A former GE and NBC exec was nearly passed over for a big promotion because she made an all-too-relatable mistake
- Former NBC and GE executive Beth Comstock almost missed out on a promotion opportunity early in her career.
- Comstock, the coauthor of "Imagine it Forward," didn't make it clear that she wanted the new role: senior vice president of corporate communications at NBC.
- Finally, Comstock spoke up and learned that her managers assumed that she wouldn't be able to handle the new responsibilities because she was a young mother.
- Ultimately, Comstock spoke with the head of HR and landed the promotion. She vowed to herself to always make her professional ambitions clear.
The job had been open for six months.
Beth Comstock knew the call would come - the call from human resources, inviting her to take over as senior vice president of corporate communications at NBC.
But the call never came.
At the time, Comstock was in her 20s, working diligently as vice president of news media relations at NBC. She'd gripe to her family, "I can't believe they're not considering me for that job!" she told Business Insider.
Eventually, Comstock was angry enough that she worked up the nerve to approach the head of HR. "You haven't filled the job," she said. "Why? I'd like to be considered."
The response from the HR head was jarring: "Well, that's good to hear," he said. "We did consider you. We just assumed that because this job requires so much travel, and you're a young mother, that it wouldn't work for you."
Comstock was recently divorced, with a toddler daughter - and this assessment of her potential was infuriating. But it taught her a number of lessons that shaped the rest of her career.
Comstock recounts this experience in her new book, "Imagine it Forward," cowritten with Tahl Raz. The book shows readers how Comstock progressed from an aspiring broadcast journalist to the vice chair of General Electric, the first woman to hold that position. (Comstock left General Electric in 2017, after nearly three decades there.)
"I was equal parts angry at him [the head of HR] and me at that moment," Comstock said.
On the one hand, she thought, "Who are you to assume what my constraints are or aren't?" On the other hand, "I was mad at myself because how would they know [I wanted the job] if I didn't tell them?"
Ultimately, she landed the promotion.
Comstock learned to be open about her professional ambitions
The lesson she learned from that experience, Comstock said, is simply: "You're the boss of you. Until you tell people what you want to do, there's no way you can do it." She vowed to herself that, going forward, she'd make her career ambitions clear and ask her manager to help her get there.
And when she became a people manager, Comstock said, she knew to "never assume you know what someone wants to do or wants to take on, because circumstances change."
These lessons line up with advice from HR experts, like Toni Thompson, vice president of people and talent at The Muse. Thompson previously told Business Insider that it's important to tell your boss exactly what you want, in terms of title, salary and opportunities.
Thompson said, "They may not be able to give it to you right away. But it's really great if you have that conversation upfront because then they are able to tell you … are you ready for the role that you're saying you're ready for? And they'll be able to keep an eye out for big assignments or responsibilities that they might be able to give to you.
Only about half of employees do this, Thompson said.
As for Comstock, an additional perk of her speaking up is that she ended up forging a two-way mentorship with the head of HR. He became a coach to her and she "helped coach him about what young mothers could do in organizations."
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