Author: Christian Lepolard, Business Director at Hays China
A few weeks ago I relocated from Russia to China to pursue my career in recruitment with Hays. While in my second week in Beijing I suddenly had to step in for one of my colleagues who had become sick and could not deliver a presentation. So here I was, explaining to young foreign graduates how to find their first job in China while only having spent a bit more than seven days here myself.
Interestingly, a lot of what was discussed during that evening sounded familiar to me; not only is recruitment pretty much the same everywhere, but it also seemed that China was going through more or less the same challenges as Russia. It turned out that a lot of the lessons I had learned in Moscow would apply quite well to China, local culture put aside!
Moving up a level
Many of the questions I was asked during that evening revolved around the topic of career management: “How do I become CEO of a company?”, “Is it better to make one’s career in one company or in many?”, “When do I know it is time to leave my company?”, etc. Well, I recently read a book titled “It is all about work” by Stephens D. Clement, PhD, and Christopher R. Clement, and while the book is mainly about companies’ organization and structure, the main idea of the book is still very valuable to anybody eager to advance their career.
The authors’ main theory is that most organizations are built around seven to eight levels of responsibility, which differ from each other in terms of scope of responsibilities, work focus and planning horizon. While this statement alone would be worth many discussions, articles and presentations, the main takeaway for me was that between entry level and CEO in most companies there are only five to six levels to go through in order to reach the top.
Thinking in terms of timeframe: if you spend two years on each level before moving to the next one, it will take you 14 years before you become a CEO (assuming your company has eight levels of responsibility). Spend three years in each role, and the 14 years turn into 21; four years, and it will take you 28 years to achieve your goal. If we assume a person graduates with 25 years old, they could become CEO at 39, 46 or 53, depending on how quickly they move from one position to the other – a huge difference in the end!
So, how can you use this information to achieve your eventual goal of reaching the top?
1. Keep up the pace
Keep a certain pace in your career. “Falling asleep”, i.e. staying for more than three or four years in a given role just because it feels comfortable, is not an option if you want to reach the top. Many CEOs I met during my career in recruitment kept changing their role every three years on average, always aiming for a higher position, and this brought them much more quickly to the heights of the corporate world.
2. Stay curious
Another consequence is that if you need to move upward all the time you need to make the most of the three to four years you will spend in each position. People who reach top positions are usually curious and always eager to learn. Curious not just in your own role but also from colleagues on the same level but in a different function. The quicker you can get new knowledge and skills, the sooner you can move into your next job.
3. Don’t stagnate, even if it means leaving
Obviously, it pays to stay with your current company as long as you can move to the next level of responsibility. Making a career within one company is easier because you know them and they know you, so the trust factor is high and your employer will be more ready to take risks on you. However, once you feel you are in a dead-end or do not see your next position coming anytime soon, this is probably the right time to look around for a new employer and your next role.
4. Give yourself a head start
It is possible to shorten the 21 to 28 years needed to become a CEO, often by reducing the time spent in the first two or three roles. This is what graduate programs are about – exposing you in a very short period to different functions in the company and taking you to a management role very quickly (usually after two years). Getting into such a program is not easy, but if you want to reach for the top role, starting your career as trainee will help you a lot.
5. Up-skill yourself
Another good career accelerator is getting an additional degree. An Executive MBA can give you the knowledge you do not possess (or you missed) for your next position or grant you access to a network of people who will help you landing your next job.
A final thought
Even if there is no such thing as a typical career, even if you cannot always plan your next step in advance, even if your career will sometimes accelerate or decelerate (or stop) depending on external events outside of your control, the above advice will benefit any career.
Not everybody will want or be able to do it, but even if your goal is ‘simply’ to become a C-level executive or a Country Manager, you will still use the same strategy – only the number of layers/career steps you need to go through will change. Make this advice the ‘skeleton’ of your career – it’s then up to you to add the ‘flesh and skin’ that suits your ambitions and purpose in life.
Thanks for reading! For more career related advice, click on the links below or visit our blog page here.