Just a generation ago, working for the same employer for decades made sense. The timeline went something like this: Employer hired employee, employee got raises, employee maybe got promoted a time or two, employee enjoyed stability.
These days, work life has a different rhythm.
Not only are businesses dealing with unforeseen disruptions, but traditional corporate ladders have disintegrated. Consequently, workers often find themselves without a clear way to rise through the ranks because the ranks aren’t well-defined or aren’t inherently part of the culture. Is it any wonder, then, that half of employees feel like they can’t advance within their current companies?
Of course, many analysts suggest advancement does not rest solely in the hands of the employer. Today, workers have a responsibility to take charge of their career route by being proactive, smart, and creative.
Installing the Rungs of Your Career Ladder
Although many organizational leaders have a plan for role succession, many of them never share that plan with their team members. At the same time, employees don’t always tell their managers what they want in terms of advancement. Imagine how much better it would be if both parties — the employer and the worker — made their wishes known. Two-way communication would create clearer routes to new positions.
That’s why the onus is on you, as an employee, to get the ball rolling. At the end of the day, employers will focus on business objectives and filling seats. While that could get you the raise you desire, you may end up filling a position that is completely misaligned with your career goals and interests.
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“Bottom-up career pathing, on the other hand, places a greater emphasis on the employees’ career goals,” says Linda Ginac, CEO of TalentGuard, a talent management software-as-a-service provider. “Paired with succession planning, this method lets managers and HR professionals tailor their employees’ objectives to those of the company, not the other way around.” This approach works because it gives everyone a holistic view of how to retain good workers while meeting corporate objectives.
Career pathing, in which employees chart out possible vertical and lateral moves at their company, allows individuals to take charge and construct their own ladders rather than waiting for an employer to notice their desires to achieve more. Getting started is fairly straightforward, as long as you’re willing to take some calculated leaps of faith.
1. Adopt a “possibility” mindset.
The employment landscape is rapidly changing, thanks to everything from outsourcing to emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and chatbots. Find out all you can about your industry and investigate departments in your company that are new to you — maybe operations, IT, marketing, sales, or customer service. Then, project a few steps ahead: How can you be an asset to the business? What are the possibilities for you based on gaps you see?
Take time to think about your findings. Hash out some ideas with friendly contacts in your network. When you’re ready, you can bring them to your supervisor or HR manager to discuss your future. The meeting shouldn’t be about a hostile “This is what I need or I’m leaving” ultimatum. Instead, you should aim for a conversation about opportunities that would let you stay with an employer you like.
2. Target your bliss.
What do you absolutely love about your job? Write down all the tasks you perform that keep you motivated, even when you have to work overtime or you’re having a rocky day. Use this document as a springboard to consider what else you would like to do to turn your position into a true dream job.
You might discover that you can’t fully explore some of your wish list skills — like leading a team, creating killer content, or analyzing legacy data to jumpstart sales revenue — in your current position. Take these thoughts to your boss to figure out how you might try on some new skates. Consider accepting additional projects related to your ideal role. At the same time, be sure to pay attention to your regular responsibilities; your work ethic shouldn’t lapse for a moment.
3. Define the relationship.
You may remember when you and your significant other had the “Where is this relationship going?” talk. You might need to have the same kind of serious discussion with your supervisor. Explain where you see yourself in a year, two years, five years. Talk about your desires to move ahead in your career path, and be forthright about any concerns you have regarding whether your employer offers upward mobility.
Of course, your mindset shouldn’t be “My way or the highway.” Start the conversation with a matter-of-fact description of your expectations. You’re doing your boss a favor by being honest, because he or she now knows that you’d like to stay, but you need some give-and-take.
4. Seek out a career advocate.
We can all use someone in our corner, and that’s where a career advocate comes into play. Career advocates are folks in your business who push for you to advance, even if you aren’t technically ready for a job opening or don’t have all the prerequisites.
Obviously, the more influential your career advocate, the better. Still, don’t overlook same-level colleagues in other departments who have your back. Not only can they put in a solid word for you, but they can tell you when openings are about to happen so you can prepare ahead of time. And if you do end up moving to another company? You can be allies for each other. Your ally might even end up joining you at your new employer.
If you love your organization but aren’t getting raises, more responsibility, or greater influence, you don’t necessarily have to leave the company. Explore your home-base options first. You may have far more choices than you thought.
William Arruda is the cofounder of CareerBlast and creator of the complete LinkedIn quiz that helps you evaluate your LinkedIn profile and networking strategy.