To Unlock the Next Big Promotion, Leaders Must Up Their Career AQ

Posted September 9, 2021 in Business Technology & Digital Transformation Strategies
man going up green elevator alone

Note from the author: While I often write about organizations and technologies, this Advisor is a bit of a (related and important) tangent, as it focuses on career advancement. Invariably, in working with executives and rising leaders, particularly technology professionals and consultants, conversations turn to career challenges. I have long wanted to author a piece that captures an effective approach that, over many years, has resonated well with business professionals aiming for a promotion and meaningful career advancement.

Career coaches, counselors, and mentors are endlessly approached with the age-old question: “How can I find a better job?” While generic advice and supportive encouragement abound, a far superior, self-reflective question to pose in return is: “Why would a better job want to hire you?” Flipping the key work search question challenges rising leaders to think carefully and critically about differentiation that can speed advancement and the barriers that can hinder it.

The career advancement quotient (AQ) can accelerate and elevate professional success. AQ measures fit for next-level opportunities by emphasizing accomplishments that far exceed a current job description. It’s a much better gauge of whether a job move will be successful than traditional ways used to assess candidates. Professionals with high AQs move upward further and faster, while calming every hiring decision maker’s worst nightmare: risking the future by over-rewarding the past.

A Better Measure

Career AQs can be calculated easily from another “A” and “Q” pair: job appeal and qualification. Naturally, many highly appealing jobs (professional athlete, rock star, and the like) have few truly qualified candidates. That’s why a realistic approach to career advancement is aiming for work with high appeal and achievable qualification.

What makes a particular job appealing certainly varies by person, but often includes attributes such as compensation, company reputation, industry, profession or trade, geography, and development prospects. Stagnation, disinterest, and frustration arise when, among other workplace challenges, employees feel that their current assigned work is beneath their skill and offers little hope for growth. Advancement is not easy, but with patience and persistence, in the long run, the reward and satisfaction will outsize the effort (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 – The job quadrant.
Figure 1 – The job quadrant.


Too often, professionals find themselves with high qualification for jobs of low to moderate appeal; that common position of frustration and stagnation known traditionally as “overqualified.” Alternatively, job opportunities with high appeal for which one’s qualifications are not an ideal match represent an aspiration to which candidates must elevate qualifications to be appealing.

So, how is career AQ calculated? Think of appeal (A) and qualification (Q) as two dimensions, scaled from low to high, or 1-10. AQ’s math is easy with a simple formula:

A + Q

If A and Q both score highly, those jobs are a great fit, as they are appealing and the candidate is well qualified. Ultimately, if both A and Q scored 10, the average would be 10 – the perfect fit! Of course, after self-evaluating, share the result. Would others agree? That’s the answer that really matters.

Re-Craft Your Resume (Truthfully!) for the Future, Not the Past

Resumes typically chronologically detail experience. While they can be accurate, they are far too often woefully uninspiring. Crafting a resume and performing well in an interview require a delicate balance between compelling assertiveness and braggadocio. Substance always wins over form. Remember that interviews are mutual trust-building exercises. Applicants must know their audience (the potential employer or hiring supervisor) and humbly remember the fundamental AQ question: why would a better job want you?

The Career AQ approach applies to everyone from recent college graduates to executives. I vividly recall coaching a senior finance director with 15 years of public accounting experience who wanted to transition her career into strategy and business development in the pharmaceutical industry. Upon reviewing her resume, I told her that it was perfectly worded for a regulatory accounting job at a prospective employer, particularly in an era when technology screens for keywords. Her resume detailed her technical knowledge but omitted or understated her leadership, mentoring, training, client retention, and board of director relationship management responsibilities – the precise talents and experience her desired jobs (10 on appeal) were seeking!

At times, we don’t need more experience, we simply need to reflect more deeply on our past to highlight those specific strengths that would project highest on qualification for the jobs with greatest appeal.

Success Happens When Opportunity Meets Preparedness

Of course, the resume is merely a document to convey experience. Seek out work that will prepare you for what you want in the future. Long-term career success and satisfaction rests in enhancing your qualification, not diluting the standards of what is considered appealing.

If your current position does not demand the qualifications that you will need in the future, work smarter. Reach beyond your daily job responsibilities to work with others at your employer in novel ways – they will likely take notice, appreciate it, and bolster your skill, reputation, and confidence.

Start today – the thriving future you expect and deserve depends on it. Hone your career AQ and your professional trajectory will accelerate quickly!

Photo by Verne Ho on Unsplash

About The Author
Noah Barsky
Noah P. Barsky is is a Fellow with Cutter Consortium’s Business Technology & Digital Transformation Strategies, a member of Arthur D. Little's AMP open consulting network, and Associate Professor at Villanova University School of Business in the executive and graduate business programs. His research and teaching focus on performance measurement, business planning, risk assessment, and contemporary financial reporting issues. Dr. Barsky… Read More