Moving up in a company is like playing a video game.
You are the main character on a challenging quest to achieve a goal (in this case, land a promotion or two).
Your journey is made up of different “levels,” each packed with unique puzzles and obstacles—and of course, some sweet, sweet rewards as you “level up.”
Also like video games, working your way up in a company has an intense learning curve when you’re just starting out. And the levels only get harder from there.
That’s enough of that extended metaphor—let’s get down to business.
You want to know how to move up in a company, even if it’s your very first job. These tips will help you climb that ladder toward a better title, more responsibilities, and better pay.
Put the company under the microscope
To start working your way up in a company, you first have to get a deep understanding of the company itself.
Spend some time analyzing how the business operates and what the company’s goals are, and you’ll eventually start to see a path up the ladder.
Begin by researching these questions, using Google or LinkedIn, or tapping your colleagues for insights (more on that later):
What is the structure of the company? Who is at the top of the ladder? Who reports to that person or those people? And who reports to them? Keep going down the ladder until you find yourself. Get a good understanding of where you fit into the big picture, and where there may be opportunities to rise up the ladder.
What do business leaders want right now?The goal of any for-profit business is obviously to make money. But think deeper than that. What’s driving the company at this very moment? Are they focusing on a new product? Are they trying to grow rapidly? Are they looking to trim budgets?
Find out what the business needs, so you can find a way to help advance the mission. Once you do that, you’ll be tough to pass up for a promotion.
What have others done to rise up the ladder? How did your colleagues get to the positions they’re in?
Some may have been hired from outside, but others likely found their own way up the ladder. What can you learn from their stories?
Learn how to “manage up”
If moving up in a company is a video game, then your managers can either be the guide that helps you along your way or the enemy that keeps knocking you back.
To succeed, you’ll need your manager to, at the very least, stand back so you can advance and ideally, help you out by putting in a good word and advocating for you.
Getting on your manager’s good side is vital, and to do that, you need to learn about the art of managing up. This is when you actively change your own behaviors at work to be the best staff member you can be specifically for your manager.
Here’s a full guide on how to master this practice, which makes the process of working your way up much easier.
Start taking accountability for everything
When you’re ready to ask for a raise, your manager will almost certainly require some evidence to support why you deserve a promotion.
The sooner your start collecting examples to make your case, the sooner you’ll be able to impress your manager and move your way up.
To do this, you’ll need to start taking accountability for your work. Speak up when you’ve done something well. Make sure your boss and colleagues know what you’re working on, and when you’re proud of something, say so.
On the flip side, when something doesn’t go exactly as planned at work, take accountability for that too. Raise your hand when you’ve made a mistake and ask for advice or a chance to show how you’ve learned from it. These kinds of insights establish you as a hardworking, honest employee with room for growth—the perfect recipe for getting a promotion.
But if you have the bandwidth to take on some more work, use this to your advantage. In your next meeting with your boss, ask if there are any additional tasks you can help with or learning opportunities you can partake in.
Be specific, and request jobs that align with your goals for moving up in your company. Here are some examples:
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“Can I help out on the presentation for next week? I know it has a tight deadline.”
You are a team player who is willing to pitch in for important tasks, even if they aren’t your responsibility.
“Can I shadow your next call with the client? I’d love to hear how you handle this conversation.”
You are interested in client-facing work and want to learn from your boss and others around you.
“Are there any opening shifts I could cover this week? I’ve only closed so far, and I’m interested in how it works on the other end.”
You’re curious about the way the business operates as a whole, and you’re open to trying new things and new opportunities.
“Can I help organize the activities on the work retreat? I have some fun ideas for the whole team.”
You’re invested in the company culture and want to improve the working relationships among your colleagues.
Make nice with your colleagues
Your manager may be the decision maker on your upcoming promotions, but your colleagues around you are your best allies. Win their support, and they’ll give you a boost up the next corporate ladder step.
You don’t have to be close friends with your colleagues, but you do need to invest in your working relationships with them.
When colleagues ask for a reasonable favor, say yes if you can. Let them see you are reliable and helpful, and they’ll be supportive when it comes time for you to take your next career step.
If you’re having issues with a colleague, address it with them calmly, professionally, and directly. Do your best to sort it out without calling your boss in for help (though don’t hesitate to seek guidance as you need it).
The more strong relationships you have with your coworkers, the easier it will be to get ahead.
Get a mentor (and be a good mentee)
Want to achieve your goal faster? You need a Yoda, a Dumbledore, a Mary Poppins: A wise mentor with experience to share.
This person can give you tailored advice to help you navigate office politics, upskill yourself, and get the promotion you want.
So how do you find a good mentor?
There may already be someone you know in your company. Keep your eyes and ears open for people who have been at the business longer than you, who are kind, supportive, and willing to help.
If no one you’ve met can serve as a mentor, you’ll need to look outside your company. Here are a few resources to help you find the right person and make the most of the relationship:
Educate yourself in and out of the office
Think back to the video game analogy. To move up in a game, you have to increase your skills and earn new abilities.
It’s the same when it comes to moving up in a company. If you want to get a promotion or a raise, you have to pick up new skills. Some of these you’ll pick up on the job, but if you want to move up faster, then take matters into your own hands.
You don’t need to go back to college or watch hours of YouTube videos to upskill. Instead, focus on turning yourself into a lifelong learner—someone who builds educational opportunities into their everyday life.
Here are 5 tips to make this transformation:
Can’t move up? Then move on
Hopefully, at this point in the article, you’re feeling hopeful about your opportunities to start moving up the ladder.
But if you read through these tips and thought, “This doesn’t sound like it’s going to work…” then the problem probably isn’t you—it’s the company you work for.
There are lots of reasons that you may hit a roadblock as you’re working your way up in your company.
You may have a toxic boss who doesn’t want you to succeed.
You might encounter petty or vindictive colleagues who sabotage you.
Maybe the company itself is struggling, and people are more likely to get laid off than promoted.
Whatever the cause, if you suspect there’s no room for growth at the company you’re with, then it may be time to move on. You can still use the tips in this article to move ahead—you’ll just have to apply them somewhere else.
If you are indeed thinking about moving on from your company, here are a few resources that could help: