How To Grow Your Career When Your Company Isn't Growing


At a recent workshop, a mid-career professional asked about feeling stuck because of his company, not his performance specifically. He feels capable of taking on more, and he has so far received positive feedback on his work. However, the company he works at isn’t expanding, so there is no place for him to go. When your company isn’t growing, do you have to leave to grow your own career? What if you like it there?

It can be frustrating when you are ready to take on more in your career, but you seem to have topped out in your company. However, moving up in a company is just one way to grow. Here are five alternatives to grow your career when your company isn’t growing:

Grow your skills outside your day-to-day job

If your job gets too easy, your skills may get rusty. However, challenge in your day-to-day job is just one way to sharpen skills. Even if your current role doesn’t afford growth or your company doesn’t offer any professional development, this doesn’t mean you can’t create learning opportunities for yourself. Find a mentor, take on cross-functional projects, or return to your alma mater to audit classes or take workshops. There are ways to upgrade your skills without having to leave your job.

Grow your personal brand and thought leadership

Coasting on the job means you have bandwidth to take on more outside, and this includes growing your personal brand and thought leadership . Apply to speak at conferences, with professional associations, or at your alma mater. Publish a guest blog for an industry publication or start on LinkedIn if you’re new to writing. You should check with your company on any restrictions around getting published, speaking publicly or speaking to media. Depending on the level of your job or your role (e.g., financial services is highly regulated), there may be limits on how much you can self-promote.

Focus on leadership opportunities when selecting outside commitments

If you are looking for management experience or budget responsibility, look at Board seats or other leadership roles when committing to outside organizations. I was on a volunteer Board for a theatre company, and it was a great way to understand the inner workings of that industry (I was in consumer entertainment at the time, so a nice diversion). I was specifically on the Finance Committee, which gave me hands-on experience with budgeting, looking at financial statements and reports, and even working on the organization’s audit.

Teach about your area of expertise or general professional development

One of my clients became an adjunct at his alma mater, teaching a class on his niche area of taxation. I know other professionals who guest lecture or deliver one-off workshops at a local college or their alma mater. Topics might be related to their professional expertise or workplace issues in general – e.g., professional etiquette, management skills. Teaching is a great way to deepen your own understanding of the topic. It also helps promote your brand and thought leadership.

Make a lateral move

The higher up you want to progress on the management ladder, the more likely your scope of responsibility will cut across functions. Therefore, a lateral move – same level, but different functional area – still represents career progress, if not a promotion. Some companies have a specific process for employees who want to switch departments, so check to see if there are guidelines you can follow, or if you’ll have to network around for your own opportunities.

The above options can keep you busy for years. However, keep in mind that if you want a bigger job, but your company is not getting any bigger and all the current big jobs are taken, then you may have to leave to get what you want. Sometimes you do outgrow a company . I had a client who was very happy at one company, but she wanted an international career, and that company was US-focused with no international expansion plans. There wasn’t anything wrong with that, but it no longer suited her, so she had to leave an otherwise great job for a chance to get an even better job.

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