How (and Why) to Climb the Corporate Ladder Instead of Retiring Extremely Early

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Retiring extremely early — it’s all you hear about today…

  • “How so-and-so retired at age 30”
  • “What it’s like to travel the world and earn $1M while doing it”
  • “How to work for 7 years and retire for 70”

Man, talk about some great click-bait article titles! I should really use these for myself in the future… Anyway…back on track here. We’re all in awe of people that can retire extremely early. Their Airstream, their hipster look, and their memorable experiences — all without the need for a job?? Sign me up, right?

Not so fast.

Just because Johnny jumps off a cliff, does that mean you should do it too? What’s best for one person might actually make you miserable. Case in point: I’m 6’8″… Living in a tiny Airstream every day would suck. So before you start lusting after an extremely early retirement, you’ve really got to ask yourself some extremely important questions. And you know what? Your answers to those life-changing questions might actually lead you to climb the corporate ladder…

How to Climb the Corporate Ladder Instead of Retiring Extremely Early

I’m 33 years old. I’ve been working in Corporate America for just over 10 years now, and I just got through what was probably my 10th performance review.

Maybe I’m a little more dense than the rest of you, but I feel like I’m only just now discovering the secrets to climb the corporate ladder faster, more effectively, and with more likelihood of success. Perhaps it’s because I’m approaching my mid-30’s and gaining wisdom, or maybe it’s because I’m now approaching the middle rungs of the ladder and can see the inexperience at the bottom as well as the wisdom and strategy of those at the top. Either way, at this point, I’m starting to see what inspires people to climb the corporate ladder (and why you might want to stick with it and do the same).

Why Choose Corporate Over Retiring Extremely Early. Am I Nuts???

About a month ago, Steve from “Think, Save, Retire” approached me with a unique question. “What would make you NOT retire early?”

I gave him four reasons:

  1. Benefits/Insurance – My company offers very cheap insurance and some other awesome benefits (like 4 weeks off for paternity leave!).
  2. Friendships at work – We all need some form of social connection in our lives. Work makes this effortless and enjoyable.
  3. Stability – Sure, this year I’ve earned an average of $2,500 a month with this website alone…but could that suddenly vanish? Absolutely. Working a job is more common and therefore, more stable.
  4. Corporate Moolah – I believe that I could make it to the executive level within Corporate America. And with this comes a salary of $200k+ and some amazing lifetime benefits. It might just be worth sticking around a while…

Beyond this, retiring early can often come without purpose. Those that retire and just lay around doing nothing are more prone to get dementia and die early! In life, you need a purpose! You might think it’d be easy to find a purpose outside of work, but the longer you hold down a job and identify yourself with your work, the harder it is to peel away from that and still be satisfied. If you have a deep passion for something, then it’s definitely possible. If not, it’s probably best for you and your future longevity if you just keep working that job that you don’t hate.

Finally, retiring extremely early often comes with financial sacrifices. 

Mike and Lauren have a great YouTube video out there that clearly explains the pros and cons of extremely early retirement. The big pro is obviously the freedom to do whatever you want. BUT, the big con…is that you need to live a frugal life…forever, because you’ll have to live within the means of your small retirement account. That most likely means used cars, dumb-phones, and limited restaurant dining… In short, fewer luxuries and not as many expensive experiences.

But, if you’re someone like me that actually enjoys his job (and not watching the bank account before every purchase…), maybe extremely early retirement isn’t for you! Maybe it’s best for you to stick around, work a couple of decades, make bank, and have a ton of expensive dream-come-true experiences outside of work! Sound like fun? Then let’s figure out how to climb the corporate ladder instead of retiring extremely early.

How to Climb the Corporate Ladder Quickly and Effectively

I almost titled this header with, “How to climb the corporate ladder as fast as possible”, but that’s not always the best thing for your development. In fact, it’s a pretty good way to get yourself fired. Those that rise up the ranks too fast miss out on some much needed experience and knowledge and too often get themselves in over their heads. For this reason, I’m saying do it quickly, but do it methodically and hit it one rung at a time.

So what does it take? What type of experience and skill-sets do you need to get to each level?

Here you go! Here’s the secret to climb the corporate ladder. All you have to do now is bust it!

I went the analyst route in my career, so that’s what this graphic models, but you can still apply it to your career as you move from the lowly intern up to the executive ranks. Just replace the analyst titles with something that make more sense for your career path (ie. editor, produce manager, engineer 1, modeler, etc.).

climb the corporate ladder

Intern

As an intern, you’ve got some college classes under your belt, but you really only need two things to become an intern today:

  1. A willingness to learn
  2. A pleasant personality

Just make an effort to soak up all you can and you’ll make an excellent intern (which means… you just go yourself onto the corporate ladder! Congrats!).

Jr. Analyst

Your interning days were solid and you just got hired into your first full-time gig after college. Woot woot! So what do you need to do to prove yourself as a budding employee and a rock-solid Junior Analyst?

Simple.

Just take all that you learned as an intern and in your early days on this new job and prove that you can replicate exactly what they taught you. And, use these skills to provide value for your boss and others within the company.

