When you embarked on your current career path, you may have had one or more goals in mind — to achieve a certain level within your industry, work at your dream company, or even develop new skills in another field. No matter what you’ve been looking to accomplish, you have probably realized that at some point, you want to advance your career in some way.
Sometimes people get confused about career advancement vs. career development. Career advancement is a complex concept that includes many factors related to your goals, dreams, and aspirations. It’s more focused than career development, which is really a “big picture” view and includes aspects of education, skill development, and jobs. Career advancement is a series of steps that, taken together, help you achieve your development goals.
In this article, we’ll discuss several aspects of career advancement, including:
Why is career advancement important?
Potential challenges of career advancement
How do you advance your career effectively?
Other examples of career advancement
Why should you advance your career?
In a nutshell, “career advancement” are the steps employees take to utilize their skills and education to achieve career goals and attain more challenging job opportunities. While some companies offer career advancement programs, which allow employees a clear path to move up, some workers are left to find their own opportunities.
The concept of career advancement is important for several reasons, including:
It prevents low job engagement and burnout by allowing an employee to accept new tasks and duties within their current company or in a new job.
You can make more money. By advancing in your career, you’ll be able to take on positions with a higher pay scale.
It can help you achieve your dreams. By keeping the forward momentum going, you can continue towards your ultimate goals and opportunities. If you’re looking to have your own business someday, advancing your career within that industry first can build a solid foundation of knowledge and skills.
You’ll be a life-long learner, as advancing in your career often requires new degrees, certifications, or professional development courses.
It’s important to remember that career advancement also affects your personal development, as the experience and skills you attain as you move up the career ladder can benefit all facets of your life. Change can be difficult, but moving out of your familiar environment, or “comfort zone,” can enhance your day-to-day existence, from developing financial security to your overall self-esteem.
What are some challenges to career advancement?
There can be a lot of challenges to overcome in your quest for career advancement. Sometimes, opportunities present themselves for the taking, but in some fields, you have to be persistent and resilient. You might work for a company that doesn't offer any upward mobility, or mentorships, or even face the "glass ceiling" that can deter women in particular from reaching upper management or C-suite positions. Nothing is impossible, but it’s important to not give up at the first sign of resistance, and there are a few factors to take into consideration.
Your confidence level
Don't worry about "imposter syndrome" or that you’re not good enough to move up. Spend that energy figuring out how to make it happen. Ask for new challenges at your current employer, take a career-focused online course, or go back to school to earn another degree.
Your current company’s advancement opportunities
When you feel ready for a step up, take a look at what’s available to you. Your manager or HR department might have suggestions, but also analyze if other people in a similar position to yours have been able to move up the ladder. If not, it might be time to look elsewhere.
You might need some outside help
If you find yourself stuck, you might find assistance in the form of a career counselor, who can help you update your resume, set goals, and identify obstacles and how to overcome them. A career counselor can also keep you accountable so that you accomplish what you set out to do.
Your professional social media presence
If you’re not already online, investigate the sites that allow you to feature your background, experience, or portfolio of work. These sites also allow you to network and create new connections in your field, which will help you learn about new opportunities, or be contacted by a potential employer.
Your lack of a mentor
It’s good to have someone looking out for you so you’re not navigating your career advancement path alone. But it can be difficult to find someone who is truly invested in helping you develop your skills and being a role model. Currently, only 40% of employees report having a mentor in the workplace, according to recent polls by Gallup.
You’re hitting the “Glass Ceiling”
Unfortunately, women and minorities often face discrimination in the workplace and are passed over for promotions. Rosalind M. Chow, associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, said, “…the glass ceiling basically refers to the idea that there is something holding women back or down from getting into those leadership positions. This is probably doubly true for women of color.” Theoretically, women and men should have access to equal opportunities, but that isn't always the case and women often find their careers at a plateau. This might be disheartening, but barriers can be broken. It just might take a little more effort and perseverance.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrated that in 2021, women made up 29.1% of chief executives in the workforce. And according to the September 2021 "Women CEOs in America" report, there were 41 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies — which was a 10.8% spike from 2020. Although women CEOs still made up only 8.2% of Fortune 500 companies.
