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The Road to the Corner Office: Looking for the On-Ramps

So what does it take to make it as a leader? Hard work? Talent? The ability to handle pressure? While all of these qualities are indeed important, it appears a crucial determinant is how many different job functions aspirants have performed over the course of their career.

Vocational social media platform LinkedIn discovered this quirk after analyzing the career paths of around 459,000 members globally who had worked at a leading consultancy and went on to become a vice president, partner or C-suite executive.

Of the roughly 64,000 members who reached the milestone, it turned out changing job functions was a winning move, while changing industries was not.

“Working across job functions, like marketing or finance, provides the well-rounded understanding of business operations needed to become an executive,” said LinkedIn economist Guy Berger.

“But switching industries—perhaps because of the learning curve or relationships lost—has a slight negative impact to moving up the corporate ladder.”

“Working across job functions, like marketing or finance, provides the well-rounded understanding of business operations needed to become an executive.”

Other swing factors included having an MBA, being based in the right city and being male.

For the average ex-consultant in LinkedIn’s sample, having an MBA from a Top Five college added the equivalent of 13 years work experience to their profile, while getting the same qualification from a lesser-known institution created a five-year boost.

New York, it turns out, is the place to be if you want to get ahead, while living in Washington, DC or Houston decreased chances for success.

Internationally, ex-consultants from Mumbai and Singapore were more likely to succeed, while Sao Paulo and Madrid had the most negative effects.

Berger said geographic discrepancies may be explained, in part, by the nature of industries in different cities. Financial services, for example, tends to be more hierarchical than the tech sector, he contends.

Turning to gender, the study found that a woman with the same profile as a man needed an average of 3.5 more years of work experience to reach the same probability of making it to the top.

About Ross Kelly

Ross Kelly
Ross Kelly is a London-based business journalist. He has been a staff correspondent or editor at The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and the Australian Associated Press.