How to Catapult Yourself to the Top of the Corporate Ladder

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If you’re like most working people, a large portion of your life is spent trying to turn the job you have into the position you want. If you’re in an entry-level job, making that leap can seem nearly impossible. After all, high-level positions require having the appropriate experience. So what do you do?

Conventional wisdom says: Stick it out. Work your way up the corporate ladder, be as perfect as you can at your current job, do your best to make it seem like you could perform that dream job, and hopefully your boss will someday notice.

It’s not a bad plan, but if your boss doesn’t recognize your merit, it won’t matter how well you perform. You’ll still end up stuck. Even if things do work out, it’s a very slow game. Climbing the ladder to your dream job can take 20 years or more -- and if you’re ambitious (or impatient), you don’t have that time to wait.

Luckily, there’s a bona fide way to accelerate your career past corporate obstacles and catapult yourself into your dream job. And it’s all about getting things done off the job. 

Related: If You Want to Be a Big Deal, Never Stop Learning

1. Gain job experience on your own.

Want to prove to your superiors that you could achieve real success in the dream role? Start manufacturing that success outside of the job, by exhibiting tiny bursts of entrepreneurship.

If you dream of running your company’s marketing campaigns, try actually marketing a product. Start a side business, develop a product or service and prove your marketing chops.

If that seems totally ludicrous to you, I don’t blame you: Starting a full-fledged business can be a huge time drain. Luckily, you do not need to start a full-fledged business, just a tiny one.

In the words of Richard Branson, “People hang back because they think that becoming an entrepreneur means committing all your savings to an idea on blind faith. But often you can start small and build up to something bigger.”

By committing a few hours each week, you can quickly start racking up a few sales, begin learning the real-world skills it takes to be a marketer -- and radically improve your resume. You’ll be able to sell yourself as a real, successful marketer, with the proof to back it up.

Even if you achieve only modest sales numbers, a future employer might not delve into those details. Instead you'll seem like a successful, go-getting entrepreneur with the kind of advanced mind needed for high-level positions.  

Branching out into a new industry can be extremely beneficial. Gaining know-how in multiple fields doesn’t just broaden your horizons: It also lets you meld the principles from multiple businesses in innovative ways (think of how Uber blended smart software with the transportation industry). 

For entrepreneurs and startup employees, the benefits of tackling a side project is that it might lead to your eventual launch of whole new business. Besides you never know when a small side business could turn into a huge pivot opportunity for your current company: Groupon was started as a side project, according to The Next Web.

Related: Want to Change the World? Maybe Try Being an Intrapraneur.

2. Focus on gaining skills. 

Most people think that if they want to move their way up the food chain at their company, they need to display the subtle traits that seem promotable: Showing up to work on time, meeting project deadlines and exceeding expectations when possible.

Sure, your bosses love a good, reliable employee, but when hiring for high-level positions, the candidates that shine are those who already clearly know what they’re doing (often because they learned off the job).

If you’re an intern trying to become a programmer, don’t just be reliable or pray for a training program to come your way. Take things into your own hands and learn a programming language in your free time. 

Don’t just spend your days trying to seem reliable. Take some time to better yourself and get ready for your next move. You’ll be better for it, and your company will be thankful for your new skill set.

3. Never sit still. 

Let’s face it: Even when you gain all the skills needed from somewhere off the job, if there aren’t promotions available in your division, you’re still out of luck.

For entrepreneurial types, time is everything, and when the path between you and your goal is 10 years long, you don’t have time to waste.

If you’re ready for the next step and your company doesn’t agree, ask your boss for a lateral move to a new division. Studies show that 73 percent of managers consider themselves willing or extremely willing to help facilitate lateral moves, according to a Millennial Branding study of managers.

If you play your cards right, a smart lateral move can help you quickly move up a rung on the ladder and diversify your skill set.  

Related: 3 Essential Questions to Consider Before Taking the Leap