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When you join a new employer, they haven’t hired you just for what you can do today, they have also hired you with a view of the potential you have to contribute to the business in the future.  To create the very best in environment in order to thrive, you need to start to plan your promotion from Day One.

As you consider your plan for promotion there are three key questions to answer:

1. Will you be promoted by your current employer?

Your hoped for promotion may be blocked because the organisation is slow growing and/or there are well-established incumbents one or two levels above you.  Your plan for promotion will therefore be to use your current employer as a platform to go and find your next job at a higher level somewhere else.  Your current employer can give you access to the knowledge, training and experience that will position you for promotion elsewhere.  Think about what your ideal CV would be for your next job:

  • What are the key additional activities that you need to have achieved?
  • What are the particular experiences that you need to have had?
  • What are the kinds of outcomes that are going to appeal to the next employer?
  • Where is that next employer likely to be? Is it the same kind of organisation doing the same kind of thing?
  • Are you going to need to move sideways?

When I was working at Andersen Business Consulting and people got stuck in their consulting careers, often the next place for promotion was to step outside the consulting world, go to work client side, get some real-world experience in ‘industry’ and then come back into the consulting world.  Are there parallels in your sector or profession?

  • Do you need to move from supplier to purchaser?
  • Do you need to move from purchaser to supplier side?
  • Do you need to move outside the immediate vertical sector you are in and move into one of those businesses that are supporting that sector through regulatory, advisory or consulting services?

One transition can be very powerful: you are a subject matter expert supporting the implementation or development of a major new software system by your employer.  Now you can approach the software vendor or the consultancy serving your client and develop a whole new career.  I am continuing to work with a director of a Software As A Service company who was originally the super-user for the company’s first major client.

2. Are qualifications a pre-requisite for promotion?

I see many people who have got as far as they are likely to get based purely upon their technical expertise.  To step up to the next level, they need to transition from relying on their technical capabilities.  Team leadership, project management or business development roles are often the only way to progress.  Let’s imagine you are an accountant working in the finance function of a business.  You may see a professional qualification from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants as unlocking your next promotion.  Or, perhaps you are already chartered by the ICAEW and you believe an MBA will position you for broader commercial responsibilities.  Or, maybe you work on a major systems project and you decided to get become a project manager recognised by the Project Management Institute.

I read many CVs where each major career transition has been marked by a significant investment in further qualifications.  Certain cultures hugely value accredited qualifications whereas others will take more notice of your real-world experience.  Personally, I am sceptically of the real return on investment in qualifications versus hard won corporate experience but it can provide you with access to a new network and the confidence to apply for stretching new roles.

3. Is your next opportunity outside your immediate reporting line?

Let’s say today you are working in the London region of your employer,

  • Is the future for you to go and work in another office where you can take a more senior role, perhaps in the Birmingham region?
  • Do you need to go and work overseas for one of the other subsidiaries and get a different kind of experience?
  • Do you need to move from working in one product area to another product area?
  • Do you need to move from taking responsibility for a particular function?  Imagine HR where you have been primarily involved in looking after compliance or recruitment.  Should you move sideways and focus on learning and development.

More general aspects of planning

Make sure that you are using whatever engagement you have got with existing leaders/managers to help you to research and identify what kinds of opportunities are available.  Establish your reputation within the organisation to position yourself for that future.  Use your LinkedIn profile and your engagement with external organisations to develop your profile beyond your employer so that you are more visible when you want to move on.


From Day One, you need to plan your promotion.   You need to consider the three crucial questions that will shape the plans for your future.  You need to make your plan and start to implement it so that you are not disappointed in five years time that you are no longer growing and you are in a career cul-de-sac, while others are forging ahead.


Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.