What Is Career Advancement And How To Achieve It?

It simply is not a one-career-per-lifetime world anymore. People change jobs on a routine basis and may even jump careers. It is not unimaginable to move from real estate to the nursing profession or from a vet tech occupation to elementary school teaching.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) even shows that people change jobs on a consistent basis. A BLS study revealed Baby Boomers had an average 11.7 jobs over a 30-year period. In other words, they changed jobs about every 2.5 years. Interestingly, both men and women switched jobs on a fairly equal basis, suggesting that both genders are interested in job change and advancement.

Yet, job advancement can be different from career development, both strong motivators in the workplace. Nicole Andazola, MBA, and CEO of Solutions at Work, explains the difference between the two, but said that both are important to engaging and motivating employees and retaining quality workers.

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“Career advancement is basically having the opportunity to be promoted to a higher position, move ahead in a company or position or be given more responsibility in a current role,” she said. “This is very important to the emerging workforce of millennials. Career advancement is, quite frankly, more tangible and therefore easier to identify with.”

Career development, on the other hand, is more intangible in the sense that it deals with the professional journey that an employee travels over a lifetime, Andazola stated.

“It includes more than getting promoted, it encompasses an individual’s experience, training, education, etc.,” she clarified. “It is the big picture, in other words — what an individual ultimately aspires to accomplish career-wise.”

Yet, good employers know the importance of both and offer career advancement opportunities as well as career development opportunities for employees, she said.

Career Advancement: The Financial Advantages

One significant advantage to advancing in your career is the potential it may bring for more pay. It seems obvious there would be an education-to-pay link, but the BLS offers actual data as evidence.

In fact, the BLS reports that the median pay for master’s degree holders was $1,341 weekly. This compares favorably to people having only a bachelor’s degree – $1,137 weekly — and those who completed associate degrees – $798 weekly.

High school graduates might feel this data as a financial crunch, with their median weekly wages estimated at $678. (Note: That’s $663 less than the weekly wages for a master’s degree holder.)

However, no one has ever said that obtaining a college education is easy to do. The truth is tuition and fees can be expensive and the amount of time that needs to go into a program can be draining, particularly to adults with families.

Also, advancing in a career can come with unforeseen ‘surprises.’ For example, an employee who recently advanced to a higher position might quickly see what it means to move from a nine-to-five job to one with on-call responsibilities. Similarly, that person with more upper-level management responsibility may need to put in the extra hours to finish off a report before a board presentation. Career advancement opportunities, in other words, can lead to both beneficial and challenging outcomes.

Career Advancement: Not All The Benefits Are Monetary

While data from the Pew Research Center also shows a clear difference in pay for bachelor’s degree holders (an annual pay of $45,500) compared to those with two-year degrees (an annual pay of $30,000), career advancement is not always about money. There could be other motivators that drive people to look for new opportunities. Those might be opportunities to:

  • Become involved in research
  • Work or travel abroad
  • Publish professional findings
  • Become better at a skill
  • Qualify for membership in a professional organization
  • Take on new challenges and learn more

“Motivation, broad-based engagement, job ownership and loyalty are also byproducts of working for an employer who invests in providing advancement opportunities,” Andazola said. “Job satisfaction also wins the day for employees.”

Other benefits of advancement can be personal. In fact, 62 percent of college graduates felt that an undergraduate education helped them to grow both personally and intellectually, according to Pew Research.

Career Advancement: The Challenge

In some jobs, the door to opportunity easily swings open, but in some careers moving up the ladder requires resilience and a never-give-up-attitude. Challenges can pop up to career advancement opportunities, such as a lack of higher-level positions, a lack of mentors and that “glass ceiling” bias that may prevent women from garnering top-level C-suite positions. Each can be a real and even deflating experience.

