How You Can Progress After You Have Hit A Career Ceiling


If you have worked hard for a number of months or years pursuing a particular career, enjoying breakthroughs, promotions, rewarding work, and an enjoyable routine, then it can be deeply distressing when you hit a career ceiling.

What is a Career Ceiling?

Career Ceiling

A career ceiling is a moment in your career when progression is stalled, and no matter how hard you work or want to progress, you can’t seem to make any headway. Instead, you are limited to the job you already have, with no obvious route upwards.

You might be wondering what causes a career ceiling, but there is never one single explanation, and it will differ depending on the industry you work in, your level of qualification, and the type of job you are hoping to step up into.

However, although you must judge every case differently when it comes to hitting a career ceiling, certain commonalities affect most people in this position.

For example, stagnation in your career progression can often stem from under-qualification.

Career progression

You may have worked hard to reach your current role, but the positions above you could require a whole different set of skills. This is usually the case in industries like finance, healthcare, and law, when you cannot progress until you sit more exams and become qualified in a certain area.

This presents a dilemma in and of itself for many people. It can be almost impossible to decide whether to turn your back on everything you have worked hard to achieve – your financial stability, routine consistency, competence in your role – in order to study a new skill, or whether to forget about promotion and continue in the job you are already in.

Progress After You Have Hit A Career Ceiling

There is no easy answer to this, but you need to create a strategy to solve the problem nevertheless. No one wants to operate in a state of limbo, unable to decide which path to take or if a chosen career is still worth pursuing if you can’t land the dream job you were lusting after.

The reason why a strategy is crucial is that it is entirely possible to smash through a career ceiling or at least use it as an opportunity to grow, whether that is within your industry or outside of it.

Here is how you can progress after you have hit a career ceiling

Career progress

Attain a degree in a subject you need to learn more about

If you have hit a career ceiling, then the first task on your agenda should be to ascertain whether you need additional qualifications to progress meaningfully with your career. This will help you to stop second-guessing yourself, doubting your own abilities, or regretting past decisions.

The reason why finding out if you need additional qualifications is so liberating is that it will essentially make your mind up for you as to whether to continue with your current job or not.

If you need more qualifications, then pinpoint the exact degree you would need to apply for and do a feasibility study as to whether it is worth the effort. This is because most conventional degrees require you to drop out of your current lifestyle in order to become a student again.

Attain a degree

This could mean relocating to another city, moving out of your current home, and quitting your job, with no guarantee you will be let back in.

Naturally, it is quite a severe gamble to take, which is why online degrees make so much sense. An online degree allows you to complete the course in your own time, without having to relocate or even quit your job.

If you are time efficient, this means you could earn a Master’s in Applied Statistics online alongside your current job, killing two birds with one stone.

Your education can define your career path

Career path

The reason why making the decision about turning to higher education is so difficult is that it can define your career path.

Many industries are outright impossible to break into in any meaningful way without a specific degree, while there are many more which treat degrees as ‘nice to have’ elements on your resume.

Given that enrolling in a degree course is far from cheap and requires years of your time, dedication, and attention, this is a high price to pay.

Education can define career path

Indeed, before you make the decision to pursue a degree, it is worth consulting with your superiors, as well as colleagues who may be in the same boat as you. This will potentially save you from years of wasted time and money.

Furthermore, if you decide that higher education is the route for you, you need to be very careful with what degree you opt for.

While you may have a choice of a few degrees, pick the one which will be useful as high up the career ladder as possible, rather than one which will lift you a few steps on the ladder before landing you in the same situation again.

Hone your leadership skills

Usually, career ceilings happen when you have already progressed a meaningful amount in your industry, and your next step would require you to step from a hands-on role to a more leadership-based job at the executive level.

Leadership skills

At this point, there is a very real chance that you have never led a team, been in a management role, or had to assert yourself above your colleagues. While this will no doubt have served you well so far, it does not help your chances of being picked for a promotion into a leadership role.

A lot of the challenge involved with promotion is trying to get your superiors to imagine what you would be like in a certain role. Unless you can encourage them to imagine you succeeding, you will likely be passed up for a promotion.

If this sounds familiar, then it might be time to hone your leadership skills. If there is little opportunity to practice this within your current role, then seek out a specialist leadership course or coaching session outside of work.

At the very least, it is worth learning about basic leadership and management techniques online – whether from dedicated blogs or YouTube videos. Every detail matters, and if you have a working understanding of the role you are hoping to progress to, then you stand a far better chance of achieving it.

