What's your problem?

My promotion route seems to be blocked - what can I do?

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Q: I've been in the same role for four years, including a year spent covering for a colleague in an overseas office. I've had a great deal of responsibility and autonomy from the outset, and have consistently been the team's top revenue-generator. I enjoy the role but am beginning to feel stifled. This is a good place to work - too good, it seems, because no-one leaves! Promotion is based entirely on length of service, and the people at the top show no signs of moving on. How do I get around this without leaving?

A: I'm not convinced you can. I may be overly pessimistic here, but good and comfortable companies where staff turnover is low and promotion is based entirely on length of service can be dangerous places: the longer you lie in a warm bath, the harder it becomes to heave yourself out of it.

You've probably explored the obvious internal avenues: another stint in another overseas office, for example, or volunteering to start a new diversified venture within the same company. If you haven't, you should: either move would break the normal pattern a bit and get you off this glacially moving escalator.

But if none of this works and you're still feeling stifled, it may be time for you to open some windows and find some fresh air. From what you say, you seem to work in a pretty competitive sector; which means that there must be other companies doing very much what you're doing and which would value your experience.

I'd never advocate job-hopping at the first signs of discontent, and you're certainly in no mood to do anything precipitate - but I think you'd be wise to start some serious research. Which are the companies you find yourself frequently pitched against? Do you have friends or acquaintances working there? Do you have clients who have also worked with competitive companies?

By whatever means, try to get a slightly more focused fix on what's out there and what might be right for you. You don't have to rush. Your record suggests you'd have little difficulty in securing interviews - and probably job offers. New responsibilities (and new apprehensions) could be exactly what you need.

If, in a few years' time, you look back with a little bit of longing on your old company, there's always a good chance that they'd welcome you back. And by gaining promotion and experience somewhere else, you'd have sidestepped that slow queue for advancement.

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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