The Business Ladder: Tips and Hacks for Climbing Your Way to the Top

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The Business Ladder: Tips and Hacks for Climbing Your Way to the Top

Cynics might describe corporate politics as bloodsport, but they’re forgetting that old adage of efficiency: “Work smarter, not harder.” Although some executives have undoubtedly clawed their way to the top through sheer force and ruthless cunning, that’s liable to win you more enemies than allies, making your ascent all the more difficult. For those of us lacking the taste for blood, a more Zen approach may be fitting, catching the prevailing winds to sail to the crest – and one of the best ways to do that is through higher education. To illustrate this point, we examine four different roads to the top, where they start and where they end.

Starting With a High School Degree

Entry-level position: Administrative assistant

One of the few corporate positions open to holders of high school diplomas, administrative assistants perform clerical and organizational duties for other staff. There’s room to move up, but it can require up to five years.

Annual median pay: $36,500

Tip: Show up on time and prepared

Compensate for your lack of formal education with practical professionalism. As Inc. explains, showing up on time and ready to work every day establishes a foundation on which you can prop your ladder to the top.

Capstone position: Administrative services manager

Responsible for planning, directing and coordinating a business’ supportive services, an administrative services manager is a natural, if lengthy, step up from an administrative assistant. While the pay is dramatically better, further advancement is difficult without higher education.

Annual median pay: $86,110

Starting With an Associate Degree

Entry-level position: Computer support specialist

Although some employers may require a bachelor’s degree, an associate’s may be enough for a job as a computer support specialist, which involves assisting other staff with software and hardware. Again, there’s room to grow, but it’s going to require time and hard work.
Annual median pay: $51,470

Tip: Hold yourself and others accountable

Again, inadequate schooling can be overcome with work ethic – and of central importance to work ethic is responsibility. Take responsibility for your own actions and ensure your colleagues do the same, recommends Fox Business, for corporate ladder climbers.

Next-level position: Network and computer systems administrator

A computer support specialist with excellent IT skills may be able to snag a network and computer systems administrator opening, which typically requires a bachelor’s degree and involves ensuring the day-to-day operations of a business’ computer networks. You’re going to have to put in five or more years here before going anywhere.
Annual median pay: $77,810

Hack: Advocate for yourself

Once you’ve figured out what the next step on your career ladder should be, don’t silently work towards it. Let your boss know what you’re after and then go for it, advises That way, all of your efforts are properly contextualized in light of your goal, connecting the two – and hopefully connecting you with that promotion.

Capstone position: Computer network architect

Network and computer systems administrators who excel at IT and have five to 10 years of experience can cut a path to computer network architect, where they will design and build data communication networks, but advance no further.
Annual median pay: $100,240

Starting With a Bachelor’s Degree

Entry-level position: Human resources specialist

Recruiting, screening, interviewing and placing workers is the domain of the human resource specialist, who needs no previous work experience but usually must have a bachelor’s degree. It’s going to be five or more years on the job before they can move up.
Annual median pay: $58,350

Hack: Tell a story

Every career begins with an interview. Nail it by telling your interviewer a story that illustrates your qualifications, problem-solving abilities and positive attitude. CIO recommends topping off a good anecdote with a bit of humor.

Next-level position: Human resources manager

With at least five years on the job, human resources specialists can take the next step up to human resources managers, where they will plan, direct and coordinate a business’ administrative functions. Advancement from here may require another five years or more.
Annual median pay: $104,440

Hack: Study human resources

Higher education may not only increase the likelihood of you winning the race for the human resources manager position, it may get you there sooner and with a better salary. To that end, recommends a degree in business administration with a concentration in human resources.

Capstone position: Compensation and benefits manager

Although employers prefer to hire candidates with a master’s degree, a bachelor’s is sometimes enough to snag a position as a compensation and benefits manager, who determines how and how much employees are paid. As this is a reach, bachelor’s degree holders should expect to climb no higher.
Annual median pay: $111,430

Starting With a Master’s Degree

Entry-level position: Training and development manager

While employers often require candidates for training and development manager to have five or more years of work experience, that typically goes hand in hand with holding a master’s degree. The degree will also put you ahead of the competition for this job, which involves planning, directing and coordinating programs to enhance the skills of other employees.
Annual median pay: $102,640

Tip: Dress — and pose — for success

Not only should you dress for the job you want, rather than the one you have, but Inc. recommends gesturing for it too. Smile and sit up straight to improve people’s impressions of you, as well as your own self-confidence.

Next-level position: Sales manager

Less than five years on the job as a training and development manager can get you to the position of sales manager, in which you’ll direct your business’ sales team. Again, your master’s degree will set you above the competition.
Annual median pay: $113,860

Hack: Look for the learning opportunity

Setbacks are a normal aspect of every career. Taking them to heart can lead to even worse future burnout, so The Economist advises honestly in evaluating failures and using those insights to improve things the next time around.

Capstone position: Advertising, promotion and marketing manager

A capstone position only as far as you make it, an advertising, promotion and marketing manager plans programs to generate interest in products or services. While you may be comfortable here, your master’s degree and your experience mean almost any executive position is yours for the taking.
Annual median pay: $124,850

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Rowan Jones
Chief Editor