In this post, I’ll discuss how companies view career progression and what the implications are for managing your career.

In the past, you may have benefited from your company actively managing your career. Today, fewer companies are managing individual careers, for good reason – the return on investment is low due to higher turnover. When employees feel like they are not progressing as fast as they want, they look elsewhere.

Let’s start by figuring out what career opportunities exist within your company.

How Companies View Career Management

Internally, companies define career progression by positions, titles, or levels within a company. When you are hired into a company, ask your boss or Human Resources representative to share career path information for your discipline.

Let’s say you were hired as an engineer, the career path might look like this:


In this example, there are two different career paths available to you. The first career path focuses on engineering management, the other career path on research. Both career paths lead to an Engineering Director role.

One of the key differences between these two career paths is that the management path requires strong people and project management skills while the other engineer path focuses on exceptional technical or research skills.

At some point, your manager may have a conversation with you about which career path you want to focus on – there is no right or wrong answer. Choose the path that most interests you, because you are more likely to excel in what you love to do! However, be aware that your choice may limit your career projection.

Both engineering paths lead to becoming an Engineering Director, however, a successful Director candidate requires strong communication, people management skills and technical competency.

Within a position, companies define the level of skills required to do the role or job. They rarely manage each employee’s individual career progression on skills because the process becomes more complex. It is easier for companies to focus on positions – until it’s time to make a decision on whom to hire!

Have you have seen or worked for someone who had the technical know-how yet was a terrible people manager or visa versa? When companies fail to consider the underlying skills of employees; promotions can result in the Peter Principle. The Peter Principle occurs when people are promoted into jobs with duties they cannot do or do well.

Traditional Career Progression

Traditional career paths focus on the position you are in and what higher level position your company has available – often called a promotion.

Promotions within companies are becoming less frequent because there are fewer positions. You may feel that your career is stalled in the professional level, especially after 5-10 years.

In the engineering example above, new hire engineers may be promoted within the professional level every couple of years; however once your next promotion is into the managerial level, the number of available positions (n) narrows significantly.

Lateral Moves

One of the easiest ways to keep up career development without a promotion is to take a different position in your current company.

The lateral move is career path option that is often discounted. When you take a position that is at the same level as your current position but has different responsibilities, you have made a lateral move within your company.

For example, the engineer who decided to take the technical career path may opt to cross over to the engineering project management path. This opportunity advances the engineer’s skills that are sought after at a Director level position.

While taking a lateral move may feel like a set back, it does improve your employment and promotion marketability.

When a company has confidence in you and your capabilities, they are more willing to invest in your training and development – that is a win-win solution!