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How to Advance Your Career Without Changing Employers

We encourage the career minded to “multiply their opportunities”, that is, be open to a range of possibilities, evaluating each against your vision of a fulfilling career.  But we are consistently asked “what can I do?” by colleagues who, for a range of reasons, can’t change organizations.  They often feel powerless and stuck. We’re pragmatists.  With a few tweaks in emphasis, good career management practices can support those who want to advance, while staying with their current employer. 

When it comes to advancing within a single organization it's still critical to have a career goals.  For internal mobility, the key to success lies in effectively translating your career goals in ways that aligns with your company's vision.  

It's a delicate dance that blends your personal ambition with the organization’s strategic priorities and areas of growth.  Both research and our personal experience show that alignment is critical to internal progression. In fact, your knowledge of the business it be a positive differentiator, distinguishing you from external competition.

In this blog, we will explore pragmatic steps to help you navigate your career in the context of internal mobility.

Understand the Landscape 

Research in organizational behavior highlights the importance of aligning your individual career goals with the objectives of your organization, for internal mobility.  A study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found that employees who align their career aspirations with their organization's strategic goals are more likely to achieve professional growth. Another study shows that employees who navigate the balance between personal career goals and business goals tend to have more sustainable career trajectories. Employees able to communicate their needs as supporting the enterprise are seen as team players, willing to grow their career by supporting the future of the company. This strategy underscores the significance of having a deep understanding of your company's culture and objectives.

I learned this lesson early in my career when I proposed a project I believed would propel me forward. The feedback I received was straightforward: "Your idea is commendable, but we need you elsewhere." This experience taught me the importance of aligning my goals with the direction of the organization. 

So, the first step is understanding business priorities, and actively seeking out and considering roles or projects that may not be your ideal choice but are critically important for your company.  These will help propel your career faster, and as long as they are moving you forward, while not ideal, they can represent a great example of thinking of career as a “long game” - recognizing and accommodating limitations, while moving forward. 

Be strategic in communicating your career aspirations

With a sense of how your personal goals align to areas of strategic need, you can think about how to effectively communicate your goals to others.  Whether looking internally or externally, being able to talk about what you want from a role is a career winning behavior: you have to showcase the value you can bring to the table and your potential contributions. Research reported in the Harvard Business Review emphasizes the significance of expressing your ambitions in a way that demonstrates how you can help solve organizational challenges. This is especially so with internal candidates.  There is rarely an excuse for not demonstrating a deep understanding of the business issues associated with a role or project, and how your skills can support successful execution of what’s needed.  

We witnessed this firsthand when our colleague, Sarah (not her real name), expressed her desire to lead a new department. She didn't just state her ambition; she had studied the challenges facing the present Team.  She was able to do what an external candidate can’t - she presented a detailed plan outlining how her experience could address current gaps in the team’s performance, and support the needed turnaround.  Her approach transformed her ambition into a compelling proposal for the company.

Leverage networks and connections

Advancing your career is always a collaborative journey. Seminal research in the field emphasizes the role of developmental networks in career progression. Seeking feedback, mentorship, and support are critical for success.  For those looking to build their career in one organization, this is especially important.  

Let’s face it.  Your options are reduced, at least when compared to the peer that “has gun, will travel”.  It isn’t personal.  It’s a numbers game.  So, you’ll reply more on internal supporters.  Internal mentors will serve not only as guides, but they’ll act as advocates, including helping others see how your objectives align to business needs.  And they know the culture, so they can help you navigate organizational politics, including that reality that you are known internally - warts and all. 


Successfully navigating your career within a single organization requires all the behaviors of good career management.  But there are nuances.  If you consider these, and adjust your approach, you can minimize the downside of restricted choice, and meet the personal goals that mean you want to stay where you are.  So, align your personal goals with business needs, express your value in terms of meeting those needs, and network expensively, to maximize internal support.  By leveraging the research, individuals can support a successful and fulfilling career - without going anywhere. 

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