How to Climb the Corporate Ladder & Get a Promotion

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Do you want a promotion at your job? How do you climb the corporate ladder and reach the highest point of your career?

The corporate ladder is a term used to describe the progression of one’s career, typically starting at an entry-level position. Reaching the top of the corporate ladder means getting a promotion, a pay raise, or more responsibility at a company in general.

Keep reading to learn how to climb the corporate ladder and have your hard work pay off.

Find the Right Job

The first step in learning how to climb the corporate ladder is to find a job that fits your skill set and has the potential for advancement. In Winning, Jack and Suzy Welch claim that finding a job that’s the right fit for you can only be done through trial and error. There’s simply no way of knowing how much you’ll like a job—or how good you’ll be—at it until you try it out. Furthermore, it’s important to understand that no job is perfect and there will always be things you don’t like about it. It’s not about finding the perfect job, but the one that best suits your needs and capabilities

That said, there are things to look for that can help you determine if a job is the right fit:

Opportunities: A job should provide you with opportunities both while you’re working there and after you leave it. By that, he means that a job should help you grow as a person and learn new things while also giving you the credentials to help you climb the corporate ladder. Finding a job that challenges you is important because learning and growing keeps you motivated and mentally sharp. And a job that gives you credentials gives you options if your priorities change.

Joy and meaning of the work: Though a job with the right people and opportunities is important, the work itself must also bring you happiness and meaning. If you find yourself making excuses for having a job, like that the money is too good to pass up, it may be better to find something else. Also, you don’t need to think too hard about whether you’re passionate about the work—when you find a job you’re truly passionate about, you’ll know.

Establish Your Credibility

Second, establishing credibility for yourself is essential to climb the corporate ladder. For his book The Third Door, Alex Banayan chose interviewees who had, like him, started their careers as unknowns, and therefore faced a lack of credibility as they tried to get established. A few of the people he spoke with had advice on how to convince others to invest in you before you have a proven track record. 

Tim Ferris: Borrow Credibility

Tim Ferriss, entrepreneur, life coach, and author of The 4-Hour Workweek, a best-selling book about how to achieve success with minimal effort, told Banayan that an effective way to gain credibility is to borrow it from a more credible source.

To do so, volunteer for credible nonprofits or write for recognized publications. By doing so, you can associate your name with their expertise—you’ll get a lot further contacting a potential business partner by saying you’re, for example, a project coordinator with a known organization, or that you’ve been recently featured on a credible website, than you will by saying you’re a recent college grad. 

Bill Gates: Know Your Stuff

When Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, was trying to close a deal with IBM in 1980, he faced a credibility problem. IBM was the world’s largest tech company at the time, and landing a deal with them would allow Microsoft to dominate the tech field for decades. But, he was the youthful-looking head of an unproven startup. He had to convince IBM executives that he was a serious player in the field and could be trusted with their business. To do this, he went into their meeting armed with knowledge not only about his product but also about IBM itself.

Work Hard 

Several of The Third Door’s interviewees emphasized the importance of working extra hard early in your career to climb the corporate ladder, arguing that the long-term gains you’ll earn are worth the effort and the sacrifice of short-term comfort. Two interviewees in particular who made that attitude a cornerstone of their careers were Grammy Award-winning rapper Pitbull and Microsoft executive Qi Lu.

Pitbull: Always Be Learning

Armando Perez, better known as Pitbull, who has produced award-winning music in multiple genres and started his own charter school, told Banayan that his secret to success is his willingness to approach any new venture with the mindset of an intern: be willing to work a low-wage, low-level job to learn about an industry from the bottom up. 

Pitbull argues that when you do menial tasks and function as an assistant to others, you can get a foot in the door and gain access to insights and wisdom from experienced people. Even if you’re already successful in a different field, you should be ready to start at the bottom in any new field you approach. By constantly learning in this way, you’ll ultimately be a better executive because you’ve learned how the business works at every level.   

Qi Lu: Be Disciplined

Banayan asked engineer Qi Lu, who grew up in extreme poverty in rural China but rose to hold executive positions at Yahoo, Microsoft, and other tech firms, how he was able to achieve exponential social mobility. Lu explained that he was extremely disciplined and that he sacrificed immediate comfort for long-term success. 

He said that his discipline allowed him to get more out of his day than others, and therefore he was more prepared to jump on opportunities when they presented themselves. For example, when he was a student, a professor asked him if he’d done any research on a particular topic, and Lu was able to respond that he’d already written five papers on it. The professor was so impressed that he helped Lu apply to Carnegie Mellon, which allowed him to fulfill his goal of moving to the US and starting his career. 

Handle Feedback With Grace

If you receive feedback that suggests you’ve got multiple bad habits, your initial instinct may be to try to overcome them all as quickly as possible. You may think that ceasing all of your bad behaviors at once will be the most effective and efficient way to become a better colleague and repair your reputation. 

However, if you take this approach, you’ll quickly become overwhelmed. Overcomplicating this process by trying to change multiple habits at once will divide your time and energy in too many directions for you to make real progress. You’ll quickly become mentally exhausted and struggle to continue with the process. For this reason, it’s best to stick to fixing one behavior at a time to learn how to climb the corporate ladder more easily.

So if you should only fix one behavior at a time, which should you choose to tackle first? What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith advises choosing the flaw that featured the most prominently in your feedback. For example, if 10% of the people you asked for feedback told you that you were a bad listener, but 80% of respondents said you have a problem with anger, tackle your anger issue first.

Goldsmith argues that the more people bring up a flaw, the more likely it is to be a serious problem. Therefore, frequently mentioned issues should always be at the top of your list of things to change. 

