take and ask them to share their wisdom with you.
  • Connect Technology to the Business: Understand the company's agenda and demonstrate that you can communicate effectively with users. "Show that you can bridge the gap between technology and the work environment and you¿ll advance more quickly," says Cerri. "Interact with people by spending time in the trenches, dealing with internal and external customers. Ask questions to elicit their perspective and understand their position first, before you tell them yours."