5 Things you can do to advance your career
Career advancement may be challenging, but it is definitely doable. You just need a clearly defined plan. Here are five things you can do to make it happen:
Identify your ultimate goal. This will help you create a concrete plan for your career path. For example, if you want to become a CFO someday, your advancement plan might include the positions of a junior accountant, then a senior accountant, corporate controller, and then chief financial officer.
Make a timeline. This includes identifying milestones as you work towards career advancement, which will provide motivation and a sense of accomplishment when they’re achieved. You can use SMART goals to create goals that are clear, measurable, actionable, and achievable.
Pay attention to your performance reviews. These can be a treasure trove of information on what you are doing well, and areas in which you need to improve. This will help you gain clarity on your own abilities and identify what you need to do to advance in your career.
Be self-directed. No one cares as much about your career as you do. Don’t wait for opportunities to happen — take the initiative and ask yourself what you need to do to move up.
Know when it’s time to leave. Sometimes, you need to move on to move up. If you feel like you’ve learned everything there is to know about your current job and no longer feel challenged, and there aren’t any opportunities to climb the ladder, it might be time to find something new.
So what does this look like in practice?
While you’re figuring out your career advancement plan, there are a few things you can do in the meantime:
Seek out training opportunities through your current company. Not only might your company offer these opportunities, but also many actually pay for them.
Earn a new certification. And they don't have to break the back, either. Many online platforms offer reasonably priced certification courses that can help you advance in your career.
Get another degree. You might need additional education to move up. For example, an MBA is required for advanced-level positions, and earning a graduate degree in advanced practice nursing would be necessary for a registered nurse to become a Nurse Practitioner.
Find a mentor. This person can act as a career advocate and help you network. It might be challenging to find one, but the more people you have in your corner, the better.
Consider a horizontal move. Most people only think of a vertical movement when it comes to advancement, but horizontal moves can add value to your current position, giving you a stronger foundation to eventually move up.
The importance of being proactive cannot be overstated. Don’t keep your goals to yourself — put your goals out there. This tells the people in charge that you’re serious about your career and taking the steps to get there.
Other examples of career advancement
When we think of advancing our careers, we might first think of getting a promotion. While that certainly qualified, there are other examples of career advancement. While getting a degree, for example, will help you get that promotion (people who have a bachelor’s degree have earnings that are 84% higher than those without), it’s not all about money. Depending on your industry, other benefits might include:
Performing industry research
Working or traveling overseas
Publishing professional papers or books
Becoming an expert in your field
Joining a professional organization
And some of the best benefits of career advancement might be personal. According to Pew Research, for example, 79% of college graduates said their education was “extremely or very useful” for helping them grow “[personally and intellectually,” and 65% said that they developed skills and knowledge that could be transferred to the workplace.
The bottom line is that we spend a large portion of our life at work. When you are dissatisfied with your job, it affects your whole sense of well-being. You can either live with this or take action to advance your career and move into something you find interesting and satisfying.
If it helps, think about your career advancement plan as one exceptionally long job interview. Every day you want to do your best to put forth your best effort and keep excelling in your work, which will show others that you are confident and capable. Confidence in yourself and the work you do will help others believe in you, too, and will demonstrate your professionalism, integrity, and abilities, and will help you advance in your career to meet your end goals.
Career advancement is a series of steps that help you achieve your development goals.
Some companies offer career advancement programs, but if yours doesn’t, you have to find your own opportunities.
Career advancement helps prevent burnout, increase earnings, build your education, and achieve your dreams.
To advance in your career, you might need to further your education, increase your confidence, or find a mentor or career counselor.