Resisting the Urge to Get Defensive

When you receive and start to interpret your feedback, it’s important to resist the urge to get defensive. In other words, don’t immediately jump to discredit the feedback and claim, either privately or publicly, that it must be incorrect. 

Ultimately, when you receive your feedback, you need to accept it as both truthful and probably accurate. Look at the situation logically. If you’ve followed the process outlined above, you’ll have only asked for feedback from people who’ve promised to be honest. Therefore, it’s highly unlikely that what they’ve said about you is untrue. Likewise, if multiple people have given feedback that highlights the same problematic habits, it’s highly unlikely that they’re all wrong. 

Accepting that your feedback is correct and that you’ve developed bad habits will likely be a humbling and painful process. However, remind yourself that ultimately, this pain will be worth it. Admitting to and overcoming your bad behaviors will enable you to both progress further in your career, and grow as a person.

Take Calculated Risks

To climb the corporate ladder, you must take smart risks—those with benefits that outweigh any possible negative outcomes. To assess whether a risk is worth taking, ask yourself if you can handle the worst-case scenario.

For example, you might be working on a project that requires you to invest some personal funds to launch it on a new platform. If some extra money could make your project more successful, and losing that money wouldn’t hurt you, the risk might be a smart one to take.

According to The Startup of You by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha, people tend to overestimate risk, which holds them back from pursuing opportunities that could lead to rapid career growth. There’s an evolutionary reason behind this aversion to risk: Our ancestors were more likely to survive by playing it safe. Today, we no longer face life-threatening dangers, but our heightened sensitivity to risky situations remains.

Taking the occasional risk, the authors argue, actually prepares you for more long-term success than pure stability. That’s because when things go wrong in your career, you’ve had practice overcoming uncertainties and setbacks.

Build a Strong Network

Now that you’ve learned to be flexible with your career, let’s look at another way to learn how to climb the corporate ladder: a strong network. Without supporters and advisors, you can only make decisions based on your limited perspective and knowledge. A network, however, exposes you to many different perspectives that can help you make professional decisions and provide you with a wealth of opportunities, insights, and support. Even further, The Startup of You points out that the people around you affect the kind of person you become, so you should network with people you want to be like.

Build Networks by Giving Value

A strong network is made up of diverse connections and close relationships, which you can cultivate by viewing networking as forming genuine and mutually beneficial relationships. Instead of focusing on getting something out of your contacts, take an interest in their concerns, too. When building your network, the authors suggest you focus on having strong relationships rather than making many surface-level connections. This generates the most reliable support, opportunities, and ideas to aid you in your professional growth. 

The authors offer a few suggestions for building and strengthening your network:

Give value to others first. To nurture your connections, take time to figure out what they value and offer them something first. It doesn’t have to be anything costly, the authors argue. You could provide insider information, help them practice for a job interview, or put your existing skills to use by giving them a painting to hang up in the bakery they just opened.

Accept their help. According to the authors, people enjoy helping others as it makes them feel good about themselves and strengthens their relationship with you. When people offer to help you, accept with gratitude.

Stay in touch. Many people are afraid that they’ll annoy others by trying to keep in touch, but the authors argue that this is rarely the case and encourage you not to assume so unless they give you a definitive “no.” Often, if you don’t receive a response, it might be because people are busy and want to be sure that you actually care about connecting with them and are willing to follow up. To show that you care, the authors advise you to reach out with a personalized message focused on them rather than an update about yourself or a generic greeting.

Seek Information From Your Network

When you’ve built a strong network, it can offer personalized advice and insights about your career that you won’t be able to find in books or on the internet. You must learn to extract insights from your network to navigate uncertainties, stay on top of new developments in your field, and make important career decisions.

To get the best advice, Hoffman and Casnocha recommend you:

Figure out who to consult. First, consult with the most relevant experts to your situation—those most knowledgeable or experienced with what you’re dealing with. For example, if you’re considering going back to school to get another degree, reach out to someone in your network who has that degree or works in a related field. After you’ve talked with them, reach out to close allies who know you well and can help you assess the relevance of the information based on your personal situation. Additionally, consider asking people whose judgment you trust in general, as they can often provide valuable outside perspectives on your situation.

Ask good questions. When asking for advice or information, avoid making it seem like an interrogation, which might make the other person uncomfortable and prevent them from sharing rich insights. Instead, encourage a real conversation by preparing a handful of good questions such as, “What’s the most exciting development in your field these days?” Ask both broad and specific questions to get the best information. If you’re interested in discussing a topic deeply, try framing the question in a new way.

Synthesize the information. Once you’ve spoken with different people, take time to synthesize the information you received and assess what’s helpful and what’s less relevant. Since everyone has their own biases and experiences, you can get the most out of your network’s knowledge by carefully comparing different pieces of information and making sense of contradictions.

Listen to your instincts. Hoffman and Casnocha advise you to check in with your instincts before and after you consult your network. Often, you’ll have a gut feeling about a career decision. If there’s no time to discuss an opportunity with your network, the authors say you should practice feeling comfortable with making decisions based on your gut feeling.

Final Words

Now that you know how to climb the corporate ladder, you understand why it isn’t easy, nor will it be a quick process. Believing otherwise will likely result in failure because you might feel disappointed by every little setback. To successfully climb the corporate ladder, you should celebrate every accomplishment, no matter how small. Getting to the top might be the end goal, but it’s the progression you made in your career that’s the real achievement.

What are other ways to help people learn how to climb the corporate ladder? Let us know in the comments below!

How to Climb the Corporate Ladder & Get a Promotion

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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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