9 Ways to Shoot Past People on the Corporate Ladder

9 Ways to Shoot Past People on the Corporate Ladder

Corporate Ladder

Photos copyright Chris Connell
By Jason Donovan

Work Late

When you start a job there's no better way to get to know the people you work with than by staying late. The other people that will be there are peers at your level and upper management. This is a GREAT time to socialize. After work hours people loosen up and you can get to know them while still being in a professional setting.

Not only is working late a great way to meet people, it shows that you were a great hire. You show up on time (right?), stay late, and work hard. You're energetic and eager to help out wherever you can.


If there's a communal place at your office where people eat lunch, figure out what time different groups of people eat and coordinate your lunch to allow you to meet with them, changing times frequently. This will allow you to meet the most amount of people. You will get exposure to people below you on the ladder, peers, and your bosses. You need to be be more than on the good side of a lot of people, they need to like you. Not only does this create some level of job security by having a lot of people to pull for you, it also gives you the upper hand of being on a friendly basis with someone in every department.

When the time comes that you want something, you'll know someone who can give it to you. A lot of times there may not be a promotion in your department, but there will be openings in others. Your co-workers who have not befriended people in these other departments will not have the advantage you have. Lunch is the best time to meet a spectrum of people from all over the company.

Ask your boss or someone important to lunch sometime. They will likely be too busy to take you up on it, but as always, it is the thought that counts. They will see you are making a hard attempt to move forward and be proactive.

And if they do take you up on it, great!

Drop the Title

Unless you're at the top of the pyramid, your job title most likely doesn't reflect the importance and responsibility you'd like to convey. That's why people tack on words like “Senior” and “Specialist” to lower level jobs like assistant or coordinator. But this isn't fooling anyone, especially people above you. All it tells them is you've been there longer than the guy who's just a regular coordinator. When you have to call an unfamiliar co-worker about work you're doing on a project, don't introduce yourself with your job title. Don't let your position define your importance, let what you do define your importance. You shouldn't start by saying, “Hi, I'm a Legal Assistant down on 5th…” This immediately lets this person know where you are in the hierarchy. Instead, you're “researching the trends of a client…”

The worst thing that can happen is that everyone KNOWS you're below them. If they don't know your position, but you SEEM important based on the work you do and how you carry yourself in the office, they will assume you're important.

Create Importance

When I first started working at the large firm I work at now, I worked in an area where several other people on my pay level worked as well. None of us had our own desks or phones, but we moved depending on the day. Instead of showing our name on the caller ID when we called someone it would just say “Legal Assistant #4” or whichever desk you were sitting at.

When the company was upgrading the phone system, the phone technician asked if everything looked rightCorporate Ladder Inset when he was done installing the phone on the desk I was sitting at. I asked if he could put my name on the caller ID instead of just the generic number. He didn't care, and happily obliged. I instantly became more than Legal Assistant #4 and now had a name. While this might seem like a VERY small accomplishment, when I called people before, they knew automatically how low I was. In fact, I was so low, they didn't even know my name, according to the caller ID I was just “Number 4.” After the change when I called people, they didn't know who I was or what position I had, but they did know I was AT LEAST important enough to have my name on the phone. From there, how important they think I am is based on how I carry myself and how professional I am.

There are many ways you can create the illusion of importance and many of them don't involve getting promotions.

Admit When You Screw Up

Taking the blame when you screw up will add a lot of professionalism and trust to your character. Taking the blame isn't admitting you're a fuck up, it reinforces you are responsible and learn from your mistakes. If you blame others for your mistakes and the truth gets back to your boss, the lack of trust can be devastating, and you'll never even know.

When you admit an error early it gives you time to fix it, but it also allows you the chance to explain it away before anyone else realizes it. If your boss or co-workers know you catch your own mistakes, they can trust your work more.

Similarly, when someone else makes a mistake, and you both know it, diffuse the blame. Saying things like, “Oh yeah, I've had that problem before too…” not only shows you're true interest is not their mess up but that the work is done correctly but it also shows you are sympathetic to fucking up, which you are surely to do. A lot. When that time comes they will likely handle your mess up with the same kindness that you handled theirs.

Replace the Water Cooler

Chris Connell is blueDo things that aren't your job but need to get done. If the water needs replaced at the cooler, replace it. If the coffee is out, make some more. If your boss sees you doing things like this, he'll know you're a hard worker and that you're doing what needs done, not just what you are expected to do.

There's nothing worse for productivity than someone not willing to do something because it's “not their job.” If it needs done, someone needs to do it. If the person who is supposed to do it is incompetent or unwilling, take up the task. If you really care about your job or your company you'll do what is necessary for the company to thrive. If your work ethic is driven by this simple principle you'll blow by your co-workers doing only what is expected of them.

Always Look Busy

If you always look busy, people will assume you are. If you always look like you finish your work and have nothing to do, they'll assume you don't have that many responsibilities. Don't slouch in your chair. Walk quickly down the hall, no matter where you're going. If your bosses don't think you look busy you'll likely pick up some busy work.

An extension of this is to gladly help someone even when you're “busy.” Because you look busy people will apologize about bothering you when they need something. Tell them it's no problem, and that you'd be more than happy to squeeze them in as soon as possible.