  • Lack of upper-level jobs: The truth is that without an opportunity to try out new skills employees can experience substantial frustration. An article published on the Workplace Psychology website notes that employees may leave a company after receiving training when there are no advancement opportunities. At the same time, employees are likely to stay, following training, when they find the opportunities to move up. As well, a Society for Human Resource Management study, dating back to 2008, shows that one-third of interviewed employees would leave a job due to a lack of career advancement opportunities.
  • Lack of mentors: Sometimes someone within a business is needed to advocate for an employee and to ensure their name comes up when new opportunities or promotions arise. A mentor who can provide feedback about the skills worth developing and act as role model can be that person. The challenge can be finding a mentor with as much interest in investing time in you as you are in your own job and career path.
  • “The Glass Ceiling”: This bias can prevent women from moving into positions of authority and create a rocky path to career advancement opportunities. Gender discrimination, an old-boy network and stereotypes about the types of roles that women hold make this glass ceiling more palpable. Does this bias really affect women? A study by Procurement Leaders, which did research in the corporate purchasing field, indicates the answer is yes. The study not only revealed that women earned only 75 percent of the pay of men, but that fewer females held roles such as senior vice president and senior director.

Finally, lack of experience can be a challenge, particularly to those who are just starting out in the field, Andazola added.

“I can give you an example, in my chosen industry of Human Resources — when recruiting for a vacant position like Human Resources Generalist — I prefer candidates with experience, HR certifications as well as a formal education,” she said.

She noted she could always just hire an individual with a formal degree in human resources and that they would be able to recite applicable regulations and laws.

“However, they would not be able to apply this knowledge on completing job functions like communicating a related policy to employees at large. They would not know how to follow work flow and paperwork processes/procedures, or be able to manage any programmatic related areas.”

Certification, a step that can be helpful to career advancement in many different fields, typically requires a set number of years or experience in the field and an education for a reason.

How To Advance Your Career?

The ways to advance in your career can be affected by your current position and goals. Working on an education is one strategy, but gaining professional certification or seeking sponsorship are others. In more depth, these strategies could include:

  1. Looking for training opportunities through your company: Many organizations offer ways for employees to build skills; sometimes companies even pay for these. For example, at the Whirlpool plant in Clyde, Ohio, employees can be reimbursed for tuition expenses for college-level skilled trade classes they take. This opportunity might surprise employees. “I don’t think a lot of people realize how many different opportunities are inside the plant, it’s not just line work,” said 11-year-worker Heather Arndt in an WTOL News 11 article about the Whirlpool plant.
  2. Earning professional certification in your profession: Professionals of all types could seek career advancement by applying for certification in their field. For example, registered nurses can seek certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center while the HR Certification Institute offers certification for human resources careers. As Andazola previously mentioned, certification typically does require an education as well as a specific number of years on the job.
  3. Earning an advanced degree: Some careers simply require more education to develop the needed skills and understanding. For example, a graduate-level certificate or degree program in nursing enables nurses to become licensed as advanced practice registered nurses, a professional step above the RN. In the auditing and accounting field, professionals with a master’s degree or an MBA could find better career opportunities than those without one, reports the BLS. Employees should just be sure to carefully choose a degree program and understand the learning outcomes before enrolling.
  4. Seeking sponsorship: While sponsorship may seem synonymous to mentorship, it actually entails finding a person to advocate for you professionally in your career. According to The Balance Careers website, a sponsor could put your name forward for a job, make calls on your behalf, introduce to you others or advocate for you in meetings. Finding a sponsor may require a significant amount of networking and outreach until you discover the person that is right for you.
  5. Moving horizontally instead of vertically: It may be common to think that vertical movement is the only way to experience career advancement, but looking for horizontal opportunities is another way to move. An article in Forbes describes horizontal advancement as the opening of doors on the “floor you are already on” instead of the route of taking an elevator upward. Horizontal movement could also be thought of as adding ‘value’ to your current job and requiring mastery of self instead of a mastery of others, according to the piece.

Funding Your Education For Career Advancement

Numerous opportunities could be available to help you cover the cost of career advancement. One of these is an employer who pays for or partially pays for the cost of an education, but this might not be an option — although it certainly is a highly desirable one. Other options for paying for a degree program can include scholarships, grants, work-study programs and loans for those who qualify or are eligible for such financial aid.

