Climbing the Corporate Ladder, Part 1: Developing a Plan for Career Advancement


Jun 24, 2024 | Career Advancement

How often do you catch yourself thinking about the next step in your career? Whether it’s getting a promotion, switching to a different company, or even changing industries, the answer is probably “quite often.”  It’s natural – you and 41% of employees rate career advancement opportunities as a top factor when it comes to how satisfied they are in their current jobs.

While a big part of career advancement depends on the opportunities presented to you, at the end of the day, there’s a lot you can do on your own to take charge and make things happen. For a successful climb up the corporate ladder, developing a career plan is what you need. It’ll make all the difference between simply having a desire to advance and actually achieving it.

Here’s your guide to getting started with yours.

Assess your readiness

It’s one thing to feel ready for career advancement and another to be ready. That’s why the very first step is to do an honest self-assessment of your skills and knowledge. Evaluate where you are in terms of qualifications, experience, and achievements. Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Do I have the necessary qualifications and expertise for the next level?
  • Is my current role preparing me for the next one?
  • Are there any gaps in my skills or knowledge that I need to address?

You may also want to gather feedback from your colleagues, mentors, and managers to build up a 360-degree assessment since it can sometimes be challenging to see ourselves as others do.

All in all, the goal here is to identify not only your strengths but also any gaps you may need to work on filling before moving forward with your career plan. That way, you’ll know where you need to focus your efforts.

For example, let’s say you’re a marketing specialist looking to move up to a managerial role. You may realize that while you have the necessary technical skills, you lack experience in team management and leadership because you’ve always worked independently. That’s something you can start working on so that you’re fully prepared when the opportunity arises.

Develop a strategic plan

Following that, it’s time to create a step-by-step plan that will guide you towards your career goals. The process isn’t something you can rush through but it’s worth taking the time to do it right to put all the odds in your favor. Here are the 3 main steps to follow:

1. Define your career goals and target roles

If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there, right? That’s why the most important step of your plan should be to define your career goals clearly and realistically.

Given the information you gathered from your self-assessment, research potential target roles, job descriptions, and overall career paths. As you do so, make sure to align your career goals with your passions, personal values, and long-term aspirations.

Picking up on the earlier marketing specialist example, you may come to find there’s a career advancement you can make before becoming a marketing manager. For instance, you might aim to become a senior marketing specialist before making the jump. It’ll give you the opportunity to gradually acquire more skills (including the managerial ones) and ease into the role.

Or, you may run into an entirely different role that aligns with your passions and overall career goals better – maybe it’s in branding, communications, product marketing, or other.

Sometimes, we’re very set on a specific career goal, which is great. But other times, we’re unsure where our skills could take us – that’s also great! As long as you dedicate the time to research and define your career goals before moving on to the next steps,  you’re in a good place.

Photo by lilartsy on Unsplash

2. Create a professional development plan

While pinpointing potential target roles and going through their job descriptions, you’ll likely be able to identify skills and knowledge gaps that need to be bridged.

That’s why the next step is to determine the exact training programs, certifications, or educational opportunities that will help you acquire the skills and expertise to excel in your target roles. This will make up your professional development plan.

For instance, if you find that most product marketing roles require knowledge of product management and you’re lacking in that area, you could research online courses or workshops to gain the necessary knowledge and skills.

It’s also worth mentioning that this doesn’t only apply to technical skills but also to soft skills, such as communication, leadership, and project management. These are crucial for most high-level roles, for example, and can be honed through workshops, seminars, or even volunteer work.

3. Establish a timeline and set milestones

Now that you know where you want to go and how you’re going to get there, it’s time to break down your plan into manageable steps. It’s important to set realistic and achievable targets so that you don’t get discouraged along the way. For instance, it’s more feasible to set a goal of completing a training program within 3 months rather than trying to do it in a week.

Set a timeline for each step of your plan and make sure to include milestones to help you track your progress and celebrate small wins along the way. Milestones could be completing a course, obtaining a certification, or gaining a specific skill. This will not only keep you motivated but also provide a sense of accomplishment as you tick off each milestone.

Pro Tip: The key to making your plan work is to regularly review and adjust it as needed. Life and circumstances can change, and there’s no shame in modifying your plan to better suit your current situation and goals. If a certain opportunity or program no longer aligns with your career goals, be open to reassessing and redirecting your efforts towards something else.

Build a strong performance record

One thing to remember is that your career development plan isn’t independent of your current job. In fact, your performance in your current role can greatly impact your future career opportunities–both in and out of your current company.  That’s why it’s essential to consistently perform at a high level and build a strong performance record.

Always go above and beyond in your current role, and build a reputation for yourself as someone reliable, accountable, pays attention to detail, takes initiative, and produces high-quality work.

The better you can cement your reputation as a top performer, the more likely you’ll be considered for promotions and other career advancement opportunities. That’s as opposed to those who are just coasting by, meeting the minimum requirements of their job but not really standing out in any way that would make them a top candidate for career advancement.

Take on challenging projects and responsibilities

Apart from building a strong performance record, it’s also important to actively seek out challenging projects and responsibilities.

This not only helps you learn new skills and expand your knowledge and capabilities but also shows your ambition, drive, and willingness to take on more responsibility. After all, most career advancement opportunities come with a higher level of responsibility, so it’s essential to demonstrate your ability to handle it.

With that being the case, don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and volunteer for high-visibility assignments, stretch assignments, and cross-functional projects. These can be perfect opportunities for you to demonstrate leadership and problem-solving skills, as well as showcase how well you adapt to new situations.

Pro Tip: Always track and document your successes and contributions, and pay particular attention to metrics and data. You can use them to effectively illustrate your impact and capabilities on your resume. It’s better to state that you “successfully led a project that resulted in a 20% increase in revenue”, rather than say you were “responsible for a project.”


Career advancement is more than getting a promotion or a higher salary. It’s a process that works by being intentional and proactive about your career development. Without laying a solid foundation for career growth, you’ll likely find yourself stagnating in your current role. That’s why developing a career plan is your best bet towards moving up the ladder.

In this part of the series, we focused on the internal work that needs to be done to set yourself up for success. In part 2, we’ll focus on externalizing this work through boosting your visibility, communicating your aspirations, and preparing yourself for applying to promotion opportunities.

Both parts are equally important, and together, they put you in the best position to achieve your career goals. It’s time to take charge of your career and start making deliberate moves towards achieving the success you deserve!

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