For many people, climbing the career ladder is not a smooth journey. When you landed your first real job you may have thought you had made it. Whether you envisioned staying at one company and climbing the ranks or saw yourself hopping jobs, with promotions and raises along the way, you might have assumed everything else would take care of itself. Your work would be recognized, and you would be rewarded.

Unfortunately, life rarely works out that way. Deciding where to work and how long to stay will be a constant question. When the economy is suffering and the job market is tight, making progress in your career can seem impossible. It can be tempting to hunker down and be grateful that you are still employed. While there is value in that, you don’t need to allow your progress to flounder. Stay motivated and keep your eye on your career goals. Downturns in the economy or trouble in your industry may create bumps in the road, but you can continue to move forward. Don’t allow circumstances outside of your control to knock you off course.

Don’t Make It Personal


When you are looking to advance, you should explain to your supervisor exactly why you deserve it. Explaining that you need more money because of something in your personal life is not the way to get a raise. Your boss wants to hear why you deserve advancement, not the reason why you don’t have enough money. Regardless of what is going on in your personal life, do not mention it when making your case.

Play to Your Strengths


Everyone has things they are good at and things they struggle with. Recognizing your strong points allows you to sell yourself to your boss. If you are great at running numbers, volunteer to take on more responsibility in that area. If presentations are your thing, look for opportunities to shine there. This does not mean to step away from other assignments. You want to be sure that your responsibilities allow you to showcase your talent.

Another way to play to your strengths is to look at the positions above yours. Are there specific skills or duties that often get set aside? Are there tasks that no one wants to take on? Volunteering to complete those roles may give you a pathway toward advancement. When a position opens up, having someone who has already assumed some of the duties can make you an attractive choice for the position.

Recognize Weak Spots


Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is one of the most important things you can do to build a successful career. Your strengths are things you do well, whether or not you enjoy them. Being the go-to person for particular tasks is the easiest way to make yourself indispensable to your team. Recognizing your weaknesses is not as rewarding, but just as necessary. Everyone has weaknesses, but the people who suffer because of it are the ones who don’t recognize them. Think of a coworker you have that is consistently late for meetings or with the information you need. This tardiness is a weakness, and you can be sure you are not the only person who notices it.

Recognize your weaknesses and look for ways to convert them to strengths. If you are the employee who is consistently late, behind in work, or disorganized, there are many books, podcasts, and online resources for beating these bad habits. If you landed your job without a college degree, now may be the time to return to school. Online or evening courses make it easy to return to the classroom. Private student loans from allow you to borrow what you need to complete your degree. In a tough economy, you want to be sure you are doing everything possible to manage your career.

Promotions and Raises Are Not the Same


When you approach your supervisor, you should know exactly what you are asking for. Do you want a promotion, which involves a change in title? Or a raise? A raise often comes along with a promotion but you shouldn’t take that for granted. When times are uncertain, it is not unusual for businesses to put a freeze on raises. If your company has not put a formal policy in place, you can assume that a raise is possible. Be prepared to explain why you deserve the promotion, and a raise to go along with it. If there are no salary changes happening in your company, it is up to you to decide if you want to angle for a promotion. The title will come with added responsibilities, but no additional compensation.

If you have confidence in your company, or the economy, rebounding, consider going for the promotion. You can approach it with the understanding that you will revisit your compensation in the future. What if you are happy where you are, or there is a freeze on filling vacant positions? Landing a raise can be tough if your company is struggling, but not impossible. Gather notes that highlight areas where you have excelled, saved the company money, or landed important work. Be prepared to outline your worth.

Negotiate for a Win


Sometimes a raise or a promotion is not possible. If you have confidence that your employer is coming from an honest position, the best solution may be to negotiate some additional benefits. Even if you cannot secure a higher salary or better title, you may be able to land flexible work hours, additional time off, or other benefits that will improve your quality of life.

If you feel that your employer is using the economy as an excuse to block promotions or raises, it may be time to start looking for a new job. While switching jobs during a downturn in the economy can be scary, the best time to look for a new job is when you are employed. Sometimes it makes sense to recognize when you are at a place where employees are not valued and make plans to move on. There are many companies that encourage and support professional growth and advancement.