How To Respond When You're Told The Company Has No Opportunity For Advancement

You took a job at a small start-up because it provided a great opportunity to broaden your experience and skill-set. It's a great place to work and you've learned a lot, but now you're ready to move up the corporate ladder to a new position. The problem is, as you look around, it appears there is no ladder to climb and no room to advance. The higher leadership positions are filled, and it doesn't look like anyone's leaving any time soon. You feel like you've hit a dead end.

No Opportunity For Advancement

What should you do? 

The truth is, you can turn a dead end into a growth opportunity with a little ingenuity. Below are some strategies that can give you the opportunity to advance, even if the prospects look bleak.

Take Some Initiative

Sometimes people assume there’s no room for growth based on their own observations—this is a mistake. That picture may change when you actually take the time to ask. A survey by Accenture found only 28 percent of women and 39 percent of men have actually asked for a promotion. So if you want one and believe you deserve one—speak up. You might be surprised by the answer. The company you thought had no opportunities for growth just might.

Find The Source Of The Problem

If you do ask and are told there is no room to grow, consider whether there really is potential for advancement at the company, but there's just no advancement opportunity for you. If your career has stalled due to factors related to your job performance or skill set, that's actually good news because you can make improvements. Ask yourself: "What do I see in myself that my boss and mentor don't? What performance issues can I address while I’m still here to potentially change their mind?," says Joanne Cleaver, author of "The Career Lattice." Consider whether you can improve your position at the company and open up new opportunities by taking classes or working build new skills. Use disappointment as a time for introspection—examine where you're going wrong, and use that  information as an opportunity to better position yourself for the future.

Chart Your Own Course

Working for a small company can give you great on-the-job experience, but it can also be limiting. While your skill set may grow, your job opportunities may be limited by the company's size. If you're at a small company and have found yourself with no opportunity to move up, one option is pursuing your own path. Small companies sometimes offer more flexibility than larger companies. If you see an opportunity for growth or expansion, propose it, and you can potentially create another rung on the career ladder for yourself to climb. Another strategy you can use is to become the resident expert on in a certain subject critical to the company's success. Becoming the company's go-to person on that topic may earn you a promotion to a newly created position.

Move Sideways

If your current job offers no opportunity for advancement, consider whether another job within the company can put your career back on track. While a lateral move won't bring you a fancy new title or a bump in pay, it can pay dividends in the form of new opportunities. "It is a chance to expand your network, learn new skills, and show results with and for a different team," says Cleaver. This can put you in a better position to move up later on. But before you make a lateral move it's important to make sure the position will bring you value, and that it has provided others with the opportunity to advance. Otherwise, this type of shift will only appear as job hopping, not strategic planning.

Take Advantage Of Training

Even if your company doesn't have room to move right now, you can put yourself in a better position for future opportunities by enhancing your skill set and knowledge base through employee incentive programs that may help you cover the costs of training. However, if you're interviewing at a new company that claims it offers training or continuing education support, ask for specifics. Sometimes there are no actual programs to help you with these pursuits. Support for training may be more hypothetical than useful. It can also help to find a mentor if you don't have one already. An Accountemps survey of more than 2,200 CFOs and 1,000 workers found that while 86 percent of CFOs say it's important to have a mentor to help develop your career, only 26 percent of workers actually have one. A mentor can guide you, helping you keep your career on-track for growth, navigate office politics, and even advocate on your behalf, which may help you advance.

Look For A New Opportunity

Another, more obvious option when your career stalls is to look for new opportunities outside the organization. Another company can give you the space you need to move into a higher-level position. How do you know when you're ready to move on? Signs that it may be time include feeling unhappy or unfulfilled with your work, not being challenged, or believing the type of work you do is no longer a good fit for your skills or interests.

Remember, a dead-end path can always take a detour if you take the time an initiative to explore new options. Sometimes growing your career is less about the opportunities you're offered and more about the ones you create for yourself.

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