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How to Climb the Corporate Ladder

Some people enjoy their current job and never want to move on, others want to move up or around. This post is for the latter. I started my career about 15 years ago in a completely different field, software development. Over those 15 years I’ve worked for companies in 3 different industries: Tech, Pharmaceuticals, and Biotech. I’ve also worked in what would almost be considered multiple careers. I’ve been a software engineer, a sales analyst, a process analyst in a warehouse, a project manager of integration projects, a manager of big data, and a program manager. All of this experience has been in large companies. Through this career I have had several opportunities to move around and in each case I have made decisions for a reason. Ultimately this has allowed me to climb the corporate ladder to a higher income.

Failure to Succeed Always Starts with Failure to Plan

The key to an effective career and moving up is to plan ahead. That doesn’t mean that you will know where you are going through your entire career. Starting out, I couldn’t have even begun to predict my career direction. It does mean that you need to be constantly thinking about what skills you need to develop for that next opportunity. Many opportunities in business are due to chance, however “Luck favors the prepared”. Only you ultimately care about your career future. Your employer, boss, HR, etc do not really care. So, when you are presented with opportunities to learn a new skill, especially on company time, take it. I see way too many coworkers that don’t put in the effort to develop their skill set. Now they could be doing that because they have no desire to change their job, but even that is probably not the best move. You never know when the music may stop and your role may be the chair that is missing.

Breadth not Depth

This brings me to the second tactic I have used in my career progression. I have had many opportunities to become the expert in a single area of my career for a minor pay boost. However I’ve made an active choice not to pursue those opportunities. Instead, I’ve taken the opportunity to step outside the area I work in and take positions as different from what I do today as I dare without taking a pay cut or completely starting from scratch. The goal here is to have real knowledge of a given area, and also skills in many. In the ever changing environment, and believe me the business world is ever changing, you will never find yourself with a skill set that is the chair removed when the music stops. Even if your job disappears, the skills and experience will help you get a job elsewhere. If done correctly, you can do this while still moving up as well. When you get towards the top of the pyramid you will be considered even more valuable to your employer due to your variety of experience.

Not Every Opportunity is Golden

The third thing I’ve realized is there are certain companies you do not want to work for. These are the companies in dying industries or using out dated technology. If you had taken a job at a software company coding Cobolt around Y2K you would have done fantastic, but here 10 years later you would probably be starting over.

However you don’t need to focus on the hot company, as the reality is your underlying experience at most companies will be the same. I don’t necessarily mean the rules are the same or the culture, because these can differ greatly, rather I mean the key to your happiness in working for them is likely the same. Frankly, the key to your relative happiness (mind you, you may never truly be happy at work) is not the company but the boss. Employees leave poor bosses, not companies. Sadly, you don’t have much control over whom your manager is in the grand scheme of things. I’ve personally used the presence of a incompatible boss as the motivation to jump to a new career or industry.

A Final Note on the Corporate Ladder

Ultimately, you need to decide what you want out of life. However, if your goal is to move up the ladder, you should be willing to jump ship to other companies if movements are not occurring fast enough. While you don’t want to be excessive and thus be seen as a job hopper, leaving a company or position after 2 years for greener pastures is generally viewed naturally. Also, since most major companies have rules about pay raises being limited to certain amounts, by changing companies you will likely get paid a greater amount of money for the same work.

How do you manage your career?


  1. Mr Defined Sight
    Mr Defined Sight October 21, 2016

    I have read that it can work out really well to change jobs every few years. Pay increase, start on bonus, etc. I’ve been at my current employer for around 10 years now so I haven’t tried that strategy. Great post!

    • October 22, 2016

      I’ve actually ended up with the same employer for about 10 years as well, however internally I’ve moved around a lot which has helped a lot with pay. I could probably make more jumping employers, but I think its just as important if you decide to stay with a single employer to move around internally.

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