Moving up: The golden rules for gaining promotion

If you show willing, develop your skills, immerse yourself in the cause and promote your own 'brand', charities will want to give you more senior jobs, writes Annette Rawstrone

Take advantage of training opportunities, even if they are not relevant to your existing role
Take advantage of training opportunities, even if they are not relevant to your existing role

Regardless of the level at which you enter the charity sector, the chances are that you will eventually want to make progress in your organisation. Doing your job well is a prerequisite, but HR charity professionals also advise that you need to find ways to develop your skills and make yourself stand out.

Linda Kelly, assistant director of HR at Breast Cancer Care, says it is important to remember that charities want their employees to succeed and to progress internally. Turnover is costly for an organisation and charities especially are keen to keep it to a minimum.

Kelly believes people make progress in the third sector in a different way from those working for corporations because all staff in a charity work towards a shared vision. "In the charity sector, immersing yourself in the organisation, its cause and its vision will help you to progress," she says.

Kerry Smith, director of people and organisational development at the British Heart Foundation, agrees: "In a charity that is all about connection to the cause, it is important to support what the charity is about. Anybody who wants to progress has lots of opportunities to get behind its campaigns." She says that the BHF tries to promote people who are team players and good communicators, and who demonstrate a can-do attitude – she cites taking on extra projects and initiatives that give individuals a better understanding of the whole organisation.

Many organisations offer learning and development programmes. Graham Salisbury, head of HR at ActionAid, encourages staff to use the range of training available – from Excel to project management and presentation skills – regardless of whether it's relevant to their existing roles. "Someone who is open to developing themselves sends a message that they are looking to stay within the sector and want to move up," he says.

Kelly agrees that developing your knowledge is a powerful tool to help you get promotion. "Do not be afraid to look across the organisation and to move disciplines – from fundraising to service delivery, for example," she says. Salisbury recommends identifying and speaking to senior managers in the areas you'd like to move into, and getting feedback on the skills needed. He says: "If you don't have management responsibility, see how you can get it. You could be a mentor, coach or supervisor, for example, or put yourself forward to manage a volunteer." Salisbury suggests being proactive by making links with other departments and building social networks within your organisation. You could, he says, go for lunch with two different people from other departments each month to share information and see how other areas work.

In order to motivate employees, Macmillan Cancer Support encourages them to create personal career plans of between one and five years for reaching the roles they aspire to, both within their existing teams and across the organisation. The cancer charity's learning and organisation development consultant, Neil van Niekerk, suggests that they think about how they portray their own "brand". He says: "They need to showcase their skills, build their knowledge and demonstrate the right behaviours. This includes considering how they interact with people across the organisation to give the impression they want to give.

"As part of this, employees who want to stand out need to make sure they can articulate how they are constantly developing themselves and by what means. Taking a keen interest in where the organisation is heading and the challenges it is facing can also help employees to stand out from the crowd."

Kelly cautions against trying to jump up a level before getting to grips with your existing role. "Each job is different," she says. "In some areas, such as fast-moving digital, lots of short stints would not concern me, whereas longer service is valued in more traditional roles. A general rule is to stay in a role for about two years before you apply to step up. It generally takes that amount of time to immerse yourself in a role."

Salisbury says that when you feel you've gained the expertise to climb the career ladder, but you find yourself stuck behind a senior who is not budging, you have a number of options. "You could take a step sideways within the organisation and gain more skills and experience," he says. "Perhaps a secondment or move outside the organisation would work. You then make it easier to return in a more senior position because you're a known commodity. But never leave an organisation without making sure there is a door unlocked through which you can get back in. Make it clear that you're leaving to gain additional experience and you might be back."

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