Listen to this article
We often expect that our careers will contain constant excitement and will always be an upwards climb. However, this simply is not true. There will be times when work is a little less than exciting and it is not just about climbing the career ladder. What can you do when you feel that your career progression has stalled?
How long must I wait before I move on?
Generally, you will spend time learning the job, mastering it and looking for your next position. The time for each of these phases is dependent on your competency, the dynamics of the position and your organisation. Often you will be able to get a feel for the ‘residence time’ of a position from looking around your organisation. You will see whether people generally spend two or three years or longer in a position. In more complex roles and industries, the residence time may be longer.
You can then objectively assess whether you are following that rate. It may be that there are outliers in the organisation who are promoted quicker than this general rate. However, expecting to be promoted quicker than this norm may only lead to disappointment.
You might also like to tap into your business school careers service. They may be able to guide you on the general rate of advancement and what positions you can expect after a number of years.
What can I do about a lack of progression?
If you think you are starting to have outstayed your residence time in a position, you need to start searching around for new opportunities. Talking to your manager about opportunities coming up is a good start. Try to also have a frank conversation about what the barriers are for you taking up new positions. This will help you develop a plan to overcome these deficiencies and will assist your manager in supporting your move.
A mentor is always invaluable in this space. Talking to people about how their careers have developed and what positions they have taken on will give you valuable data on which to base your expectations. You will also gain an ally for advancement if required.
Another option is to look for leadership opportunities outside work — rotary clubs, charity work, trustee or unpaid directorships. This will assist you in being able to demonstrate leadership and it can be invaluable on your CV.
You might also gain some opportunities from your business school. Faculty may be able put you in touch with others in your field, contacts for a mentor or external leadership opportunities.
What about a sideways move?
A career is not always upward. This is an absolute truth. If we only moved upward then we would not be able to understand all the different facets of complex industries. A chief executive who did not have a couple of sideways moves will have a shortlived leadership career.
If there is not an upwards move available, there may be an avenue that you can use to broaden your experience. This is important for general management positions as you will be able to gain a diverse knowledge of the organisation.
If you wish to work in other areas of a company, then explore options such as secondments, job shadowing and taking on new projects. Also, ask your manager if it is possible to undertake some training if you have gaps in your knowledge.
What will turn a plateau into a slide?
You are guaranteed to prolong your career plateau if you believe your own hype. We all know what this looks like: no longer putting in the effort and lacking a positive attitude. It can be hard to keep professional, but it is very important to do so. Even if you have mentally checked out, you need to be positive as your colleagues will remember negative behaviour.
If you are in a bit of a lull, look outside the workplace to recharge yourself — try a new skill or sport. Always have energy as you never know when you will need a favour from your colleagues.
What happens when you do not move on?
Sometimes there are simply no opportunities for advancement in your company. Your boss may be new to their role, which will mean a significant wait before any upwards move. Or your company may be downsizing.
Either way, it might be the time to move on to another organisation. If you have maintained your professionalism to the end, your colleagues and manager will respect your move to a role with more room to grow.
Angela Ogier is manager of land access and portfolio at Santos GLNG, an Australian oil and gas exploration and production company. Previously, Ms Ogier was a manager of supply planning and optimisation at the same company. She is also an MBA 2004 graduate from the University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School in the UK.