Does Career Progression Exist Anymore?

Does The Career Ladder Exist Anymore?

24 March 2016


Do you remember the phrase career ladder? Has anyone actually used it recently?

I haven’t heard anyone say it. I'm not sure it actually exists anymore.

The career ladder came to be in the eighties and nineties when management ‘gurus’ developed complex theories about how a company should function. In turn, this created a thick layer of middle management that reduced the steps on the career ladder. These new roles had never been part of any business before.

And when the recession hit, they were never part of a business again. Those at this level were one of the main victims of the crash – well paid, and carrying out a function that was not so different from their subordinates. So when costs needed to be cut, the tasks were reallocated to people who were often told:

“Just be happy that you still have a job!”

Now that the steps have been removed, career progression is often impossible. When it does happen:

  • It can often be reserved for the ‘favourites’, the ‘teacher’s pet’
  • The best employees are not given the opportunity as they are too useful in their current position

So the question is - if are a top performer who wants to progress their career, how do you do this?

  • Seriously consider moving externally. This might not be ideal for everyone. But a move to another company is a great way of progressing your career.
  • Want to stay in your current company? Then really analyse where the opportunities lie. What teams seem to offer more opportunity? Is there a manager who is particularly good at developing her or his team?
  • Think about a sideways move. Whether looking at external or internal opportunities, this can be short term pain for long term gain. I have personally done it. Are your skills transferable into another job that has better overall career progression options?
  • Be honest about your desire for progression with your manager. This could lead to additional responsibilities that will develop you further. Remember – managers will not assume that you are actively seeking progression, as it isn’t for everyone.
  • Talk to someone about it. Talk to your family and a recruiter about it. Get some independent impartial advice. It doesn’t cost you a penny.

Ultimately, career progression is no longer automatic. You need to take control. 

Written By Billy McDiarmid


Hello Billy and thanks for letting us me know about your blog. It is the most sense I have read yet regarding the subject. I find it very refreshing to see all of the frustrations expressed and to see positive steps and suggestions for progression too. I worked for a FTSE 250 insurance company and put myself through my CII exams in my own time and with my own money, which is rather unheard of in the industry. I had to leave to get anywhere which backs up what you have said. Thank you again and please keep up the blog, it is excellent. Kind regards Peter Wyllie
Posted on Tuesday, March 29, 2016 16:10 by Peter Wyllie
A good blog Billy, with very accurate observations. I had worked in the Care Industry for over 10 Years gaining both invaluable experience and the appropriate qualifications, all of which I strived for on my own initiative and worked for two companies consecutively over 6 years. However, found that career progression was promised at every interview and discussed with management at several points over time, only to be given the extra responsibilities without incentive being told those very words " be thankful you still have a job". I too was such an asset in my current role that career progression was not possible. After a move externally, I decided to become self employed while retraining In Accounting, again on own initiative. Whilst self employed, I had the opportunity to gain valuable management experience, being responsible for a team of 4 staff, learning valuable transferable skills which I believe will benefit me in my new chosen career path (Accounting) which I am now qualified to Diploma level. I have recently had to give up my self employment in order to look for an opportunity within the Accounting/Finance industry full time, as it is proving more an more difficult to gain employment without experience and only qualifications. I agree with the above statement that my thirst for progression on the " Career Ladder" shines on my CV, and again feel this holds me back from even getting to the interview process. However choose to wait for the right organisation who will support me with the progression that I strive so much for. Having said that I also agree to starting at the bottom as a "foot soldier" and learning every aspect of my craft, but feel that this will lead to yet again being too much of an asset and will prevent internal progression. Which leads me to think... Should I change my approach? Should I not work so hard ? Should I stop having dreams, goals and aspirations ?... No.. I will continue to be my hard working self.
Posted on Friday, March 25, 2016 07:14 by Emma Naylor
Hi Billy, A good blog. "Now that the steps have been removed, career progression is often impossible. When it does happen: It can often be reserved for the ‘favourites’, the ‘teacher’s pet’ The best employees are not given the opportunity as they are too useful in their current position" I'm sure those in HR will say they have policies in place that means this doesn't happen but I am sure many other people will see the truth in this. I've personally opted out of the "Career Ladder" rat race and gone down the contracting route and am a lot happier, and depending on the client, my experience and skills can be appreciated more than when I was a permie. Similarly when I was still in the permie gain, mentioning career progression at interview seem to count as a black mark, as I guess the hiring manager didn't want to be in the position of needing to re-interview in 1-2 years time, even if you use the 5 year horizon at interview. I have also personally been in the position where I was too useful for a particular team/dept that I didn't get promoted, and it went to a less qualified and abled peer.
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2016 14:09 by Alastair Majury
I actually did use that phrase "wanting to climb the career ladder". In an interview where experience was not required within a HR Advisor Role I applied for I mentioned that even though I have not had experience however I am taking part in a long distance HR Management course for obtaining a Diploma, I have an understanding of how a business functions, and have got plentiful experience in people skills, but I do agree that these days there are not many opportunities to be make your way up the career ladder as to many companies are hireling people in with already established experience within higher roles, therefor reducing the chance for Advisors to work their way to becoming a Manager or Director. I believe in starting from the bottom and working your your way up. Whats better than working as a foot soldier to start, gain a thorough understanding of the company their procedures and processes, then also gaining peoples trust and acceptance. I am very honest with people and when even getting an interview I mention my intention of hoping to be able to progress within my desired role within HR. Your advise is very clear and precise. However I am very passionate about my views and I find employers don't necessary give people a chance they deserve. How can people gain experience without being allowed to be given the opportunity to do so. Thats the biggest question??
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2016 13:44 by Tess Ramsay
An excellent blog Billy, much of it very true, however in my case after a family berevement and much later grief, following on with a lack of concentration, anxiety, stress, and the depression, and much of it job related, call centre work for a bank on telephones for nearly fifteen years, and although management were supportive it was mutually decided that I should leave as there were no other outlets within the bank. My progression was to leave and its been good for my health although still unemployed although actively seeking appropriate employment. So in a way I have taken control and feel much the better for it.
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2016 12:41 by Gordon McQueen

Post Comment