Getting on in the industry

Advancing your career and experiencing new opportunities further up the promotion ladder aren’t always the same thing. Career progression doesn’t have to be about extra responsibility – you might, for example, look to become an expert in your chosen field; a niche specialist.

First and foremost, however, you need to tell people you’re open to a fresh challenge. Working hard doesn’t automatically get you noticed – don’t be shy about letting people know you are ready to take on something new.

‘Focus on what’s relevant’
‘Who am I looking for? Someone with the right characteristics, the right competence, the right attitude, a track record and the ability to learn. Many people labour too much on the wording of their CV, on their list of experiences – I advise them to focus on a concise and powerfully stated description of how they are suited to a role, what they have done that’s relevant. The objective of a CV is to attract attention and make those considering your CV want to ask more.’
– Roxanne Decyk


The first step on the road to promotion is to demonstrate clearly that you can do your current job well. Don’t be shy about what you have achieved: those on a promotion board should know about your capabilities.

If your manager is doing their job properly, they will recognise your skills and when you are ready for the next opportunity. But it doesn’t always work like that. You might need to take the initiative and find out more about the qualities and experience that you’ll need to move on. Sometimes the only way to do this is to ask – get a description of the skills required for the post you’re interested in, or talk to your manager about their expectations for the role.

‘Motivation, commitment and drive’
‘[When considering someone for a promotion] I look for motivation, commitment and drive. Of course they need the skills and experience so they are set up for success – as well as an ability to demonstrate that they can learn in that area – but they need to be motivated.’
– Deirdre Michie OBE

Then comes the tough bit: asking your manager if they think you have the skills required. Whatever the feedback, listen and take note. If they identify a gap, you know what to work on. Find an opportunity to develop the skills they say are needed, and then verify that you’re now delivering at that level.

It also helps to network with your colleagues and show you’re keen to take on additional tasks. This doesn’t mean working all hours in the day; work efficiently in the time given, but demonstrate you can produce a little extra.

You can also learn a great deal by observing the people around you: what they do, how they act and how they contribute to a piece of work and discussion. Are you behaving in the same way as them, and demonstrating your ability to contribute?

‘You have to make choices… it’s not possible to have it all’
There are important questions around how to balance your time for family between all those competing demands – children, friends, exercise, career, yourself. You have work out what is going to give and make very deliberate choices; you have to decide what’s important to you – it’s not possible to do everything with the same intensity. Women in particular put themselves under enormous stress thinking that it should be possible to have it all and do it all. Rather unhelpfully, some very successful women go around saying that you can. But my experience, and the experience of others I know, suggests that it’s not like that! You have to be clear in your choices, and accept the consequences.’
– Vivienne Cox CBE


There are many ways to advance your career, beyond the conventional step of moving up the ladder in your current sphere.

here may be opportunities in associated areas of the business, or in moving into new management roles. There might even be the potential to work overseas.

Spend time looking at all the options, even if it means looking at opportunities outside your organisation. And don’t be afraid to test your worth: you might be surprised how different bosses, organisations or even companies value your expertise.

Wider contribution to office success’
‘My appointment criteria range from the technical quality of someone’s work to their wider contribution to office success, perhaps in areas such as training and marketing. It’s also important to see if an individual is turning into the right kind of partner. In the legal profession, it’s not just about legal skills but understanding the commercial context in which they are being applied. It is about judgement; making the best judgement for the client as well as for our business.’
– Judith Aldersey Williams
‘Softer skills are important’
‘Assuming that someone has the technical skills required for a role, then the softer skills are important. For example, how do they deal with people or with conflict? How do they make things happen? Self awareness is also very important; in other words, someone who knows  who they are and can articulate that. I also look for someone who can overcome adversity. I need to know that when the going gets tough, they will have the resilience to get through it.’
– Vivienne Cox CBE
‘Define success on your own terms’
‘It’s not just about promotion, but about succeeding in what you choose to do. In no particular order, I’d advise:
  • Do something you love
  • Have a sense of your own achievement;whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability –embrace every task with 100% effort
  • Don’t let other people tell what you can do, or what you should be. At the same time, be ready to accept feedback
  • Be true to yourself and what you believe in. Make a conscious choice and then stick by it. If you’re not happy about something, then address it; don’t be a victim
  • Have fun. It’s important to keep a balance; define success on your own terms, not on those of other people’

– Alison Goligher OBE


  • Demonstrate you can do your own job well
  • Understand the wider context of the office where you work
  • Demonstrate that you can take on other challenges
  • Understand the requirements of the next job
  • Get feedback on how you’re doing
  • Put your name forward for promotion
  • Look outside, for other roles in the company or in the wider industry
  • Check out whether you are being paid fairly
  • Develop your interpersonal skills and help develop those around you
  • Aim high. Why not?

‘Be honest, authentic and positive’
‘I look for someone who will appreciate the contribution from the rest of the team, but will also understand their own contribution. I like to
see someone with energy; someone who is honest, authentic and positive in attitude. I like people who are goal focused; they don’t  necessarily need to be the best technically. They also need to be good communicators.’
– Myrtle Dawes
‘Sometimes it’s about bringing in somebody different’
‘The manager who first recruited me into the industry told me that he was looking for someone different. I had the edge because I was a woman and I was coming in from outside his organisation. Sometimes it’s not about promoting the next person in line; sometimes it’s about bringing in somebody different. That difference is not necessarily always about gender – it can also be about coming from a different industry or age range.’
– Susan Elston
‘Passion and genuine interest: you can always see if it’s there’
‘When I’m looking to recruit, I look for a sense of passion. Most people can speak about the job and what it entails, but what fires me is whether they have the passion and a genuine interest in it. You can always see if it’s there. They’ll asking interesting questions and inquire about the broader opportunities the role
might offer.’
– Dame Judith Hackitt


Mentoring, sponsorship and professional coaching are recurring themes in the  careers of many successful women in the industry.

‘Incredibly important to have a mirror’
‘I think mentoring is key. I encourage my team to find mentors. I think it’s incredibly important to have a mirror. It helps me to structure my thinking; it puts a discipline around my thoughts and issues. You have to drive it, but it’s a really powerful tool that helps you stand back from things.’
– Deirdre Michie OBE
‘Communicate well and possess a certain gravitas’
‘When I’m promoting someone, I look for people skills more than anything else.  You can teach technical skills but it’s harder to teach people skills. I look for  people who:
  • Have confidence in their own skin so that, instead of worrying about howthey’re doing, they can listen to what others need and then they can workwith them
  • Are empathetic and understanding of another person’s position
  • Communicate well and possess a certain gravitas – this often comes withexperience, so usually you get someone with the right blend of peopleand technical skills
A younger person may seem nervous or insecure, but they could be naturallyempathetic with others and willing to take a risk to get something done.’

– Gretchen Haskins

‘Contributions beyond job delivery’
‘I always look for someone with a track record of delivering their job, but who is also actively developing themselves and their team. I look to see what  contribution they are making beyond themselves. Are they developing someone else, or can they show they’re looking at how to use a new technology that will help the business?’
– Leigh-Ann Russell
‘Mentoring usually leads to sponsorship’
‘Mentoring and sponsorship are vital in my view. I see mentoring as talking with someone, and sponsorship is talking about them in a positive way when they’re not in the room. You can have one without the other, but mentoring usually leads to sponsorship.’
– Dr Ceri M Powell
‘A guide and sounding board… no matter your age’
‘Everyone needs a mentor. That’s especially the case for a woman who has  aspirations, but in truth it can be anyone at any time. People sometimes take the mentoring relationship too seriously and so are a bit afraid of it.


In fact, all it involves is someone, not in your direct line, who is a guide and sounding board. It doesn’t matter whether you are 22, 42 or 52 – there will be days when you need the sounding board. It might be because you have an idea but don’t know how to frame it, or it’s not landing the way you want it to. Or perhaps your boss has sent you a note that has really wound you up but you’re thinking of responding in a way that won’t have a good outcome. You need to talk that through with someone else. They will give you feedback and/or suggest a different approach. No matter what age you are, it’s fabulous to have a mentor.’
– Colette Cohen