How to tell if Career Progression Exists at your next job

You’re leaving because you were promised career progression, but it still hasn’t materialised? Or maybe you know that there isn’t career progression at your current role, but now want to move up the career ladder elsewhere? How do you tell if the promise of career progression is fact or fiction?

The Desire to Progress your Career

Whether you’ve always desired to move up the ladder, your circumstances have changed or you’re just at that stage where you want to better yourself, we’ll all experience that feeling of craving something more. Perhaps imagining what it’d be like being a manager for the first time. Maybe a supervisory role or something with more responsibility would be ideal. How do you get that though?

Progression Opportunities

Some say that to move up in a company it’s about who you know. That still exists, but only at the upper echelons of companies ran by old boys’ networks. You know, the type of firms where a pinstripe suit, the good ol’ days and the 1980’s are seen as the best things. It might not be quite as blatant as that in most cases, but if you spend enough time around those kinds of people, you’ll soon realise that in those firms the old boys’ networks still exist. And they probably always will. Not in all companies anymore as most have arguably moved on into the 21st century, but many still have those corners of their business up top stuck in the old ways.

The good news is that your first few promotions, even in those kinds of firms, will have little to do with who you know. It’s more about whether you get results, can be trusted with responsibility and get on reasonably well with other people. That’s how you get your chance. Try your best to be good at your job, when given any task no matter how menial do it as perfectly but as quickly as you can and finally try to get on with all those you work with. If you do that, you’ll see a promotion opportunity appear at some point in the coming months.

What Happens if no promotion opportunities come along?

You will then have a decision to make. Firstly though, be honest with yourself. Have you done enough to deserve it? Do you get results? Have you proven you can handle responsibility? Do you get on with colleagues? If you’ve only been there 5 minutes, you’ll probably need a little more patience. Quitting after 6 months because you haven’t been promoted is daft. 12-18 months is more realistic. If yes to these then there is a decision to make.

Stay and try to change things or look for a new job. If you stay, don’t just wallow away and give up. It’s wasting your time and those around you. Plus, if you had any chance of promotion before you’ve got no chance if your performance goes down the pan. If you decide to stay you need to have a conversation with your manager or the person who decides on promotion prospects. You need to know whether it’s worth staying.

How do you know if your current manager is being honest with you?

This is a common problem. People won’t always be honest with you if being honest could negatively affect their situation. So rather than generically criticise a manager for being a two faced liar consider that they may not have much of a choice, but to try to keep you happy by telling you what you’ll want to hear. If you leave in the short term that could affect their own promotion prospects. Perhaps they’ll have to get the same results but from less people when they’re already stretched as it is. If you were to leave that could put a spanner in the works.

If they’re honest with you when they know there isn’t a promotion prospect coming, you’ll know that’s a cue to leave. In most companies they’d need sign off or someone to leave in order to create the promotion opportunity in the first place. Therefore, they may not have the power to change anything even if they think you deserve a promotion.

The Managers Shoes

Having been a manager myself, and no disrespect to others, but the advice of speaking to your manager before making a decision to leave won’t achieve much. You’re just showing your hand without being able to see theirs. They’ll just know you’re looking to leave if you don’t get a promotion. And if a promotion opportunity isn’t on the horizon, they’ll know it’s just a matter of time.

But I still said speak to them, didn’t I? Only do this though if you’ve already decided you’ll leave unless there is a promotion imminently. You might as well make it clear to see just in case they can do anything. If they can’t you have your answer. What have you got to lose at this point if you’re leaving anyway? But be prepared for them to make long term hazy promises. Be the judge of whether the ploys to delay you leaving are genuine facts though. And if you choose to go with this tactic there’s no going back. So, if you can’t find anything else and they can’t sack you for anything, you’ll either need to resign (not advised if you have nothing to go to and/or don’t have a ton of money sat in the bank) or prepare yourself for a miserable working environment.

If you decide to go what should you look for?

Have a long term plan in place before answering that question. I’m amazed at how many people decide to leave a job, but aren’t sure what to do next. If you make the wrong call you could end up repeating the same cycle again in the not too distant future. For example, my own generation namely the millennials, have a statistically shorter tenure in permanent jobs than any generation in living memory. Yet, how many of my generation talk about goals like we’re masters of them?

Sit down in a quiet place alone, get something to take notes on and have a good think about where you want to be long term. For example, maybe you’ll want a mortgage, your dream car, regular holidays etc. This part shouldn’t take Einstein to work out. Then you need to calculate how much you’d need to earn to facilitate that lifestyle. I’m no psychic, but if you put down all the things you want it’s probably not going to be earned doing bar work. You’re going to need a serious career and a senior position to facilitate it.