Smile…A Lot

Think of that stupid saying that was on your 9th grade English class wall, “Smile, you never know who's looking.” When you pass someone in the hallway, always flash them a smile. A lot of people, especially guys, won't smile back, but keep it up. Eventually they will and by that point, you're in. They like you. They think you're the nice guy.

If someone asks you how it's going never respond neutrally or negatively. Never say, “Eh…” or “Ohhhh, I'm okay…” You're “great,” no matter how shitty things are. If you're stressed about work, it's good for people to see that you are working hard, but getting negative is never acceptable.

Always be the nice guy. People like to help the nice guy.

Initiate the Conversation

A lot of young people believe that it is the role of the elder employee to strike up conversation, or that they should wait until spoken to. But in reality many employees in their late 20's and up believe it is the role of the new guy to talk if they want to; and they're right. They don't need anything from you, you need everything from them.

Take advantage of this. If you're just starting out talk to the people higher up than you. They'll appreciate that you're outgoing and can communicate with people, which is an important characteristic of management. Also, if you're just starting out talk to people on the same level as you or below you. They'll assume that you're higher up than you are because you're initiating the conversation.

If you're in an elevator with someone who works in your company and there are less than three other people in there with you, ALWAYS come up with something to say. It really doesn't matter what it is. Ask them how things are going. If you're lucky and know a project they have just been working on ask about it. You'll get some bullshit answer, “Oh man, it was rough but we got it out the door on Friday.” Seemingly nothing, but it's not the content of the conversation, it's the fact that it happened.

Now you're the smile guy, the outgoing guy, and the guy that knows about other things going on within the company.

How did you get ahead? Leave your tips in the comments.

  • scottlarson

    These are all really good points. I think the most important one is the working late idea. That’s how I got in with my bosses. They really loosen up after 5 and you can be more friendly.

  • Jamie

    Doing more than is expected is the key. If your boss and coworkers have an expectation all you have to do is surpass it and you’re golden.

  • Wayne

    i think people forget sometimes that being a good employee is part of your job. networking and being considerate with your fellow employees / bosses is the only way you get ahead and management notices.

  • Shane T

    But what about the guys who work for Non-profits or NGO’s! There’s no way of getting ahead, is there. 🙁

  • Will

    good post, i agree 100%

  • Eric

    Shane, get out of the not for profit sector! That is if you want 3 times the money for what you’re doing now!

  • Paul

    these apply if you run your own business as well. the principles apply no matter where you work or who you work with.

  • http://www.darchy.com William Zanelli

    Great post!!

  • Big Steve

    One thing that I’ve found that seems to help is to never be afraid of the boss. They’re people, they get dressed in the morning just like me, they have families and hobbies and skeletons in their closet. Meek and timid employees (in my experience) have to work twice as hard as the ones who can make strong eye contact, give a firm handshake, use a “big boy” voice, and act comfortable around the brass.

  • Joe

    When you first start out, try to land a job with a nationally recognized name, at least in the field you work in. Five years from now, when you are interviewing at a new firm and they don’t recognize your current firm, it doesn’t do any harm, but seeing that you are coming from a seasoned corporation carries some extra weight. And it will be on your resume nearly forever, as long as it is a semi-professional position.

    Also, If you get stuck somewhere in middle-upper management, enroll in school. Take some master programs, or Doctorate degree classes, especially if your company will reimburse you. Just GOING to school shows that you are able to take on extra tasks and want the better position more than the next guy. If you are already in a senior level position, blatantly advertising that you are not fully educated in your field could be a drawback though.

  • Nathan

    Do the job first, get paid for it second. Nothing shows that you are ready for a promotion like preforming at the next level.

  • Ke

    Patience. Many are too eager for promotion and it shows.

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  • http://www.rabiddevelopers.com Colin

    How about actually accomplishing quality leadership-level work?

    This is a bunch of superficial stuff that will make you look like an asshat if you pull it off wrong. This is why people who do real work hate management.

  • http://gryphonadvisory.com Bobby

    All good suggestions, but somewhat shallow and manipulative. My advice: outwork the bastards!! Do more, do it faster, do it better, do it with more professionalism, do it more times, do it for longer, ask for more, ask for more, ask for more. There is no substitute for energy, enthusiasm and performance. Results will shout down everything on the list.

  • D-MAC

    All of the above can only work in a company with a care for it’s employees, which is highly lacking in most of the South East Asian companies where window dressing and posting admirable profits in the local dailies are the orders of the day. Employess take a back seat. Even if we did everything on the list, none will materialise in such companies.

    Getting a degree in some screwed up unrelated field almost guarantees one a promotion and pay rise. The Unions here are quite powerless and any confrontation to iron out details buys us a one way ticket to the bread-lines.

    We also have a habit of recruiting shit-heads who resigned from our competitors. How the hell do they know what to do if they don’t learn the ropes and the lay of the land..? They want the top posts but never want to learn the basics.

    I remember Sean Connery said in the movie Untouchables; “If you’re afraid of getting a rotten apple, don’t go to the barrel, get it off the tree.” Unfortunately, we seem to like rotten things which goes fine with the rotten brains up in the rotten coporate ladder…

    Colin got it right : Hardworking people hate managment…it shows…

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  • http://haikkel.posterous.com/ Haikkel

    Replace the Water Cooler and SMiling alot is good. Sometimes, u just forget such things. Thanks

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  • Callaghan Ignorance

    Surely having lunch is career suicide?