You might luck out and land yourself a great starting position within a company, but the modern reality usually involves starting somewhere near the bottom of the proverbial corporate ladder and working your way up over time.
While it’s possible to start somewhere in the middle or close to the top, those rare instances are often being in the right place at the right time. For most people you have to earn those various rungs through hard work and patience. Working your way up, however, is a better career plan than hoping a mid (or higher) management position falls into your lap.
1. Know where you want to go
Early in your career (or when starting with a new company), consider where you would ultimately love to end up. Examine the various branches, departments, and positions that exist, and think about which one most appeals to you. Is it part of the C-suite (CEO, CAO, COO)? Or do you see yourself as the head of a particular department? Knowing where you want to go is crucial to mapping a route to get there. Every position has unique requirements in terms of skills and experience needed to do it well. Figure out what you want so you can actively work towards it.
2. Gain new skills and experience whenever possible
We should all strive to be lifelong learners, regardless of our age or industry. Examine flexible learning options available to you (night classes, online courses, corporate-sponsored training) to add to your skill set. Languages, programming, coding, and virtually anything connected to the internet are all in high demand. Identify the skills and experience that would most assist your upward mobility, and then go after them.
3. Build relationships
It’s no secret that people who move up in a company have and maintain positive relationships with their colleagues and bosses. Initiate SINCERE relationships with everyone - those above you in the hierarchy, those below you, those in your immediate department, and those in other departments. Cultivate those relationships, make them 2-way streets...ask for advice and help from time to time, but also offer it when appropriate. To be effective, they need to be reciprocal. Give genuine praise for a job well done. Attend company social events, networking events, and optional corporate meetings and strategy sessions. You never know who may be in a position to further your career down the road, and people promote and recommend people they know and trust.
4. Slowly add to your responsibilities
With an eye on your future position, you can’t be happy with your present responsibilities. You need to slowly add to them over time (not all at once or you run the risk of burnout or being viewed as some crazy workhorse). Volunteer to help on projects. Talk to your supervisor about taking on greater leadership within your department. Just pace yourself.
5. Ask for and consider feedback
Most managers and supervisors are happy to provide feedback on your work, but they may not advertise that. You have to ask. You have to seek it out. And as very few employees bother to do so, you immediately set yourself apart from the herd...and that’s in addition to the positive praise and constructive criticism you’ll get from them. A clear win-win situation. Two birds with one stone. Listen, consider, and selectively implement their advice.
6. Keep a success file
Forbes magazine suggest keeping a “success file” at work. Notes, reports, messages, whatever, all pertaining to projects, tasks, and accounts that you successfully led or contributed to in some way. Aside from being a great resource for you on those tough days, you can use it during your annual performance review, or when pitching yourself for a promotion.
7. Contribute ideas
You need to contribute ideas if you want to stand out. Working hard isn’t enough. Being reliable isn’t enough. You have to actively ADD something to the company if you expect to move up. Good managers will always ask for ideas or suggestions, and you need to be one of the few that regularly offer them.
8. Ask for a promotion
Finally, be prepared to promote and market yourself when necessary. Too many people can’t do that. When a promotion comes along, ask to meet with your supervisor and pitch yourself for the position (use your success file!). If there’s a job higher up in another department (but in line with your long-term goal), apply for it. Go after it. Once again, too many employees mistakenly believe that if they work extra hard, it will eventually be noticed and they will be rewarded. True at times, but certainly not a guarantee. You have to ask.
Climbing the corporate ladder, just like climbing an actual ladder, takes effort. You can’t just stand there and hope someone will move your legs for you. Take the initiative, keep your eyes looking up, and reach for the next rung with these tips. One rung at a time is the sure-fire way to reach the top.
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