Want to Move up the Corporate Ladder? You Need a Career Map

Are you being held back by a sticky floor?

Do you want to move up in your organization, but feel like you are stuck in the lower ranks?

Or do you want to change direction in your career, but don't want to start over?

Then you need a career map. And the discipline to stick to it.

There are two important steps in developing a career map.

First, the internal process: understanding what it is you want to do professionally. What is your current professional identity and how do you want to change it? What are your values, strengths and personality preferences and how do these fit into the professional identity you aspire to?

Then, the external process: learning as much as you can about the job or industry you want to go into and then articulating in a clear, concise and confident manner why you are qualified to do it.

The first step of the external process is to set up informational interviews. Find people doing what you want to do and go talk to them. This will give you an opportunity to learn how to break into an industry, what skills are valued and what the pluses and minuses are of a certain position.

When talking to others about your aspirational career you should always ask:
What career advice do you have for me? Who else should I talk to?

Don't be intimidated by talking to people at senior levels - many of them are happy to help others who genuinely want to learn more about their company or their career path. Ask for 15 minutes of their time - I'd be surprised if they say no.

Armed with insight from your informational interviews you can start to put together your career map. This should be an individualized plan tailored to your strengths, values, desires and needs. Some components to consider are:

Develop an elevator speech - write down and then say in 30 seconds what your ideal job is and why you are capable of doing it. You need to be able to succinctly describe your ambitions and qualifications - if you can't briefly sum it up - you will lose other people's attention.

Expand your speech to 2 minutes - this is your opportunity to highlight your past experiences and your unique capabilities. Give some flavor to your story and insight on your personality. This could be a good intro for an interview or content you can use in a cover letter.

Develop a list of contacts. Go through your rolodex (or your phone!) and jot down anyone you think would have good advice or know about job openings. It's just as important to reach out to people in your network who can connect with you with other influential people. Your gym friend might not have any pearls of wisdom, but can she connect with you the HR manager at her company who can tell you the best way to get your foot in the door?

Network. Network again. And then keep networking. Go to networking events, set up informal coffee dates and network online through LinkedIn. More than likely, your next opportunity will come from a relationship so it's critical to get your networking plan in place today.

Customize your cover letter and resume for each position. Take the time to research each organization and position you are applying for. Tailor your cover letter and resume so that it accurately conveys your qualifications and passion for each opportunity.

The success of your career map is contingent on having strong communications skills, self confidence and the discipline to stick to and adjust your plan as needed. My goal is to empower women to rise above the sticky floor and crash through the glass ceiling. Now, let's get started!

Dr. Bernice Ledbetter is Practitioner Faculty of Organizational Theory and Management at Pepperdine University's Graziadio School of Business and Management. Her research and teaching interests focus on leadership and values, especially gender differences, as well as on moral developmental and non-western approaches to leadership. She is a Principal in Ledbetter Consulting Group and has worked extensively as a career management consultant and team performance coach for individuals and major organizations.