How To Fast-Track Your Way Up The Corporate Ladder

Illustration of a woman walking up steps

How To Fast-Track Your Way Up The Corporate Ladder

As a 19-year-old college student, Justin Hutchens began work as a resident assistant at an intermediate care facility in Greeley, Colorado. Over the next 18 years he worked his way up at six different companies in four states, from a care giver to admissions director, regional operations director and chief operating officer. In 2009 he joined National Health Investors, a health care real estate investment trust, as president and chief operating officer. Two years later, at the age of 36, he was appointed chief executive.

How? “My Dad gave me advice early in my career to always do the very best with whatever level of responsibility that I was afforded, and to take less desirable assignments that others might not want,” he says. “That approach has offered great exposure throughout my career.”

Hutchens says he’s learned that it is essential to be committed to your career path, “which means broadening your skills through continuing education and being willing to relocate. Flexibility plays a key role in one’s marketability.”

“The culture has changed and people no longer stay at one firm for the entirety of their career,” says Ford Myers, a career coach and author of Get The Job You Want, Even When No One’s Hiring. “In the 1970s or 1980s, it was assumed you’d join a company, work hard, pay your dues and climb up the ladder at that firm. Those were the unwritten rules of the game. But the world has changed.”

“Most, but not all, still want to move up the corporate ladder, but climbing up isn’t always done in a straight line,” says Andy Teach, a corporate veteran and author of From Graduation to Corporation: The Practical Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder One Rung at a Time. “Some workers make lateral moves to other companies, hoping there is more room for advancement at their new company.”

Lynette Lewis, a business consultant and author of Climbing the Ladder in Stilettos, concurs. “I would agree that every person working will typically have the desire to move up, or perhaps the better way to say it is they will want to grow. Growth is a natural sign of being alive, so it is healthy to want to expand, develop, and advance both personally and professionally.”

“The Baby Boomer generation is known for paying its dues, and it took us a while to climb up the ladder,” he says. “I once had a Baby Boomer boss who told me that it took them a certain amount of years to get to their present position and therefore it would take me the same amount of years, even though it had nothing to do with my work performance. This is no longer true. The Millennials have a reputation for being impatient and for wanting to move up quickly, by switching jobs often.”

“Too many people bounce through their career like a pinball in a pinball game, but in order to achieve your full potential, every person needs a plan—some sort of roadmap or blueprint,” Myers says. “A smart person will have a long-term career plan, which focuses on where they want to arrive at the pinnacle of their career, as well as the interim steps they’ll need to take in order to get there.”

“Get the best possible education and training you can, as early as you can,” Myers suggests. “No matter what has changed, there is still no replacement for getting a head start with a great education.”

Treat everything with urgency and volunteer for high-visibility projects. Always seek to contribute more, and be known as the go-to person or the get-it-done person, he adds. “Arrive earlier and leave later. There is no replacement for hard work and smart work.”

Don’t let yourself be limited by what you are officially assigned to do, Lewis says. This does not mean ignoring present responsibilities; it means working beyond achievements that are obvious or expected.

I think your work attitude is just as important as your work aptitude,” Teach says. Most people work hard, but if you’re the one with the can-do attitude, your supervisor will certainly recognize and appreciate it.

Become an industry expert, Lewis adds. “Read, study, follow industry leaders on social media outlets, and attend industry conferences. This helps you grow beyond your job to know the industry and others in it.” These relationships can open up tremendous possibilities for mentoring and advancement.

Lewis agrees: “Know your boss’ top personal and professional goals, then do all you can to help him or her advance their priorities. Every leader needs lieutenants, and when you serve them their favor toward you will increase and they are likely to pull you in and up to more responsibility and opportunities for quicker advancement.”

Record and file all of your achievements, especially those that align with broader company priorities, Lewis says. “Find ways to keep your boss and others informed of these achievements so you are recognized increasingly as someone leading company success beyond your own responsibilities. This list is especially helpful at annual review time.”

Gain new skills

In addition to taking on additional responsibilities, you should aim to gain new skills that will be attractive to your employer. If you’re unable to find opportunities to increase your knowledge within the workplace, find learning options outside of it. You don’t necessarily need to pay for online courses; you can gain new skills by doing your own research and watching free online tutorials.

When you’re trying to work your way up the career ladder, you’re going to need some pointers to help you rise the ranks, and there’s no better person to give you feedback than your boss. So, if you’re not usually given any praise, request a private chat and ask how you’re getting on. During this time, you can also express that you’d like to do more within your role, which will show that you’re committed to the team.

Help others

If you want to advance in your career, you need to be a team player. Help colleagues in times of need, and volunteer to take on mundane tasks that others may turn their nose up at. By being helpful, you’ll show that you’re more focused on the team’s success rather than your own personal achievements – an attractive quality of a good employee.

Having a good network of industry professionals is extremely attractive to any employer. It suggests that you take your job seriously and that you’re keen on expanding your network to aid your success.

Besides industry networking, though, you should also take the time to get to know employees in other departments whom you might not necessarily work with. This will help you build relationships with them and may improve your communication if you ever need their assistance.


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