Moving Up the Career Ladder

by Marie on September 21, 2011 · 17 comments

Have you ever wondered why Johnny Jerk down the hall was promoted to that director slot while you were passed over? In my career as an IT professional I watched some young, fresh talent soar to the top – with just about everyone in agreement that they belong there and I’ve seen other tired old dog managers plodding along year after year at the same level. I’ve also seen some truly malevolent people promoted beyond their capabilities.  Here are profiles of three managers with whom I once worked.

Fresh Talent

Sam started at the company after I did. He had an IT degree, a smiley face and a whole lot of energy. He always seemed willing to tackle new assignments, always had suggestions on ways to get things done and always managed to keep his staff pretty happy. He made manager of a group of 40 people shortly after I became manager of 12.

He initiated new programs that addressed real problems and was in a position to get noticed by multiple clients who had clout with management. Soon he became a director over that area. After a few years of continuing to provide great client service, deal successfully with issues and develop innovative solutions to new business needs, he was tagged to manage a new client conversion.

In the company where I worked this was a huge job, with tight time frames, large problems and high visibility. Doing it right meant a happy new client, doing it wrong or not getting it done meant lost revenue to the company bottom line. He did it right and won the Vice President position over that client area in the company.

To emulate Sam you should:

  • Know your stuff.
  • Use your brain to think up better ways to get the job done faster.
  • Network within the company and with your clients and talk about what you are doing.
  • Be savvy about people in power and how things get done in your company – study the undercurrents of behavior and relationships.
  • Step up to opportunities.
  • Enjoy your job.
  • Treat folks fairly and reward jobs well done.
  • Use praise lavishly when deserved.

Malevolent Mover

Jacob started at the company way before I did. He did not have a degree, but had managed to move up to a client services business manager position. He loved to smooze with the clients, hated dealing with issues and was often rude, contentious and angry with his team mates. He was promoted to director after managing to smooze enough with clients to get some new business commitments for the company. Jacob was a salesman, he should never have been a manager. After failing to convert on the new business successfully, he was demoted to a business analyst.

To emulate Jacob:

  • Spend a lot of time networking.
  • Take long lunches with your favorite staff members.
  • Park in the same garage as the executives – great for smoozing!
  • Yell at your staff when in stressful situations so they work harder.
  • Don’t worry about learning new things or keeping up with changes.
  • Blame others for everything that goes wrong.

Tired Old Dog Manager

Silvia was a manager way before I was hired. She was a manager in the truest sense of the word in that she administered to her staff. Her staff were content, but not ambitious. Silvia was still a manager years later when I retired from the company.

To emulate Silvia:

  • Play it safe – don’t seek out new opportunities.
  • Cross your t’s and dot your “i”s – that’s whats important.
  • Do enough to make sure you and your staff stay out of trouble but don’t rock the boat.
  • Try not to stick out above the crowd, someone may try to get you to work more.

Although I changed the names, these three profiles represent actual people with whom I worked. Do you have some like them at your office?

What does it seem to take in your company to get ahead?

If you are interested in taking on more responsibility in hopes of better pay, what are you doing to get there?

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Money Beagle September 21, 2011 at 8:14 am

Sometimes having one great idea can get you ahead. If you propose something and the managers/directors/customers like it, they will often let you take charge of it. That can be sink or swim but if you’ve really thought it out and can drive it forward successfully, your career can really take off.


2 Amanda L Grossman September 21, 2011 at 8:44 am

Looks like you’ve had a lot of experience, and are a keen observer!

I work for a government agency, and being promoted can take a few different forms. Some of it is based on the amount of time you have been in a position and finishing your PDP for the next position (Professional Development Plan, with lots of training to attend, courses to take, and investigations to conduct). Then after that, it is competitive based. Right now I am an Environmental Investigator 3 (promoted once from 2), and in one year I am eligible to become a IV. Once reaching IV, I have to compete to reach the highest slot, which is a V.


3 Marie September 21, 2011 at 11:11 am

Government agencies typically have to operate under stricter ‘fairness’ laws. My hubby was passed over multiple times by the US Gov’t for promotions due to the requirement to promote certain percents of women and minorities – fair overall maybe, fair to him – never.


4 Financial Success for Young Adults September 21, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Moving up in your career is not that difficult if you will spend the time to network, build skills and be ambitious. I actually think a combination of the first two personalities would work best, minus the rudeness.


5 Marie at FamilyMoneyValues September 21, 2011 at 10:46 pm

Jacob was at heart a salesman and you are correct in saying that good sales techniques help a career.


6 Shaun @ Smart Family Finance September 21, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Great post and it really fits with something I was reading at Harvard Business Review:

Apparently the researchers have consistently found that the Jacobs of the world do not prosper in the end. I’ve found the same.


7 Marie at FamilyMoneyValues September 22, 2011 at 8:15 am

This was an interesting article, but I agree the Jacobs usually trip themselves up. They tromp on people in their career rise and people don’t forget that!


8 Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter September 22, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Great tips. You really need to add a retweet button . I wanted to give this post some social love.


9 Marie at FamilyMoneyValues September 25, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Thanks for wanting to share my work Miss T!!


10 Buck Inspire September 25, 2011 at 2:21 am

You totally captured the three possible manager types at one place! I agree that a combination of Sam and Jacob is ideal. However, the old dog manager may actually be quite happy. If her priority is to be a safe stable manager, she is doing exactly what she wants. Trouble happens when ability, desire, and position don’t match up.


11 Marie at FamilyMoneyValues September 25, 2011 at 8:16 pm

Buck – the real Silvia was quite content and actually a good administrator.


12 Squirrelers September 28, 2011 at 12:20 am

This is a good snapshot of the different types of managers in a given company. There are clearly some behaviors and personalities that can be more effective than others in general. Of course, there are also difference in companies as well, where sometimes the Jacobs can get ahead. When you see that being the case, time to strongly consider finding a better place!


13 Marie at FamilyMoneyValues October 4, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Squirrelers – great point! The culture of a company has a lot to do with who moves ahead and how – so keep ears to the ground and eyes open to check out your company culture.


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