Stop Eyeing the Corner Office and Shoot for Another Cubicle to Get Ahead

I wrote a post about a month ago about how I feel that age, and the perceived lack of “experience” that accompanies it, tend to hold young professionals back from achieving their career advancement goals since many companies prefer to hire more “experienced”, external candidates rather than promote candidates from within. This is an idea I feel very strongly about and proved to provoke some heated debate from readers, most recommending I either stop feeling so entitled or move to another job to gain more respect and a bigger salary, perpetuating the very cycle I was hoping to break.

So I was surprised to come across an article in the Wall Street Journal advocating the benefits of “career-mobility” programs that formally asses an employees personal strengths and talents and helps them move between departments or positions within the company, even if they were initially hired to do something else. Talk about the ultimate in pro-active employee retention.

“Initiatives typically include Web-based programs for evaluating employees’ career goals and suggesting relevant paths. For example, IBM offers a skills-evaluation tool that recommends areas where an employee might be a strong fit. Charles Berta says the tool helped him decide to switch to human resources from consulting earlier this year, after he grew tired of traveling four days a week. “I reached a point where I felt as though it was time for a change,” he says.

Verizon provides competency and personality assessments, career-related courses, résumé-writing tips and a peer-review tool that lets workers seek feedback from supervisors and colleagues. “By going through a self-discovery process, you may find that your interests lie elsewhere,” says Michael Flanagan, senior staff consultant, leadership development, at Verizon.

Most companies urge employees to work with their supervisor, a company mentor or human-resources staffer to review the results and plan a career move. This may include identifying relevant job openings at the firm and strengthening needed skills.

Companies may reap benefits beyond reducing turnover, including improved productivity, says Ron Garonzik, a vice president at Hay Group Inc., a management-consulting firm.”

These types of programs are a great way for young workers to circumvent the career “ladder” by gaining work experience, making contacts and learning about different aspects of how the company works as a whole by working in different departments or fields, not to mention stay interested and challenged by their work. I also think employers benefit from employees who have a holistic view of the company, which is why I think rotational leadership programs and other types of mentoring or cross-departmental training programs are so important.

In today’s workplace, the days of 30-year jobs are gone—and so are concrete career paths to advancement. Brazen Careerist, Penelope Trunk, explains how straightforward career “ladders” are all but obsolete to young workers:

The entry-level job inherently undervalues someone who is bright and driven, according to Paul Graham, partner at Y Combinator, a Cambridge-based venture capital firm that funds startups almost exclusively from very young people. He sees entrepreneurship as the great escape.

“For the most ambitious young people, the corporate ladder is obsolete,” says Graham. For the last hundred years everyone started out at the bottom. Even if the candidate held extreme promise, corporations put the candidate as a trainee on the bottom rung so he didn’t get a big head. Graham writes, “The most productive young people will always be undervalued by large organizations, because the young have no performance to measure yet, and any error in guessing their ability will tend toward the mean.”

These statements should be a wake-up call to employers that they do not have to accept losing talented people. By offering lateral, in addition to vertical, advancement opportunities, employers can keep workers engaged, continually learning and with a reduction in turnover, foster a better sense of community throughout the company.

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4 responses »

  1. I read that article as well, I definitely think it’s interesting. I think as the times change, employers should change as well. Losing talent can be avoided.

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  3. I am almost 35, and I’m completely at the bottom of the ladder. I am very happy with where I am. I spent ten years in medicine and in science. Then I wised up and got an temporary, entry level office job.

    I feel like I found the keys to paradise.

    I was always known as the smartest person in my family, and I am the least financially successful by far. I have learned a simple fact. Intelligence is highly, highly over rated. I have since then spent all my efforts on people skills, and this has paid off in spades.

    Here’s how to keep smart people:

    1. Give them room to move. Don’t micromanage them.

    2. Make it OK to be smart, but OK to make mistakes, too. Make honesty the most praised of thing.

    3. Don’t treat the employee like shit.

    4. Give the employee some interesting problems to solve.

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