Climb the Ramp to Career Success

Don’t wait for your career to advance for you — take control of your career management.

The ladder is certainly the most enduring metaphor for career advancement, but nowadays it’s no longer constructive to think of your career progression as climbing a ladder (sorry, – we still love your name!). In the ladder metaphor, you ascend one rung at a time, progressing in your career through a series of milestones. At each rung, you work hard on what you’re doing at that specific moment. You forget about that next step because you’re sure you’ll get there when the right time comes without encountering any obstacles. You fall into complacency until something happens.

Maybe you…

  • Realize one day that you feel bored and unchallenged. You know that there must be more to your job and crave greater fulfillment.
  • Want more responsibility. You find what you are doing to be routine and know you are capable of a greater challenge.
  • Decide you want more pay. After all, if you are going to work 60 or more hours a week, you might as well gain greater compensation for your efforts.
  • Feel an urge to try something new. You know it’s now or never if you’re going to make a change.
  • Realize that you’ve had your fill of a nasty boss or an uncomfortable organizational culture. Life’s too short to deal with an environment that stomps all over your personal values.

Outside your control…

  • Your company decides it’s time to ‘right-size.’ We know all too well that mergers and acquisitions, soft markets, shareholder pressure and more make layoffs a common part of today’s work world. Even companies that are doing well feel the need to ‘resize’ from time to time.
  • The product you’re working on gets cancelled. Let’s face it; we live in a disposable economy. What’s hot one day (think of the low-fat diet) is replaced by the latest craze (like eliminating ‘evil’ simple carbohydrates, for example). Who would have ever thought that IBM would sell their Thinkpad business to Lenovo?
  • The industry you work in is hit by a destructive scandal. Think Enron, Arthur Anderson, Airbus, etc.
  • Your manager leaves the company, taking several team members with her, and the company decides to eliminate your job.

Only when that something happens do you think about that next rung in your career ladder. You revise your resume, which you probably haven’t even looked at since you got your current job — months, maybe years ago. You begin to reconnect with lost professional contacts. You expend enormous effort connecting with recruiters, writing cover letters, refining your career marketing materials, searching through job boards —all the fallback methods that people used back when the work world was predictable.

Start the steady climb

In today’s dynamic knowledge economy, the sporadic, effortful approach to career management discussed above isn’t the most effective. Instead, you have to kick over the ladder and start viewing your career climb as a steady ramp. When you’re ascending a ramp, you don’t stop and relax — you’re constantly advancing in perpetual motion toward your professional goals. In this scenario, you don’t wait for one specific trigger to move you to the next step in your career: you manage that movement yourself, every day of your life.

Consistent steps for success

  • You update and revise your resume in real time.
  • You maintain networking contacts, rather than letting them fade away.
  • You seek out tasks and activities that will move you closer to your goals.
  • You apply your strengths and unique talents to every task you undertake.
  • You stay connected to the job market, understand your worth and factors that are affecting your job function.

These steps ensure that you’ll always be prepared for any eventuality.

Perhaps you’re thinking, ‘This sounds like a lot more work than climbing a ladder.’ Well, in fact, perpetual career management is a lot less work. That’s because you’re constantly building momentum.

Once you adopt this mindset and make the corresponding behaviors part of your regular routine, you never have to make a focused effort to work on your career advancement again. Instead, you’re always thinking about it and tweaking it as a matter of course. It’s like brushing your teeth in the morning: Career management becomes something you just do. As our colleague Wendy Terwelp says, ‘You’re always ready for your next big gig.’