Climbing the Corporate Ladder: 5 Ways

Firms promote only about 6% of their workforce. How to increase your odds.

It’s tough out there: Many top performers have put in the time and the work all year—and still haven’t been promoted. According to the Society of Human Resources Management, the average promotion rate for organizations is only 6%. And the spike in firms’ use of AI tools has made many people worry about both short- and long-term job security.

But experts say there are ways to beat the odds and increase your value, mostly by becoming irreplaceable in your current job. “The keys to rising up the value chain are being an active contributor, gaining visibility, and caring about others,” says Valerie Olson, a career and leaderrship coach at Korn Ferry Advance. Here are some tips from our experts.

Set clear goals.

Your personal and professional goals will be the basis of your advancement plan. When outlining these goals, ask for input from your manager and mentors. Get constructive feedback from multiple people, especially those in a role you would like to have someday. “Most of us have blind spots. Three-sixty assessments and asking specific questions about others’ perceptions of you and your performance are useful in this regard,” Olson says.

Deliver, deliver, deliver.

Advancing within an organization is competitive. You need to stand out to get noticed, so aim to exceed expectations and standards. Think about personal branding and your unique value proposition, or choose a special topic to become a subject matter expert in. Then, take on challenging projects that will give you greater visibility, and look for opportunities to raise your profile beyond your company (e.g., at industry events), if possible.

"We don’t live in a world where influential people will just notice you based on the merits of your work,” Olson says. “Be sure to express your interest in advancement, and promote yourself with tact.” Keep track of your accomplishments quantitatively and qualitatively, then take advantage of opportunities to share your accomplishments within your organization.

Never stop learning.

To be considered an expert in your field, you need to constantly develop your knowledge and skills. Learn the in-demand skills in your company and your industry, and gain access to materials, courses, certifications, or programs that will provide you with knowledge, skills, and credentials. Many organizations offer online learning or fund continuing education. Choose courses and certifications based on your primary goal, as well as on what is practical for you at this time in your career.

Make friends.

Career experts caution against waiting to network until you need a job. Relationships are critical to advancing in your field, company, and industry. Build strong, strategic relationships with your manager and other leaders, peers, and select others in your company and industry.

And you never know which person from your past can be the key to advancement in your future. Staying in touch is a skill you can build, as it doesn’t come naturally to more introverted people. Develop career colleagues for life by setting up casual, collegial lunches and meetings, messaging people just to say hello, and reaching out when you don’t need anything from them.

Act like a leader.

Whether your job title says you’re a leader or not, act like one. “Develop your situation sensors. Get involved in projects outside your area. Participate in extracurricular activities. Communicate your personal 'why,’” says Herminia Ibarra, author of Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader.

Leaders are defined by the value they deliver, the responsibility they take, the ideas they have—and especially by the way they treat people. Be articulate and polite, share the stage with others, develop the skill of tactful persuasion, and be an active listener.


For more career advice, connect with a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.