Progressing your career - top tips

career progression Dec 02, 2019

By Sarah John and Kate Hunter, Joint Heads of the UK Higher Education Practice at executive search firm Perrett Laver

It is fair to say that many of us spend more time planning a holiday than our careers. But, we’re almost certain that most of us spend far more time in our workplace than we do on the beach! As executive search consultants, we spend our professional lives thinking and talking about careers, and recognise how beneficial it can be to stop and think about what you really want from your career and how you might get there. 


Here are some of our top tips: 


Take responsibility

This is your career and no one else will take as much interest in your progression and success as you will. Be confident in what you have to offer and brave in considering the options. 


Reflect on your ambitions and goals

Take the time to consider what your career aspirations are and how you might achieve these. Think about what you enjoy doing in your professional life, your particular strengths, any areas for development, and what is important to you in an organisation and employer. 


Ask for guidance and support

Talk to colleagues, mentors, sponsors, friends and family about their reflections on your skills and strengths, and seek advice on how to make your next move. Talk through specific opportunities and how you might approach an application. 


Be bold

It is well documented that us women will be far more reticent than our male colleagues in putting ourselves forward for roles when we don’t fulfil all, or almost all, of the criteria listed in the person specification. Be bold! If you like the look of an opportunity, feel you could do the job, and have experience against a good number of the listed requirements, go for it – you never know!


Tailor your applications 

Update and tailor your CV and covering letter for each and every opportunity. Ensure your most relevant experience is prominent, and tweak terminology where appropriate to match the person specification. In your letter, remember to mention why you want to be a part of the organisation and how you will make a positive contribution in the role. It is worth asking a couple of people to read your application, but remember – there may be a few universally acknowledged “dos” and “don’ts”, but there is no one right answer on the format and structuring of a CV and letter!  


Work with recruiters and headhunters 

It may be important to get to know recruiters or headhunters if you notice that they are often involved in recruiting to the type of role or career path you are interested in. Don’t be afraid to get in touch with them, either in relation to a specific opportunity or for a more general discussion. They can provide advice, give you a greater insight into what the organisation might be looking for, and can be a good source of feedback throughout a process. 


Personal brand

Most people now have an online presence that prospective employers can review. Check that you are happy with all the information that can be found publicly about you. LinkedIn can be a useful tool for showcasing your professional experience, gathering endorsements and recommendations, and for building a professional network. Be mindful of the content of tweets and other social media postings.



Networking can be a great way to learn about different roles, organisations and sectors, and also to learn from others’ experiences and to get advice. It can also be useful to let people know what your career goals are in order that they think of you if they come across a relevant opportunity. Networks can come in all forms and it is important that you find contexts in which you feel comfortable and where you can enjoy the interactions. 


Seek feedback

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. You will always learn something from going through a recruitment process and may be able to adjust your approach or technique in the future. It is important to seek feedback, successful or unsuccessful, and you should not be afraid to ask for more detailed information that will help you if it is not immediately forthcoming. 


Consider non-executive opportunities 

Non-executive roles can be a great way to broaden your experience, gain an insight into other sectors, pursue interests that you can’t in your substantive role and understand organisational governance.