Analyst

It’s time to step it up a bit. You’re a few years out of college and you’re starting to focus. You want to climb this corporate ladder and make a name for yourself. With this role, you can really start to taste the sweet benefits of those in authority. Money, power, amazing bonuses…man, they’ve got it made!

Alright Jimmy, pull your head out of the clouds for a minute. What does it take for you to perform the job of a rock-star analyst?

  1. Take your instruction, and do the job well, but find a way to do it faster (systematize or use technology to do this)
  2. Ask for more work, and do it with the best of your ability also

With more responsibilities comes more respect, and with more respect comes future opportunities.

Sr. Analyst

Here’s where the game really starts to change. This is where you need to make the shift from taking on projects and doing them well to opening your eyes, finding projects, and solving them on your own…all while being extremely busy with other work.

Corporate cares about two things:

  • Making money, and
  • Saving money

If you want to prove your value, find a way to either sell more stuff or cut costs so they can keep more of their money. Do this, and you’ll be on your way to the next stages of the corporate ladder.

employee or entrepreneurManager

You’ve got the ability to learn, implement, and even find future opportunities for the company, but if you want to be a rock-solid manager and continue your quest to climb the corporate ladder, you’ll need to master the skill of communication…both up and down the ladder.

This was my huge takeaway this past year as I worked more closely with directors and executives in the company. If you want your group to be effective, you’ve got to be able to speak their language…which is most often understanding the minute details of their work, because that’s where they live all day long – in the detail. And, if you want to sell your ideas to leadership, you’ve got to be able to quickly flip the coin and communicate with broad ideas and a vision of what the future company could be like if your plans were executed.

This is no easy task, but once you develop the skill of communication, there’s no stopping you!

Sr. Manager

As a senior manager, you’re either being groomed for greater things in the company, or you’ve just been there so long that they just eventually gave you the title to keep you around a few more years… Hopefully, you’ll find yourself in the position of the former instead of the latter, but regardless, this is quite the impressive accomplishment! Congratulations!

So what does this mean for you? What must an effective senior manager do to continue the climb up the corporate ladder?

  1. You’re able to communicate easily and effectively – both up and down the organization
  2. You have the ability to inspire your team and get them moving, even when times are tough
  3. Your team – with your support, encouragement, and leadership – can come together and accomplish a common goal.

Director

As a director, you of course need all the skill-sets that we described in the lower positions in the company, but you’ve also got to add one more trait to your tool belt: think BIG.

Analysts think in terms of thousands of dollars and sometimes even get hung up on the pennies, but as a director, you’ve got to pull yourself out of the detail most times and keep your head in the million dollar camp. Which also means that your projects will no longer take weeks or months, they’ll take years to implement.

  • What can I do to save this company $20M over the next 10 years?
  • What can we do today that will propel us to our next revenue target?

This is how you should be thinking.

Oh, and one more thing. You need to serve yet another customer (yes, beyond your company’s actual customer, your employees, and your bosses): the shareholder. Your actions today need to be in the best interest of all the owners of your company (ie. all those that hold stock in the company). If you serve them and do everything in your power to improve the long-term growth of the company, you’ll succeed greatly as a director.

Vice President/Executive

If directors need to think big, executives need to think even bigger. While I’m often thinking about saving my company money with improved efficiency in labor (ie. analyst level thinking), they’re considering starting up a new store, distribution center, or even acquiring another company!

Executives think big, take big action, and sometimes fail big, but that’s just the nature of the job. You’ve got to be decisive, lead with vigor and determination, and have the ability to keep a whole bunch of people in your corner at all times.

Are You Ready to Climb the Corporate Ladder?

What level are you at? And what level do you aspire to get to? Would you rather climb the corporate ladder vs. retire early? Why or why not?

Man, retiring early is such a hot topic right now. I’m excited to hear from all of you that would rather stay in corporate and kill it! Be sure to leave a comment below!

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4 comments to How (and Why) to Climb the Corporate Ladder Instead of Retiring Extremely Early

  • Nice post – and very timely. I’m somewhere in between manager and senior manager in the examples or models you referenced here.

    I do enjoy the company and the role but I’m looking to take it to the next level in terms of pay and scope. I have a meeting scheduled this afternoon to discuss the same with my boss.

    Thanks again. – Mike

    • Nicely done, Mike. I’m between analyst and senior analyst – also having discussions lately. Always awkward, but necessary and beneficial for all parties if done the right way. Best of luck to you!

  • I started as intern and rose to VP at a Fortune 300 company spending some 17 years at that level. I enjoyed what I did and did not want to retire until things began to get decidedly un-fun at work in my fifties. At the same time I became aware of the personal finance, financial independence and early retirement communities and decided to slightly early retire. But I do not regret working well past financial independence because work was a great hobby that fulfilled me in a way my non-work hobbies could not quite do. I really think that climbing the corporate ladder is the lowest risk way to boost a person’s income if they enjoy what they do and find it fulfills them instead of feeling like a soul sucking prison sentence.

    • Love the perspective, Steveark. I feel like I’m on the same path because I am good at what I do and I enjoy it – pretty much exactly as you said. Makes for some nice money with very few worries.

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