A Job Where Professional Advancement Matters Most. Now What?

A Job Where Professional Advancement Matters Most. Now What?

This is the fourth, and final, piece in a series about the criteria that people stress as most important in a new job when we are having a coaching conversation. I have previously written about three often-mentioned priorities, Salary & Benefits, Better Boss & Colleagues and Social Impact. Finally, is the goal of professional advancement.

A job with advancement

As a quick reminder, it is best to read these pieces collectively to gain greater insight into what these priorities mean. Most people have a multitude of reasons for seeking a new role. In my role as a coach, I help people prioritize those reasons and get much clearer about the specific details associated with each reason. You might be fortunate enough to get what you want without knowing, but that makes it more like playing the lottery and your odds could and should be much better. You can be better equipped to realize what is going to be fulfilling. 

The people who say they care most about professional advancement in their next role usually share a version of the following as to why:

  • “I’ve reached a ceiling in with my current employer, and I need to move elsewhere to move up”  
  • “I want to build my brand/reputation”
  • “I’m going to make a move to a new field/role and want to be sure that the next job is with an employer or in a field with established pathways to management”  

I hear you, but….

Given the lack of experience most of us have leaving a job and finding new work, we tend to make some leaps. If your motivation is grounded in the three rationales above, I ask you to consider the leaps you may have made.

“Reached a ceiling…” How do you know that you have reached the limits of what is possible for you in your current role? Has someone said that to you? If so, have they shared any reason? If they have not said so directly what has led you to that conclusion? We can get very deeply in our head and so it is often best to share your rationale with a trusted advisor. Are there other norms that come up for the role you aspire to at the next level? This can include things like education, specific skills, or prior management experience. It does not mean that any of these is correct but will be worth noting because it may well come up again as you consider a shift. Moving out to move up is sometimes a good idea but there are no guarantees. 

“Build a brand…” Most often this leads an individual to seek opportunities with ‘famous’ or ‘rapidly emerging’ employers. Just remember that what attracts you also tends to attract lots of other people with similar goals. Furthermore, it can be hard to locate a void to step into as the person at International Tech Company X. Furthermore, does this employer encourage or discourage staff who aspire to be better known? Some organizations want you to keep your head down and do the work. I also hold the view that while an employer can help you gain access to certain people and opportunities, much of the great work you can do to establish a brand happens outside of any employer. What are you doing to share your unique perspective or expertise with others? How are you finding ways to elevate your standing more broadly in your field? 

Seeking established pathways…” I get that you were frustrated by not having any opportunities to advance given the size of your employer or the lack of transparency in how you move-up in the organization. You need to do your research to understand what it takes to move up in these pathways. Is the work schedule something that you imagine doing? If you are expected to move around the world, is that something you can do given your obligations? Does the culture of the employer require that you stifle aspects of your work style or being? You want to climb up higher, but are you prepared to change other aspects that are part of the life you want to make it happen? 

Advancement is bigger than your employer. It is always wise to remember that if you are thinking about this as a steppingstone that other employers may place more weight on what you managed and the impact of what happened under your management than any particular employer. So, what are the signs that an employer places in staff growth? Research and ask about the following:

  • Internal mentorship program
  • Money available for classes, events, or memberships
  • Supervision with an emphasis on growth
  • Evidence of staff growing into leadership roles
  • Encouragement or space to take on external leadership outside the company 
  • Visibility of people with your identity in leadership

I am so glad that you are aspiring to more. Let us make sure that your skills and time are with an employer where you have the best chance of realizing those goals.  

Russ Finkelstein is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor.  A career coach, social entrepreneur, and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship, and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website Idealist.org and his new book, "Let's Sort Out Your Career Mess, Together..." is forthcoming in 2021.  

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