Moving On Up: Jackie Schaffer on Career Advancement

In this guest post by Jackie Schaffer, she explores the ideas of career advancement and progression.

“How do I progress in my career?” This is a common question creative leaders often hear from their team members. It’s asked in many different ways, but at the end of the day the root of the question is everyone wants to know how to get promoted. Before you ask that question of your manager, you need to consider what it means to you. What does progressing look like? And why do you want it?

  • A more senior title?
  • A larger paycheck?
  • More responsibility?
  • More influence?
  • More autonomy?
  • To develop other designers?

It’s fair to say we’d all like to be paid more and would like a more prestigious title. There’s no shame in admitting that, but it’s not what will get you promoted. So when you have this conversation with your manager, you need to focus on how you’d like your contribution to change. Getting promoted isn’t just about what you’ve already accomplished, but about what you want to do and your potential to succeed in your next role.

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Photo from Shutterstock

Let me emphasize that again—you don’t get promoted because you’re great in your current role, you get promoted because you have proven yourself in your current role AND you have the potential to be great in your next role.

The career path of in-house designers is somewhat limited depending on the team size and the designer’s career goals. Larger teams offer more opportunities for growth. Typically we see a career path of designer > sr. designer > design manager and/or art director > creative director. But after reaching the title of senior designer, the ability to progress further is generally limited to the number of positions available. Therefore, sometimes the best opportunities to move up are to move out of your organization. You may need to move to a lateral position in a new organization, but this is worthwhile if there’s a greater opportunity to move up in that new organization.

In some cases, in-house designers learn that they really enjoy the non-design parts of their jobs (people development, project management, client management, brand, strategy), and this may lead them to seek opportunities in other parts of the company. Because in-house designers are hired for more than their design skills, they often have skills that are transferable to other career paths. I’ve had former team members move into research, human resources and even sales positions. So, in this respect, in-house designers have very broad career path options—if they’re open to leaving design … a hard choice for most of us.

As you think about your next step, consider what you enjoy most about your current role. Would you be disappointed to do less of this? Do you want to do more of it? Then consider how the next role would impact this. If management is one of your next steps, have frank conversations with other managers about what they love and what they dislike about their roles; see if those things resonate with you before you take the leap. Most of all, stay true to what you’re passionate about, but don’t be afraid to adopt new passions.


HOW Design LiveGet even more hiring advice at the In-House Management Conference at HOW Design Live 2014.


About In-HOWse Guest Jackie Schaffer
Jackie Schaffer, Vice President and General Manager of Cella Consulting, is a former in-house leader who has consulted for teams of all sizes, including Fortune 500 clients, government entities and educational institutions and has the unique opportunity to speak with hundreds of creative leaders each year. Cella helps creative leaders and their teams identify and execute strategic priorities, so they can increase their effectiveness and focus on creating high-quality creative. Cella is a co-author of the In-House Creative Services Industry Report and authors weekly blogs on business operations topics pertinent to the role of creative leaders.