Recently a hiring manager told me about how she moved up from an entry-level employee to supervisor in her organization. With my mental cat-like recruiter reflexes, I pounced on the moment and asked about her advancement. In a matter-of-fact tone of voice, she responded, "I observed others and just worked really hard." As a follow-up, I asked her specific questions about who she observed, the skills she learned, and professional development opportunities. I then told her that there are many employees who want to advance the way she did but don't have the know-how.
Contrary to popular belief, there are people who want to advance in their organizations for long-term employment. Such is the case in a large healthcare organization for which I recruit. We often hear cynicism toward committing to long-term employment in companies and organizations (especially in the "gig economy"), however, people have their reasons for wanting to advance.
I was one of those cynics until I began interviewing candidates for opportunities with this healthcare organization. Candidates of diverse demographics point to reasons such as: a high degree of respect for the organization; wanting to climb the corporate ladder; a desire to learn about structure and corporate leadership; getting consistent pay and bonuses; and the stability of benefits, savings plans, company perks, etc.
None of this is to say that we should all chase the long-term, one-company pot of gold but to each their own. As long as someone pursues advancement, let's look at how it can be done and done well.
The most impressive internal candidates I interview often have goals. They know what they want, how they want it, and when they want it. One hiring manager told me that she took a four-figure pay cut to join her company, because she had studied the organization and liked what she saw. Ten years after taking that pay cut, she had nearly doubled her old salary. She did it by creating a plan to gauge her progress incrementally.
Do your job well NOW.
One of my biggest career mistakes was taking my eye off the ball of the job at hand. It's a common mistake, especially among young employees looking to climb the corporate ladder. They worry too much about how awesome they would be at the big job while ignoring the details of their current job. Any leader will ask why they should trust you with a big job if you can't handle the demands of your simpler current job. The key to this one is to measure your progress. Quantify your achievements or document positive feedback via emails, performance reviews, etc.
Excel at communication, organization, and collaboration.
Regardless of the field in which I have recruited, hiring managers have always mentioned the value they place in candidates' ability to relay information (verbally and non-verbally), prioritize, and work well with others. These are the areas where you can really let leaders see your identity and value. A good way to gauge your progress here is to invest in your emotional intelligence, an area that is becoming more of interest to companies and organizations.
Offer constructive feedback to help the organization.
One behavioral interview question I love to ask management candidates is, "Tell me about a time that you made a suggestion that improved a process in your area." I can tell candidates are ready for advancement when they respond with stories that detail how they identified a problem in productivity or efficiency, made a suggestion to their leaders to fix it, saw that suggestion through to implementation, and documented successful results. For example, your bosses won't see you as valuable for saying you don't get paid enough, something that is likely obvious to them. They will most likely recognize your value if you let them know that they can maintain talent in the organization by investing in employees' morale, and you take the lead on developing a rewards program. If you really want to be the bomb, find a way to draw from your idea to increased productivity--kaboom.
Seek out professional or knowledge development.
I am one lucky guy. The company I work for has a plethora of professional development opportunities plus education benefits. Companies and organizations invest in these opportunities for several reasons. As a quick side note, organizations have learned over the years that one unnecessary expense is high employee turnover. Imagine if you were a CEO who saw how much quality employees help the bottom line. Therefore, savvy organizations invest in educating and training employees to keep them around as long as they can have them. Studies even show that employees are willing to forego higher pay for a more fulfilling employment experience. To be crystal clear, go get that money but do appreciate your organization if they are good to you.
If you feel your future is in your current organization, it's okay. It's your career. There is a good chance the long term bond you form with your employer could be one of the greatest experiences of your life. It's all about what you take with you.