Build close relationships with your superiors

Working relationships

Another way to increase your chances of a promotion is to build strong working relationships with those above you. Not only will this make them more receptive to promoting you, but it will also prove to them that you are a trustworthy, knowledgeable, and amiable person who would work well alongside them in the future.

Indeed, the productivity of a team is highly influenced by the chemistry between its members. If you keep yourself to yourself and no one can get a handle on your personality, then they can’t really know how you might interact with your new team.

Therefore, ingratiate yourself with the decision-makers and, as simple as it sounds, help make them like you.

Consider a sideways move

Of course, it is worth considering all the options when it comes to your career ceiling, so a sideways move could be a compelling alternative to straight career progression.

Straight career progression

After all, if you have set your sights on a particular job, but it isn’t going to happen anytime soon, you may become disillusioned with your current role. This is natural, but if your performance starts to flag, it could negatively impact your chances of being promoted in the future.

Instead, it could be a good idea to find greener pastures elsewhere, focusing on a sideways move that could actually boost your chances of career progression.

There are a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly, it keeps your career moving. It may not be a straight move upwards, but it is movement nonetheless, which is crucial for maintaining vitality within your career, and your work productivity.

Career moving

Secondly, you will likely have to learn a variety of new skills when you move to your new job. These may not be directly applicable to your eventual career progression, but having a more comprehensive skill set is incredibly useful and can make your resume more attractive to your management team.

Additionally, moving jobs, meeting new people, and learning new skills take you outside of your comfort zone, which everyone needs to do occasionally in order to grow. It can be easy to slip into a comfortable routine when you have been working for a few years, and gradually your confidence outside the perimeters of your job will wither. Don’t let this happen because it will be a career ceiling in and of itself.

Assess what is holding you back and whether you can change it

If you hit a career ceiling, it can be tempting to blame it on misfortune, the ineptitude of your superiors, bad timing, or simple fate, but this isn’t helpful at all.

Thinking career

You need to use your temporary stagnation as a lesson you can learn from, otherwise, you are destined to experience it again and again. You may partially be right in your assessment of the career ceiling, but it doesn’t mean the decision not to promote you was entirely outside of your control.

On reflection, you may find there are certain skills you don’t possess, the experience you don’t have, the poor judgment you displayed, or the simple fact that you wouldn’t suit the job as much as you think you might.

Learning from your setback will make you stronger and allow you to better decide if you want to continue pursuing your current career or change tack altogether.

Improve your social skills

There is no doubt that charisma plays a huge part in the lives of successful individuals, and the same can be said at any level.

Social skills

This is not to say that you need to display the magnetic personality of a celebrity or the intense drive of an entrepreneur like Steve Jobs, but it does mean that it’s worth improving your social skills.

Even if you consider yourself an amiable enough person, there are always improvements to be made. Consider taking a course, reading relevant books (such as Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie), or simply engaging with more colleagues and making yourself known in the office.

Create a clear plan for progressing in the future

If you are serious about continuing in your current career path (despite the setback), then it may be worth setting out a clear plan for progressing in the future.

Plan for progressing

There is always more than one way to find success in your career, and if the current avenue has temporarily closed, it is time to analyze your options and reflect on where you really want to end up.

Many people make the mistake of hanging their ambitions on a single promotion, mistakenly believing that a pay rise or more powerful role would suddenly satisfy them. This is rarely the case, so it is worth taking the time to step back and reflect on whether your current career is what you really want or whether there is another path out there for you instead.

Find a mentor

Another method you can use to help you progress after being hit with a career ceiling is to seek out a mentor.

Find a mentor

A mentor is someone who is further ahead in their career than you but has had comparable experiences to yours. You consult with your mentor to hear advice about your career, progress faster, and handle setbacks and pressure.

Many successful individuals use mentors as a means of gleaning new knowledge and sounding out ideas they have. If you are struggling to see how to progress, a mentor could help.

Take this chance to strike out on your own

Be Your Own Boss

Alternatively, you could take this setback as an opportunity to strike out on your own. If you work for someone else but you have always wanted to start a company of your own, then this could be the perfect opportunity to do so.

It is always advisable to turn bad news on its head and find an opportunity lying in disappointment, and a career ceiling is no different. Prove your entrepreneurial credentials by taking this bad news in the best way possible.

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