Career advancement is on the forefront of nearly everyone’s mind. From entry level to middle-management, employees seek ways to enhance their upward mobility. Even executive management jockeys for position in the hopes of advancing higher up.
The way a junior employee seeks a promotion will be different from a senior manager. For instance, someone just embarking on their career will likely concentrate on gaining experience or honing excellent customer service skills. Conversely, a seasoned manager will be more focused on high level performance to gain an inside edge.
While there may be varying career advancement techniques that apply to different career stages, there are two over-arching strategies available to all (that is, unless you are merely biding the time until retirement):
- Stay long-term at one company (perhaps even your first out of college); become a long tenured employee or maybe even a “lifer”
- Frequently switch companies or “jump ship” as often as realistically possible
When I entered the “real world” and joined the ranks of the employed a little over 10 years ago, I encountered a colleague who was strongly opinionated on this topic. He had been given the sage wisdom that jumping ship was the surefire, quickest way to achieve rapid career ascension. The logic behind the theory is that the company you currently work for is in no hurry to promote or give you more compensation because they’ve already got you doing the work. It’s easier for them to add more responsibilities to your plate after they’ve already brought you in and do so without bumping you up. On the other hand, when you switch companies you’re taking the situation into your own hands and parlaying your experience to land a “better” job. In other words, it’s easier to sell yourself to an external entity than it is to the one already employing you. Ironically, this co-worker had just joined the company via what was equivalent to a promotion about a month or so before we had this discussion. I left that company a month or two later!
Let’s examine the advantages and disadvantages of each career advancement strategy and then see if we can figure out which one is the best alternative.
Advance Your Career by Staying Put
- Establish Reputation – by staying at one company for the long haul, you can continuously build your internal reputation with management and co-workers. This may aid in working your way up the ranks.
- Know the company/business – you’ll have the advantage of being knowledgeable about the company’s policies, strategies, priorities, structure, etc.
- Develop seniority – slowly but surely you’ll develop seniority at least in terms of years employed.
- Capitalize on attrition – your seniority, reputation, and knowledge of the company may allow you to capitalize on attrition. As turnover occurs, you may be in prime position to sweep in and take those higher level positions.
- Feel comfortable/confident - Being familiar with the company and your surroundings may cause you to feel more comfortable. This in and of itself may not lead to career growth unless you’re able to develop confidence from it and use it to move up.
- Establish reputation – If people view you in a negative fashion then you might be stuck for quite some time. The reputation you establish could be a benefit or a hindrance and work either for you or against you.
- Screwed by office politics – office politics is a very real beast. People make informal alliances. Buddies promote other buddies. If you’re not part of the “good ol’ boys” club then you could find yourself hitting a brick wall.
- Not enough spots for advancement – there are only so many promotional opportunities that arise. Too much internal competition might mean your turn never comes up.
- Lost time if you get stuck – If you do wind up spinning your wheels, you could end up wasting a lot of time – time that could have been better spent setting up shop somewhere else.
Climb the Ladder by Jumping Ship
- Find opportunities faster – by looking at other companies for opportunities, you’re being proactive. Instead of waiting for raises/promotions to come to you, you’re seeking them out.
- Gain more broad experience – you’ll obtain experience no matter if you stay put or jump ship. However, by switching companies often, you might be able to develop a broad array of industry experience which could make you more valuable overall.
- Can leverage and wait for the “perfect opportunity” – continuously having your eye on what else is out there allows you to take only the best opportunities. If the offer isn’t good enough, you wait until you find one that is.
- Beef up resume by conquering many jobs/positions – demonstrating that you can tackle and excel in new challenges with ever increasing responsibilities may provide a synergistic effect that outside companies find highly appealing.
- Seen as disloyal – This is perhaps the biggest drawback of the jump ship philosophy. If a hiring manager concludes your job history is riddled with jumping to company after company it could cause them to pause. Companies may not want to hire you if you have moved around too often in a short time span because they might assume you would be gone in a year or two.
- Having to start over often – learning a new company and re-establishing a reputation are doable tasks, but they can be draining if you have to keep doing so over and over again.
- Lose internal network – If you’ve developed a strong internal network you’d be throwing it away by leaving. Sure, some of these contacts will remain in your greater, overall network. However, the ability to leverage each internal network you’ve built will diminish with each jump of the ship.
What is the Best Strategy for Career Advancement?
The truth of the matter is: there is no one best strategy. You can find success with both approaches. And neither option is absolute. You can employ both over the course of your career.
I have friends who have found significant success both ways. In fact, at the job I landed after leaving the company where that colleague shared his conviction, I met two people who became my good friends. One is still employed there and she’s worked her way up to high level management. The other left and, while he’s now in a different industry, has held positions at five companies in less than 10 years! Each earns roughly the same nowadays and nearly quintupled (that’s 5 times) their original compensation levels.
If there is no clear winner then why did I bother to even write such an article? The answer is because it is so easy to get tunnel vision. If you’ve been loyally grinding away for years at a company you can easily lose sight and keep plugging away thinking you are “almost there.” Yet, you keep spinning your wheels. On the other hand, if you’ve been jumping from job to job at company after company, you might not realize you have pushed the strategy to the max. Thus, if you find yourself stuck in a rut or enduring job burnout, perhaps it is time to consider taking the alternate path.
Can you think of any additional pros or cons for either strategy? Which career advancement strategy have you used? What do you think is best?
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