Now consider what field to do it in? What options do you have? Have you studied a particular subject or found yourself at the bottom of a lucrative industry etc? The outcome of this should see an end goal of a career position that delivers the earnings you would need to live the lifestyle you want. Finally work out a rough career ladder of the various positions you’d need to occupy to get to that point and look at where it starts in relation to your current role. And that is the position you look for.

How can I trust whether a company will actually offer a career path?

If you look at job boards or speak to employers, it isn’t too long before you see and hear about progression opportunities. But some will be genuine, and some will be to sucker you in. How can you tell the difference?

Assess the obvious routes of information gathering first to separate fact from fiction. Do you know anyone that works there and if so, have you asked them if the company offers progression? How about people you know who used to work there? What about at interview; did you get to meet any of the employees and ask them? Are they a large company with a well-documented track record of progressing people?

Next try some not so obvious routes of information gathering. Have a look on LinkedIn or Social networking sites to find out about current employees. Can you see career progression on their profiles at the company? Have they been there a long time? What about if any have worked their way up from the position that you’re going for? At interview ask about the progression they offer and how it works? Is there answer structured or a bit off the cuff? Does it sound credible? Did you get the chance to meet current employees in your position at interview? Or did you get a sight tour or get ushered out the backdoor?

Consider the Pragmatic Perspective

If the company is tiny, but has been this way for a long time where is the route for progression? It may be that a new investor has come in and they are expanding or perhaps there’s an upcoming retirement that you’d be groomed for. Or maybe there’s no plausible route for growth and it’s dead persons shoes.

It could be a larger company, which may imply more likely routes for progression. But if the department you’re in is small, static and is going to be made obsolete over the next few years where is the progression?

You may also need to consider that to get to where you want to go, you’ll need to move companies a few times in order to facilitate progression. For example, if a company offers great training and progression at the lower levels it could be a great place to start out in, but maybe another firm that offers better mid-level opportunities could be a better shout in future.

What about if one employer offers better money than another for the same job?

The easy thing to do is go where the money is. However, this isn’t always a great idea. When choosing a company don’t be afraid to be a little cynical. The pound signs can often blind your better judgement. Why are they offering better money? Does the offer sound too good to be true? What is the reason for the vacancy in the first place? Are you replacing someone? Why is that? How long did they last? Why did they leave?

Admittedly, they’re not the kind of questions deemed appropriate at interview unless you want to alienate any bond you’ve developed with the interviewer. Therefore, try to be tactful and get answers to these questions throughout your interviews at opportune moments. However, if you find out that 4 people have had the job in the last 18 months and keep leaving mysteriously something’s probably a miss. What’s the catch?

There may also be a minuscule difference in the money and that the role paying 3% less over the year offers better and quicker progression prospects. So yes, you may start on less, but will be on more money before you know it. Take these factors into account. All in all, which role helps you on your journey best to where it is that you want to go?

What’s inaccurate for information gathering

Employee review sites and social media marketing are not accurate sources of information for choosing an employer. Don’t believe me? Take a look at a famous employee review site. The first word rhymes with arse and the second rhymes with sore. And if you believe some of the nonsense on there, that’s how your career could end up.

The problem isn’t the Employee Review sites themselves. It’s the manipulation of them by employers trying to give a false impression of their business. Most businesses will put out fake reviews by current employees to say how great the company is to work for. Why would you as a current employee take the decision off your own back to write a positive review of your place of work? Then consider it won’t be just one but several employees all doing so in a short period of time and even stranger, during working hours. Hmmm.

Then take social media marketing. This is a loosely regulated platform where companies are getting very good at employer branding. Employer branding is a beautiful thing, but you won’t find a company that uses an employer branding marketing strategy that doesn’t look fantastic. This just means that shock horror, some of them are lying. So, as a safety measure and with general sensible advice don’t make your decision off the back of those two routes. They’re just too difficult to verify.


Have a plan for where it is you want to go in your career. Understand where you want your life to be and focus on a career that can offer that longer term. Work out the numbers and don’t get distracted by the cool sounding job title. Be realistic and pragmatic in your career path. Prepare to work hard and smart. What companies offer the best progression options for you currently? Where is the evidence of this? Know that at times people will lie to you and that you could make the odd career mistake. Don’t beat yourself up about it, but don’t procrastinate either. Stay disciplined. And don’t let the pound signs today stop you from the bigger pound signs tomorrow

Don’t get stuck in the myth of being ultra-positive about every opportunity. There’s nothing wrong with balancing this out with a little scepticism to get to the truth. Do these bits correctly and you’ll see yourself progress quickly from the lower to the middle rungs. If you’re smart at the mid-level and find the right employers and people around you, you could move up fairly quickly here too. It’s at the senior levels where it gets tougher. Then you need a broader level of career advice than a blog post can offer. But by that point you’ll be in better position to know where to find the answers anyway.

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