Leadership

10 things you can do to move up the IT career ladder

IT pros who aspire to a higher position need to lay the groundwork by developing the right relationships, refining their communications skills, and expanding their breadth of knowledge.

Even in difficult economic times, the opportunity for advancement exists. Whether you're a front-line associate aiming for the next level or a senior vice president looking toward the CIO role, certain strategies will help you reach your goals. These steps can't guarantee that you will move up within your organization, but they'll definitely give you a leg up on the competition.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Develop relationships within your organization -- outside IT

It seems like common sense, but this often gets pushed to the side in favor of day-to-day responsibilities that yield immediate results. It is much easier to communicate what you do and why it is important to someone who is used to hearing from you regularly. Make a habit of trying to develop a relationship within a different business division at least once a month.

2: Develop a message

How does what you do, or what your team does, further the efforts of the organization? How does it help the business achieve its bottom-line objectives? You must be able to articulate the value of your position to the organization clearly. This often takes time and effort, but it's crucial. Make the investment.

3: Be open... be available... talk to people

IT can often breed a solo or small team atmosphere. If you are a leader in your organization, be seen. Nothing is worse than a CIO, CTO, EVP, AVP, or even a director who stays behind closed doors and remains silent.

4: Treat your top talent as you treat your boss

If you think you have talked to them enough, go back and talk to them one more time. Trust me: If your top talent is nervous (and they are) and you're not communicating with them, they are looking elsewhere. As times get more challenging, your top talent becomes more valuable. This rings true at every organizational level, from the front lines up. Replacing superstars is not easy.

5: Understand your audience

IT has a language all its own, and those outside IT may have trouble understanding it. In fact, it's never a given that even those within IT, but in a different division, will understand the lingo associated with your specialty. Communicate with your audience in mind.

6: Be consistent

Nothing deflates an organization or a team more than perceived inconsistency in communication or communication style.

7: Be open with Information

The expression "Information is power" holds some truth; however, the idea that hoarding that information will result in more personal power does not. Controlling the flow of information is a losing proposition. Everything you do sends a message, and communications, or lack thereof, sends a clear message. (Hint: not a positive one.)

8: Develop partnerships with other IT divisions

The tendency to end up in silos and spend precious little time networking with other divisions can cost opportunity. It happens in many divisions outside IT as well. Just like in sports, rising stars in different positions often end up leading the entire team because they developed those relationships along the way.

9: Master other domains

When commenting on professionals who are looking to ascend internally, I often hear IT executives cite the need to have experience in more than one space. While "master" might be a strong term, a well-balanced portfolio should not be limited to your 401k.

10: Get a mentor

Mentors are crucial in any business, and in a business where networking is not as common as in other lines of work (sales, marketing), mentoring is a great way to learn. It's also a great way to develop a relationship with an executive you would not normally get to interact or spend significant time with.

Matt Eventoff is the president of Princeton Public Speaking. For more than 15 years, he has served as a communications and messaging strategist for C-level executives in organizations ranging in size from startups to Fortune 100 firms.

10 comments
matt
matt

Hi Alex - what is the official company policy on mentors? If there is none, or mentors are frowned upon, I have soem strategies you might want to try to get an "informal" mentor

alexhilton
alexhilton

I really agree with Item 7 and 10. I get very limited information everyday, and sometimes i feel out of date. It is very hard to keep up. And it is not easy to get a mentor either. For years, i have been looking for someone who can guide me or teach me valuable lessons. But, you know, i never got one.

SetiRich
SetiRich

1.) Start your own company...not an 'IT' company, but one that requires high-bandwidth IT skills....that you have...of course. 2.) Otherwise, in a big company (10,000+), it helps if you have gone to the 'right' school, and pick up a high-level mentor who has the same background. 3.) Believe it or not, you can do better with a degree from Harvard or Yale or ??? than you can with the best IT skills around...(if they are the best around, see option #1.) Life is a circular thing...and I picked door #1 after struggling for 35 years in many major corporate shops. 10($) AND 0.1(hassle)

RRH37
RRH37

My Manager is a great mentor. She has shown and is teaching me a lot about the management side of things. When added to her considerable technical skills, she is a wealth of knowledge and has no problem sharing.

steve.rayner
steve.rayner

All good stuff but I would add an over-riding thing to do:- Learn your business / industry i.e. what is your industry all about, what makes a differentiator? Learn to see business opportunities which may be enabled, leveraged or enhanced through the use of technology. A great place to start is to get involved with reporting to manage KPIs - at all levels. Something for the shopfloor is good but in terms of eye catching your executive or board KPI wins the stuffed toy every time.

blacksmithforlife
blacksmithforlife

I have often hear this advice before. Do you have any recommendations as to how to start a mentor relationship with someone higher up? Great article

matt
matt

I think it goes without saying that if you do not know what makes a differentiator in your business it is extremely difficult to explain it to someone else. This ties into Pt II.

matt
matt

Directly asking is a great way; if that is too intimidating, or difficult, another step is to find a common denominator - someone who you have a comfortable relationship with who knows the person as well, and ask for an introduction.

sseifert
sseifert

Simply ask them - most of the time, they are quite flattered by the request.

matt
matt

I have found the same thing in my experience