The Reality of Career Advancement
I was just thinking about the last time a colleague camped out at my office door and complained about their lack of advancement. I’m going to say here what would be politically imprudent to say in person.
It seems that everyone wants to advance. Or, at least they’ve been programmed by our culture to believe that they must continue to climb to the next rung on the corporate ladder. But, unlike the British Navy of 200 years ago, advancement isn’t a matter of waiting for the people in front of you to die. Even today, it’s not always based on meritocracy. Just because you deserve advancement, it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.
Companies pay for services from an employee. When they hire you to perform these services they come with a specific pay range. If you don’t know your pay range, talk to your HR representative. They can probably find out for you. If it’s against company policy to share this information with you, you can get an idea from other sources if your role fits a well-defined position such as product marketing manager.
When you start in a role, especially early in your career or when it’s a job you haven’t done before, you probably begin toward the bottom of the pay scale. As you provide more value in that role, you should expect to move up the pay scale. Unfortunately, not all companies follow a formal review process. It’s imperative that you make sure that your role is well-defined and that you record your performance against that role. This is your evidence to ask for more pay and possible advancement.
The problem comes when you want to move to the next level in an organization. It’s arguably easier in a large organization where roles open up as people move around. In my time at larger organizations, I was able to create new roles several times by seeing a need and selling management on my ability to fill that need. This gave me visibility as well as experience that my peers didn’t have. There was always somebody to backfill my old role.
In a smaller company it’s not as easy. With fewer people there may not be someone else to take over your tasks if you move up. Hiring someone new is not always a solution as smaller companies keep a tight reign on payroll costs. Plus the company still needs you to perform this role so they may be content to keep you where you are.
There’s also the factor of your image within the company. If you’ve been at the same company for a long time, people will have an image of you that may have been formed when you were younger and a lot less wiser.
At the first company I worked for, I stayed for almost thirteen years. I made career advancements, but for the most part it was a series of lateral moves every couple of years. It built a great foundation for me, but didn’t do much to help me climb the ladder.
I had finally made the decision that it was time to move when the company was acquired by Microsoft. (Sometimes I get incredibly lucky) I stayed at Microsoft for another four years where I learned even more than I had in the first seventeen years. But, after four years at Microsoft, I knew I had hit the ceiling within that organization unless I wanted to move to Redmond. Without much angst, I moved on.
The moral of all of this rambling is that you can’t afford to delude yourself. You may think you are at your present company because you are happy. If you’re complaining to your colleagues about lack of opportunity you are not all that happy.
You may think that your time served in your company is being loyal. The job market is littered with loyal workers who were laid off after years of service. Loyalty is not something that organizations expect nor do they return it. They encourage it only while it behooves them to keep an employee on staff. As soon as it’s not in their best interests, you are out the door.
Below are some red flags that may signal that it’s time to move on. No one in particular is a signal that you should move on. But, if you find that more than one of them applies to you, I encourage you to get that resume pulled together and start exploring.
- You have been at your company for more than 10 years.
- You have been in the same role for more than 3 years.
- You are technically in an entry-level position when you’ve been in the work force for more than five years. This also assumes that you didn’t make a recent lateral move.
- You are at the top of your pay scale for your role.
- You’ve been passed over for a promotion more than once.
- Your manager seems sympathetic to advancement but doesn’t give you any clear indication of what is expected for advancement.
- You don’t think your ideas are taken seriously within your organization.
Switching companies can be intimidating, but it can also be cathartic. A new company with new faces is a chance to rev up your career again. It’s a chance to leave a lot of baggage behind and be the kind of marketing professional you know you can be.
I wish you the best of luck in your own advancement efforts!
Loyalty or Self-Delusion?
The Reality of Career Advancement