Most of us are told from an early age that moving up the proverbial career ladder is a virtuous thing to do. We go through school and university dreaming up different possibilities for work. We get into our first job and hop onto a range of others. We start in one area and often wonder if we have made the right choice. It feels that ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’. Most of us never strategically plan our careers. As a result, we end up chasing the next sparkly opportunity one after the other.
This article will help you to get not just any promotion but the right promotion. It will be particularly helpful for those working in non-academic higher education roles (e.g. marketing, HR, academic administration). I have cherry-picked five ideas for you. They are tried and tested steps which helped clients, friends and colleagues over the last decade.
Clarify the ‘what’
If you have ever felt stuck in your career, you may have been tempted to follow a scattergun approach. You wanted to move into a new environment quickly. You applied for a number of roles, some of which you felt slightly indifferent about. You have started a numbers game; the more jobs to apply to, the quicker you would move on to a better landscape.
There is a multitude of problems with this approach. Part of you was attracted to a new opportunity while another part of you didn’t want to go for it.. When you want two entirely different things at the same time, you could self-sabotage. It may manifest as being unable to create convincing job applications, withdrawing your applications which you worked hard on or appearing uninterested at interviews.
Getting clear about what exactly you want for your next role requires a small amount of soul searching. Discussions with mentors can help a long way. Most of us, however, fall into the trap of analysis paralysis. We end up believing that if we just read enough books and think about it long enough, the answer would finally come.
Clarity comes from action. Diversifying your skills and experiences may take some time but will be well worth it in the long run.
Sheryl Sandberg, founder of the ‘Lean In’ movement, suggests that we think about our careers as a jungle gym as opposed to a career ladder. In the jungle, you are free to experiment, move up and down, and sideways, and strengthen different muscles. In a career ladder, there are only two choices to make; we either climb up or fall down. It can feel challenging to keep on pushing for more dizzying heights.
Thinking about your career as a jungle gym means that you have the freedom and flexibility to try out different skills. While working in your permanent job, you could set up a small business, go freelance, take up a part-time role or volunteer for a charity. The more experience you get, the more diverse your experience is and the easier it will be for you to step into a brilliant new role.
Nail down the ‘why’
Many of us have some idea about the next steps, however, we have not crystallised why we want them. Is it more financial rewards we are drawn to? Do we want more recognition from others and an impressive job title? Do we want new challenges and variety? Is it making a bigger difference to others? Or being able to positively influence others?
There are no right or wrong reasons for our rationale. Financial rewards can be exciting, however, people often forget to consider that higher level jobs come with longer hours, weekend work, and an increased work load. Meeting new challenges can be motivating, however, the learning curve can be steep at the start.
Reflecting on what we aspire to get from our next promotion helps us realise the so called ‘sacrifices’ we might need to make. If you have ever been tempted to rush into the future and find that perfect job, you might be disappointed to find that there are no perfect jobs out there. Although they might appear the right fit, there will be lots of joys and challenges alongside the journey.
Join the conversation
I have recently had the opportunity to interview a colleague called Anna. She has progressed from a fairly junior level to a director-level higher education role remarkably quickly and easily (within just a few years). I was curious to learn about her top tips which helped her achieve what would seem impossible for others.
Before her most recent promotion, Anna identified a number of talks, presentations and higher education conferences where she would have the opportunity to introduce herself to key decision-makers. She was keen to learn about trends in higher education as well as be informed of the current challenges which influence the sector. When being invited for interviews, she was able to skilfully refer to these events and draw on the insights she gained.
Anna was able to progress into an exciting new role because she clearly identified what role she wanted. She reflected on her strengths and made sure that these aligned with the nature of the role she was aspiring to. She was keen to contribute to decision making at a strategic level and positively influence change within her department. She has taken the initiative to attend higher education events and proactively networked with others. Her enthusiasm for her new role shone through at interview and quickly convinced the panel of her high potential. By following a few steps, she was able to get not just any promotion but her right promotion.