How to progress in your career if you’ve already hit the ceiling


How to progress in your career

At some point in your career, you’ll likely butt your head up against the dreaded glass ceiling. There may be many reasons why – your workplace doesn’t offer growth opportunities or professional development, your industry is competitive, your skills have stagnated, or your manager overlooks or undervalues your contributions to the team.

In this blog post, we’ll look at each of these obstacles to career progression and how you can overcome them.

How do you know if you’ve stayed in your job for too long?

Workplaces used to incentivise employees with great benefits when they stayed with the company for a long time. This is no longer the case. The average Australian worker will spend an average of three and a bit years (40 months) in any single job. Moreover, the average job retention goes down the younger the person – someone under 25 will spend an average of 20 months in a job. 

However, some workplaces are starting to catch up and offer comprehensive retention strategies – so how do you know whether you should stay or go?

Consider the following:

  • What’s your destination and where do you want to be? Many people think management is the ultimate pinnacle of corporate success, but not everyone is suited to it (or wants a career in management). You may prefer to be a specialist who offers extensive expertise on a subject. Whatever you’re after, make sure you have a good picture in your head.
  • What’s your motivation or why? Maybe you enjoy the challenge of mastery, wish to influence an organisation, or want to keep doing what you’re doing but earn more money doing it. Getting clear on your motivations can help you navigate the best pathway to getting where you want to go.
  • What options are available for you to achieve what you want in your current workplace?
  • Do you have a manager or mentor in your current workplace who would partner with you to help you achieve growth? 
  • Would a different workplace make it easier for you to get what you want? If so, which companies would give you the best chance of success?
  • Are there any benefits (bonuses, amazing culture, health incentives, etc.) you receive from your current workplace that you’d miss if you moved on?

These questions should help clarify whether you have scope to grow within your current company or if you’re hitting your head against that ceiling and it’s time for a change. 

Tip: If you’re still feeling stuck, try out the ‘Odyssey Plan’ exercise from Bill Burnett’s and Dave Evan’s book Designing Your Life. 

How to progress in your career internally

If you’ve completed the above exercise and decided there’s room for growth within your current organisation, congratulations! Now’s the time to make a plan. Get your manager or mentor across your vision for the future and make a career plan to help you get there. You may also want to check out our blog post on how to get promoted internally (linked below). 

How To Get Promoted in a Large Company

What to do if your workplace doesn’t have promotional opportunities

What if you’ve invested your blood, sweat, and tears for years and become the obvious choice for a promotion, but nothing’s happening? What if your loyalty is ignored each time you ask for a better job with more responsibility? What do you do if you’ve outgrown the business? If any of these questions resonate with you, it may be time to look elsewhere. 

Here are some steps you may want to take to increase your odds of success:

  • Research the available positions, career progression pathways and salaries in your industry at your level of expertise. Look at salary guides, job levelling or grading frameworks, and Fair Work Ombudsman award classifications. You can also check out peer-reviewed career information on websites like Glassdoor, Payscale and SEEK. 
  • Brush up on your skills and make sure you’re staying current with industry standards and trends. This could be as simple as participating in webinars, LinkedIn Learning or online Masterclasses. Or to differentiate yourself, you may consider formal professional development training. Undertaking a relevant diploma could be the difference between falling short in job interviews and getting that career break you deserve. 
  • Modernise your CV and familiarise yourself with current hiring practices. There are lots of great tips online covering how to create a CV that will get you past the software screening so that it lands in the hiring manager’s inbox. If you’re not a confident interviewee, now is also a great time to practice. 
  • Reach out to your professional network. Get active on LinkedIn and reach out to contacts in your industry who may be able to help you find work. You may even consider giving your information and job preferences to various recruiters. Just remember not to post anything publicly about looking for work until you’ve given your current workplace notice. 
  • If you’re considering a lateral move to a different career or industry, reach out to someone working in your dream job and offer to buy them a coffee in exchange for picking their brain. They may have some valuable insights on how to make the transition smoother or recommendations on people or industry groups you should know.

How to break the glass ceiling 

You’ve invested the time in improving your skills, making connections, and getting to know the ins and outs of your industry. This puts you in an excellent position to break that glass ceiling and progress in your career. 

However, if you’re still struggling to break through, consider what it is that’s stopping you. 

  • Is it something out of your control or are you stuck because you’re holding on to a narrow and unrealistic metric for success? In this case, you may need to accept that there are some things you can’t change so you can pivot into changing what’s within your control
  • It’s also possible you’ve overestimated your currency with certain skills and need to invest in freshening up your knowledge or sharpening your toolkit. 
  • Or perhaps you need to get comfortable with self-promotion – particularly if you’re a woman
  • The last thing to consider is how bias can play into decision-making. You may find you’re facing discrimination or simply that you’re not coming across well to others because of how you present, communicate or get along with people. The good news is there are things you can do about this. Get advice from family, friends, co-workers, mentors, recruiters, employment specialists, or Fair Work representatives. 

Smashing the glass ceiling for good

If after some soul searching you decide to pursue a higher-paying career or transition to a more lucrative industry, we can help. Otherwise, by completing the suggested exercises and implementing these tips, you should be well on your way to smashing that glass ceiling for good!

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