From Forbes – Career advancement is not one-size-fits-all. There are different and sometimes surprising paths you can take. A mid-level manager and former student of mine recently landed a new job, which is not only a step up in title but also a wider scope of responsibilities, including brand new areas for her. Too many people think of career advancement as a step-wise progression, but sometimes you can leapfrog instead of moving linearly.
In fact, if you think too narrowly about what it means to advance your career, you may overlook opportunities to get ahead. Here are ten myths about career advancement which may be keeping you from getting ahead:
1 – Advancing in my career means a management role
If you are an individual contributor now, then managing a team or direct reports is a step up. However, managing others is not the only marker of advancement. Staying as an individual contributor but expanding your skill set, working with different people or serving on higher stakes clients or projects are other ways to advance. Career advancement could be a lateral move, not necessarily a move into management. In fact, if you are currently in an area that you don’t want long-term, it doesn’t make sense to pursue advancement where you are. Are you advancing in the direction of your long-term career goals?
2 – Advancing in my career means a bigger team or budget
More is not always better when it comes to advancement. Moving to a key focus area for your company, even if it comes with a smaller team, could advance your career better and faster than just amassing more resources but for an area or project less valuable to your company. Think impact on the business, not size of your team. Are you getting closer to the critical work at your company?
3 – My manager will help me get to the next step
It’s up to you to know your career goals and the goals of your company, so you can best manage your career. Don’t assume your manager will tell you how to advance. Your manager may not know the best next step – maybe they are new to the company and parachuted into their senior role. Your manager may not be highly regarded enough to help you – even if your manager knows what you should do, they might not have the influence to help you. Finally, your manager may not want to help – they may be too focused on their own career or want you exactly where you are because you’re too valuable in that role. No one will advocate more diligently and passionately for your career than you will. Are you abdicating the responsibility of managing your career to your manager?
4 – I can’t tell my manager I want something else
On the flip side, don’t assume your manager will not help you advance your career. Some managers are excellent at developing their staff and proactive about lobbying for staff advancement. Some companies encourage career development in their cultures. Your manager is one layer closer to the executive team than you and can help you understand company priorities. Your manager may be able to introduce you to key decision-makers or tell you who is working on what. Are you taking full advantage of how your manager and your company can help you?
5 – If I want to advance, I should stay at my company
That said, don’t stay at your company just because you are waiting to advance there before leaving. Your company may not be able to give you what you need. I once had a client who aspired to be a C-level executive, and for her industry and role that meant she needed international experience. She was doing very well and was very happy at a company with a steadfastly domestic footprint. If she wanted the international experience, she needed to leave for a company with global aspirations. She would absolutely have continued to move up within her current company, but promotions there would not be true advancement for her career. Is your company the right place to advance towards your long-term career goals?
6 – If I want to advance, I need to go somewhere else
Of course, don’t assume you have to leave to get what you want. There are multiple advantages to staying put in the same company. First of all, to get substantive results, you need time in one place and ideally time over up and down markets. Secondly, establishing a good track record can help you with lateral moves – your company may be more willing to take a chance on you for a new area since you are a known commodity overall. Finally, staying at one company gives you more time to know who the influential people are, what initiatives really matter and how key decisions (like promotions and stretch roles) are made. Are you switching companies to avoid the hard work of figuring out how to advance right where you are?
7 – I just need to land the right mentor
Yes, a mentor can give you valuable advice, which can help you advance. However, you still need to do the work. Furthermore, depending on who your mentor is (and if that person even works within your company), there is a limit to how much they can lobby for you, influence others on your behalf or even know all the details relevant to your career path. If you’re waiting for a mentor to save you, you are putting too much pressure on one person and too little urgency on yourself. Instead of waiting for the right mentor, cultivate multiple advisors and supporters – much like a company has a Board of Directors with a range of expertise. Find a sponsor, not a mentor so your focus is on action that helps you advance and not just advice. Are you abdicating the responsibility of managing your career to your mentor?
8 – I need to dress or talk a certain way to get ahead
Executive presence matters but varies by industry, role and company culture. If you equate advancing in your career with becoming less of who you are, then you give yourself an excuse not to put yourself out there. Don’t assume you need to change for the worse in order to advance. That said, be yourself is incomplete advice – be your best self is a more productive target. Are you putting up imaginary obstacles to your career advancement?
9 – When I’m ready, I’ll be called up to the role
You may never feel 100% ready. If you wait to feel ready, you may perpetually stay waiting. Furthermore, even if you feel ready, people may not notice. Key decision-makers need to know your work. Finally, even if key decision-makers notice you, it may not be in time to put you up for a promotion or staff you on that ideal project. Internal hiring processes vary – knowing who decides, how decisions are made and when decisions are made are key pieces of information you may be able to get from your manager, mentor or someone on that Board of Directors you should be cultivating. Are you focusing too much on your own internal readiness and not enough on externally putting yourself out there?
10 – I should look for a stretch role, but not too much of a stretch
Remember that mid-level manager/ former student from the beginning of this post, who leapfrogged into a bigger title and something new? Here is her advice on advancing: I think most job seekers put too much into the job title and the job description. If I was purely going by the job title alone, I probably would not have applied because of [my] lack of experience, but I knew the experience I had was transferable.
Yes, you need to be ready – for example, knowing your experience is transferable. However, there isn’t only one job or project that can advance your career, so keep an open mind – be willing to transfer indirect but relevant experience. Are you too narrowly focused in how you define your next step?
There are many ways to advance your career. Don’t overlook opportunities by assuming there is one right job or one right person or one right strategy that will help you break through. Look at these myths, and make sure you aren’t holding too tightly to any of them and unwittingly closing off paths to your career advancement.
Written by Caroline Ceniza-Levine