Main Street Blog

Career Ladder: How You Can Grow as a Working Professional


As a working professional, what’s your idea of success? For many of us, it’s advancing up the corporate ladder rung by rung until we attain a certain level of growth, be it in our current role or one we dream of reaching one day.

But what is a career ladder? And how can understanding the concept better prepare you for future success? In this guide, you’ll learn about career ladders and how you can use them to get where you want to be professionally.


What Is a Career Ladder?


At its most fundamental level, a career ladder is a metaphor used to describe the act of advancing from one job to another. For example, an entry-level junior employee fresh out of college might aspire to be promoted to a senior-level role with the ultimate goal of attaining a managerial position.

Career ladders don’t have to take place in one company. Instead, an employee’s gradual career ladder ascent may encompass many roles and positions in different organizations, and changes in job titles with varying job responsibilities. 

Progressing on a career ladder doesn’t have to be a straight-forward path, especially when you consider the nature of today’s workforce. Professionals now cultivate skills through various jobs and opportunities rather than sticking to one company. 


How Career Ladders Differ From Corporate Ladders 

A corporate ladder is more of an old-fashioned concept used to describe promotion within an organization. However, many companies today still define their organizational structure with corporate ladders.

The idea is that you start at the bottom and work your way to the top. Over time, you gain experience and benefit from the upward mobility and employee development opportunities your company provides if you stay. The path upward is clear-cut, and promotion gets tougher the more you advance. 

Baby boomers who had more traditional careers popularized the term, as they viewed climbing the corporate ladder structure as the ultimate form of career success and professional growth. 

Today, millennials prefer to job-hop and cultivate new skills as they advance up their own career ladder. Employers are expected to provide development paths and some degree of work-life balance, and employees are expected to perform their job well. In this way, both the employer and employee mutually benefit from each other. 


How Organizations Use Career Ladder Programs to Spur Professional Growth
Gone are the days when employees felt obligated to stay loyal to one company throughout their career. Now, the pressure is on businesses to provide professional development opportunities to improve retention. 

That said, here are a few ways employers can offer a sense of career growth to spur professional development:


CLEARLY DEFINED ADVANCEMENT REQUIREMENTS 

Employers can provide growth opportunities by offering job titles with specific job descriptions and responsibilities tied to them. For example, junior-level employees need to know what separates them from senior employees. 

When workers have clearly defined responsibilities and a growth track or timeline, they can determine what they need to do for faster career advancement. They also will know what to expect when they get that job title bump, so they aren’t blindsided by new responsibilities. 


EXPECTED GROWTH TRACKS AND TIMELINES 

Part of providing a solid development plan is showing employees what’s typically achievable within a certain period of time. For example, a company might claim that junior-level employees who excel at the role may expect a promotion within six to eight months of starting. This gives workers a concrete benchmark to measure success, which can create healthy competition and spur growth. 


NON-MANAGERIAL DEVELOPMENT PATHS

Not everyone aspires to be a manager, and not everyone is cut out to be one. To build a positive work culture, and to maintain retention, it’s vital for organizations to give employees a sense of career progression, even if that means they’ll never manage. This could mean allowing you to oversee certain processes or job functions or even training newer employees. 


CLEAR COMMUNICATION AND TRANSPARENCY 

Companies that are serious about career development must communicate their career ladder plan to you. When you start, they should tell you what’s expected of you, how you can excel in your role, and what you can do if you feel like you’re stuck in a rut. 

For example, if you feel like you’re ready for the next level at your company but you aren’t being noticed, there should be a process in place where you can communicate that to a manager. Once you’ve talked to them about your situation, they can report back to you with details on how you can improve your job performance, or why they haven’t promoted you yet.


The Importance of Career Mapping for Yourself 
As a professional, it’s crucial to have a version of a career ladder defined for yourself. You can start with a technique called career mapping or career pathing. Career mapping involves planning your next and future career steps to help you grow as a professional. 

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when creating a strategic career map:


LATERAL MOVES ARE OK

Unlike the corporate ladder structure, your path upward doesn’t have to be linear; it can have many twists and turns. With that in mind, not every job you take has to scream “promotion!” It’s not uncommon to step down from a job into a completely different role in order to learn new skill sets and expand your professional horizons.

You also don’t have to always make more money. Taking a pay hit is sometimes necessary so you can advance. The main thing to keep in mind with lateral moves is that they should ultimately lead to better positions that are fulfilling both now and in the future.


FOCUS ON CAREER DEVELOPMENT

The most important aspect of career mapping is making sure you’re always learning or growing. Your next job should be a step forward, not a step backward. If the new role includes tasks that will benefit you in some way — be it honing a new skill or taking on unfamiliar responsibilities — then you know it’s a step forward. 


KEEP CAREER GOALS IN MIND

Lastly, keep your career goals in mind. For example, if your ultimate goal is to be a marketing director, you probably don’t want to take on roles in customer service or even product management. You’d want to focus on specific marketing jobs that would round out your skills so you can better benefit your team with your expertise. 

When it comes to career goals, many people dream of eventually becoming their own boss. That’s how some of the most respected companies are started. Employees work up the ladder for many years, honing their craft and networking until they eventually attain the skills and expertise to start their own enterprise. 

If this sounds like you, then it might be time to consider starting your own business. 


Start Your Own Business With Main Street 

There’s almost nothing that better demonstrates successful career planning than becoming your own boss. The path there is as linear as it gets: Once you launch your business, you’re at the top of your career ladder — and Main Street can help. 

When you partner with us, we provide the training you need to run your own business from day one. Our team of business development experts will coach you along the way, and our in-house marketing experts and designers will take care of logo design, creating your website, and more so you can focus on running your business.


Start From the Top and Never Look Back

Advancing up the career ladder takes time and commitment, but it’s worthwhile. Professional development always pays off, and keeping your eye on the prize as you climb from promotion to promotion is rewarding. But you also don’t have to spend your professional life working for someone else. You can start your own business and get to the top of your game sooner than you might have thought possible. Apply today to see if Main Street is right for you.
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