Does the Career Ladder Exist Anymore?

By Billy McDiarmid - Sourcing and Recruitment Technology Specialist - Glasgow

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Do you remember the phrase career ladder? Has anyone actually used it recently?

I haven’t heard anyone say it. I'm not sure it actually exists anymore.

The career ladder came to be in the eighties and nineties when management ‘gurus’ developed complex theories about how a company should function. In turn, this created a thick layer of middle management that reduced the steps on the career ladder. These new roles had never been part of any business before.

And when the recession hit, they were never part of a business again. Those at this level were one of the main victims of the crash – well paid, and carrying out a function that was not so different from their subordinates. So when costs needed to be cut, the tasks were reallocated to people who were often told:

“Just be happy that you still have a job!”

Now that the steps have been removed, career progression is often impossible. When it does happen:

  • It can often be reserved for the ‘favourites’, the ‘teacher’s pet’
  • The best employees are not given the opportunity as they are too useful in their current position

So the question is - if are a top performer who wants to progress their career, how do you do this?

  • Seriously consider moving externally. This might not be ideal for everyone. But a move to another company is a great way of progressing your career.
  • Want to stay in your current company? Then really analyse where the opportunities lie. What teams seem to offer more opportunity? Is there a manager who is particularly good at developing her or his team?
  • Think about a sideways move. Whether looking at external or internal opportunities, this can be short term pain for long term gain. I have personally done it. Are your skills transferable into another job that has better overall career progression options?
  • Be honest about your desire for progression with your manager. This could lead to additional responsibilities that will develop you further. Remember – managers will not assume that you are actively seeking progression, as it isn’t for everyone.
  • Talk to someone about it. Talk to your family and a recruiter about it. Get some independent impartial advice. It doesn’t cost you a penny.

Ultimately, career progression is no longer automatic. You need to take control. 


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