3 career progression strategies for your executive career

By Robert Half 3rd August 2016

As you progress, what exactly are your executive career options? In reaching a high-ranking role, you've clearly experienced plenty of career progression and success in your working life so far. But what exactly comes next? Do you see your current role as a job-for-life, or do you still have ambitions yet to be fulfilled in business?

You may not feel under great pressure to make a career change as a senior executive, having advanced up the corporate ladder, with a great amount of responsibility and remuneration to match. But with skills, experience and leadership ability at your disposal, are you maximising your potential? And is your current role where you see yourself until you retire?

As someone with senior executive experience - and the ability to lead, communicate and make decisions under pressure - there are always opportunities to progress. Even if you feel you've reached the very top in business, there are still a number of different paths you can take. Some are more conventional than others, but ultimately your decision will depend on your personal goals, skills and character traits, as well as your current level of job satisfaction.

Here are three career progression strategies you can take to develop your executive career:

Target the chief executive role

If you're happy working for your current organisation, as part of the senior executive team, there's nothing wrong with staying where you are. Providing you enjoy your work and are being suitably rewarded - both extrinsically and intrinsically - there is something to be said for staying loyal to your employer and waiting for internal opportunities to arise.

Since you're already a member of the leadership and management team, there may not be too many options for career progression internally. But ultimately, unless you're working as the chief executive officer or managing director, there are still pathways to the top. Typically, CEO roles do not come up very often, and even more so if you're focused on a single role at a single organisation.

But when the current chief executive steps down or is replaced, somebody will have to step into their shoes and chances are in your favour if you’re a finance professional. According to the Robert Half FTSE 100 CEO Tracker, 50 per cent of the leaders of Britain’s top companies have a background in finance or accountancy.

If you're going to become the chief executive at your current organisation, you've got to be great at what you do - there's no doubt about that. Some firms prefer to bring in external candidates to freshen things up and create a new regime - in which case you won't have a chance. But if somebody is going to get promoted, you have to make sure that it's you.

The onus will be on you to earn the respect and trust of your colleagues, both as a person and a professional. If you have CEO aspirations, you need to establish yourself as an integral - even indispensable - member of the executive team, and invest time and energy on your personal development. It's a results business, so you need to be meeting and exceeding your targets time after time.

Join another organisation

If you have genuine ambitions to progress, develop your executive career and maximise your earning potential, it may be necessary to move to another organisation. At times, professionals can wait too long for in-house opportunities for their career progression, thinking they will be promoted, and then find they are passed over anyway. To avoid taking this risk, many executives keep their eye on the jobs market, and apply for suitable vacancies as they arise.

Moving to another organisation could allow you to secure a more senior role on the executive team, with a more important brief. But it is possible to progress without changing job titles, if you move to a larger company - potentially one with a global outlook. You might be working in essentially the same role as before, yet find yourself in command of a much larger department with a more sizeable budget.

Very often, the bigger the organisation, the more prestigious the clients and the more attractive the remuneration and other job benefits. Reaching the pinnacle - as in the CEO position - may be more difficult in a multinational firm, as the pyramid becomes very narrow at the top, but at the very least you will greatly enhance your CV by working there. The experience you gain, and contacts you make, could stand you in good stead in the future should you seek another move - potentially into a chief executive role at a smaller company.

Apply for interim executive jobs

Of course, you can become self-employed without the stress of starting up your own business - and this is an option many executive-level professionals are now choosing. In the current jobs market, there are attractive opportunities for high-calibre people to work on short-term, temporary placements as specialist contractors. As organisations commit to their growth plans - which often include major upgrade programmes, rapid departmental expansions and the launch of new product/service lines - they need additional expertise. Yet many are reluctant to recruit high-earning executives on full-time permanent contracts. In the long term, this does not make sound financial sense for their organisations.

But what many employers are willing to do is bring in interim executives to work on specific projects or initiatives, to transfer knowledge to tenured staff, and to cover short-term gaps in their leadership and management teams. There is significant demand for senior-level professionals willing and able to join an organisation at short notice, for a finite period of time. And knowing full well the value interim executives can add, employers are willing to pay competitively for the right candidates.

So as an experienced business decision-maker, with strong commercial nous, sound judgement and industry insight, you can command high rates of pay in the interim labour market. All the more so if you have niche skills to complement your general leadership capabilities. You have the option of picking and choosing placements according to your own preferences and needs - there's no need to make a long-term commitment to a single employer. If you wish to take a number of weeks or even months off between placements, then fine - providing you keep your skills and knowledge up to date.

But where can you find interim executive jobs? Vacant positions may be advertised online via jobs boards, but many of these roles are filled by interim management providers like Robert Half Management Resources. Employers understand the importance of finding the right candidates for senior roles - particularly given the high rates of pay they may offer to interim executives - so they often use interim providers to identify talent. These specialists know the jobs market inside out, and are in-tune to the needs of both employers and professionals, so they may be able to match you to suitable vacancies that could not be found elsewhere. This 'hidden jobs market' is where many of the best opportunities lie for interim executives seeking short-term, high-level placements.

If you're working at a high level, you've options for career progression in your executive career - and deservedly so given the investment you've made in your professional life. If you want to stay on the conventional career track, you can target internal opportunities where they exist, or apply for directorships at other organisations - potentially larger firms with more scope for progression. But if self-employment appeals to you, there's the option of targeting roles in the very lucrative interim executive jobs market. There is no right or wrong way to develop an executive career, it just depends on what you want to do and where you feel your greatest strengths lie.

More From the Blog...