  • Scholarships can assist students who are changing careers or seeking higher education opportunities. A good resource for scholarships, which do not have to be repaid, can be through the college at which a student enrolls.
  • Grants typically come from the federal government and are need based. The federal government’s umbrella of offerings includes the Pell grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity grant and Iraq and Iran service grant.
  • Work-study programs may be available on campus or off-campus, including at a non-profit organization or public institution. An added benefit is that both undergraduate and graduate students can apply for work-study.
  • Federal financial aid is available through the U.S. Department of Education in the form of loans. While these loans do need to be repaid, the repayment period usually starts after a program of study is completed — not while a student is finishing school.

A person’s traits as much as their goals and aspirations may affect their career advancement. While there may be challenges along the way, the potential benefits to advancement can be motivating. After all, the chance for more pay, more job satisfaction and more opportunities ring out loud and clear as worthwhile and rewarding.

Methodologies and Sources

Sources :

  • Accountants and Auditors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Accessed September 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm#tab-6
  • Education Matters, Career Outlook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Accessed September 2018, https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2016/data-on-display/education-matters.htm
  • “Five Reasons Why Education Helps to Advance Your Career at Any Level,” Ellie Walburg, February 28, 2018, Cornerstone University, https://www.cornerstone.edu/blogs/lifelong-learning-matters/post/five-reasons-why-education-helps-to-advance-your-career-at-any-level
  • “Glass Ceiling Still Keeps Top Jobs For The Boys: Women Earn 75% Of Men’s Salary,” Forbes, Jonathan Webb, January 30, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/jwebb/2017/01/30/glass-ceiling-still-keeps-top-jobs-for-the-boys-women-earn-75-of-mens-salary/#67bf024c2bb2
  • Grants and Scholarships, Federal Student Aid, Office of the U.S. Department of Education, Accessed September 2018, https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/types/grants-scholarships#federal
  • “How to Keep and Attract a Sponsor in Your Workspace,” Jone Johnson Lewis, The Balance Careers, August 25, 2018, https://www.thebalancecareers.com/what-is-a-sponsor-in-the-workplace-1917656
  • Interview, Nicole Andazola, CEO of Solutions at Work, September 2018
  • “Lack of Career Advancement Leads to Turnover Despite Training,” Workplace Psychology, August 9, 2012, https://workplacepsychology.net/2012/08/09/lack-of-career-advancement-leads-to-turnover-despite-training/
  • Lack of Career Advancement Main Reason Workers Consider Leaving, Kathy Gurchiek February 29, 2008, https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/pages/lackofcareeradvancement.aspx
  • National Longitudinal Surveys, FAQ, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Accessed September 2018, https://www.bls.gov/nls/nlsfaqs.htm#anch41
  • Role of Mentoring in Career Development, The HR Digest, February 5, 2016, https://www.thehrdigest.com/role-of-mentoring-in-career-development/
  • “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College,” Pew Research Center, Accessed September 2018, http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/02/11/the-rising-cost-of-not-going-to-college/
  • “The Value of a College Education,” Pew Research Center, Accessed September 2018, http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2016/10/06/5-the-value-of-a-college-education/
  • “Professional Advancement,” Anslin Sugil Kamesh, Accessed September 2018, https://www.slideshare.net/anslinskamesh/professional-advancement
  • “The Benefits of Horizontal Versus Vertical Career Growth,” William Craig, Forbes, February 13, 2016, https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamcraig/2016/02/13/the-benefits-of-horizontal-vs-vertical-career-growth/#5aa10a557547
  • The Glass Ceiling Effect: Another Perspective on Women and Leadership, Insight Success, Accessed September 2018, https://www.insightssuccess.com/glass-ceiling-effect-another-perspective-women-leadership/
  • “Whirlpool offers career advancement for workers at Clyde plant,” Jonathan Monk, October 10, 2017, WTOL 11 News, http://www.wtol.com/story/36565709/whirlpool-offers-career-advancement-for-workers-at-clyde-plant
Methodologies and Sources