How to Move Forward When There Is No Up

Let’s take a look at my inbox. A question from a reader is as follows:

My college is – literally – the only higher ed game in town. And so even though I work in a staff job that I generally enjoy, there’s no upward mobility. I’ve been here for 3 years and I’m really ready to take on more challenging assignments. I’m in my early 40s and at a place in my life where I just am not interested in getting another degree (already have 2 Master’s). I’m trying to be patient but I just don’t see it happening. The people who are the next level up from me have been here for at least 8 years. What would you recommend?


I can already hear many of my readers nodding their heads. I know I can relate. In my last organization, I put in 8 years and still wasn’t at the level I wanted to be at. And the people who were in the job title I wanted? They’d been there 10+ years. I had proven my abilities – I had excellent performance reviews and was clearly capable of the next level of responsibilities. There just wasn’t a job above me to be given to me. Ultimately, I wasn’t willing to wait it out yet another couple of years…so I left.

So that would be option one.

Moving on to another organization.

You should do this only after you’ve 1 – made clear your desires to your boss, and 2- made a strong case for your abilities to take on something new. Repeatedly. Because it’s not fair to duck out on a boss / organization if “but I want more challenging work, and I deserve the chance” would be news to them. You need to give them the chance to meet your demands.

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No Time to Network? Send an Email

It’s not just introverts who hate in-person networking. It’s also people who are time-pressed. My workplace is pretty good about having networking events during the day – a first-thing-in-the-morning type thing, or a networking lunch – but let’s face it, most places are not. Most networking events are after-hours, often off site at a bar (which raises its own issues of shutting out people who don’t want to be in that environment). People who have dogs who need to be let out, long commutes, loved ones to go care for, groceries to grab just simply do not have time for this.

But fear not! You can network from behind your keyboard. I’ve written about this a bit before, but today I’ll walk you through a foolproof method for connecting with someone new via email.

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Build your network from connections

There’s not much that I dread more than networking events. So many of us (yes, even me) hate networking. Trying to strike up a conversation, nevermind build meaningful connections with strangers, can feel awkward at best, and at worst, forced and insincere. And for academics in particular, it can feel sales-pitchy, gross, and off putting.

Yet there are real, tangible benefits to networking. Conversations with work friends can lead to opportunities. You might hear about an upcoming job opening before it gets posted. You’re more likely to find out the inside scoop about an employer. Your connections might approach you to speak on your area of expertise, giving you the chance to promote your skills and knowledge. Or when you’re a candidate for a job, you might know someone who can put in a good word for you (in addition to your professional references).

Networking isn’t just about sharing business cards or building up your LinkedIn connections, though. For your network to be effective, you need to have or build relationships with your associates. You don’t want your connections to decline to connect, grow stale, or drop you because it’s a one-way connection. Making your network work for you means meeting people organically, and then thinking of your associates as real, genuine relationships. People who are not just looking out for you, but who are invested in keeping a relationship with you. So how can you do this? There’s two easy steps.

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