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Stuck On The Corporate Ladder? Move Up By Moving Over

Updated on December 6, 2017
Kara Jones profile image

Kara Jones is Global Vice President, Human Resources, at Flash Global, which designs and implements service supply chain strategies.

Look Up! Does climbing the corporate ladder look more like a traffic jam than an escalator in your career progression? If so, it's time to consider your options. A generation ago, the road to success was paved with specialization. The path up was predictable: Jr. Analyst, Analyst, Sr. Analyst, Supervisor, Manager, Sr. Manager, etc. But the technological advances that increased productivity also led to downsizing and turned traditional career ladders into step stools.

In today's business environment, moving up often requires an indirect route — moving sideways — whether you work for a journalism outlet or service supply chain provider. You have to take risks, search for opportunities, and learn new skills, but you can do it. Here's how to get started.

Get Holistic — Look at the Whole Company, Not One Department

Get out more! Be curious about other departments, talk to people, and volunteer for interdepartmental teams. The experience of working with other departments helps you develop a more nuanced view of your role within the organization. It gives you an outward focus so that you understand how your job affects others.

In addition, you build a network of colleagues inside the company who know you, respect your work, and can alert you to upcoming opportunities in their areas.

Keep Learning

Continuing education keeps your mind sharp and your skills up-to-date. A professional certification you completed last year is often far more relevant to a hiring manager than the bachelor's degree you earned a decade ago. Look for continuing education courses and certifications that broaden your skill set and build on your strengths. For instance, an accountant with a keen eye for organization and detail might also excel at project management. A marketing manager with a degree in communications and great people skills, could also be a good fit in human resources.

Even if you're thrilled with your present position, learning is important. It can help get you out of the "we've always done it this way" rut and offer new perspectives. You may suddenly see — and solve — problems that you hadn't previously noticed.

Listen More than You Speak

People love to talk about themselves, so everybody loves a good listener. Cultivate the skill of active listening, where you focus completely on the other person and notice both what is said and unsaid. Too often, we barely pay attention to what another person is saying because we're busy framing a response. There's no communication there, just people talking past each other.

When you really listen, you learn and contribute to the discussion with pertinent questions and suggestions. Good listening and communication skills get you noticed. They're essential for professional success.

Take Risks

Getting out of your comfort zone is, well, uncomfortable, but it's the best way to grow. You don't know what you can’t do until you try. Volunteer for special tasks, work groups, and even community projects. Volunteer work can be particularly rewarding, both personally and professionally.

Quite simply, "doing good does you good" by increasing self-confidence, reducing stress, and lightening your mood. Consider joining a local nonprofit board where you can learn about the community and make professional connections. Pressed for time? Organizations often hold one-time events and welcome volunteers to help with planning and execution.

Meeting these challenges gives you more confidence in yourself and exposes you to different types of people and problem solving methods.

The shortest route between two points isn't always a straight line. The business world is changing rapidly and you need to evolve with it. Stop thinking of the corporate ladder as an actual ladder with rungs that go stubbornly up, up, up in a straight line. Instead, think about climbing a steep mountain with uneven terrain. That's today's corporate world. Sometimes, the best route to the top involves multiple changes of direction.

© 2017 Kara Jones

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