A job or career ladder is a sequence of positions that is designed to guide employees in progressing from the most junior to the most senior positions within a job family. Most common in hierarchical organizations, it provides objective standards for specific job levels that are useful in hiring, developing and promoting employees. An effective job ladder is based on the knowledge, skills and abilities required for each position or rung along the ladder. An effective design includes lateral as well as promotional moves, with multiple entry points for early and mid-career new hires.

Define the purpose the job group performs within the organization, key tasks, products and objectives.

Consult with managers and workers subject matter experts, professional and educational organizations in the field to create a competency model that identifies the knowledge, skills and abilities that are needed to successfully perform the purposes described in Step 1. This will become the basis of your job ladder. Career OneStop, provided by the U.S. Department of Labor, offers a tool for building competency models as well as pre-defined model frameworks for various industries.

Divide the competencies into tiers from entry to management level. The lower tiers will include applicable foundational skills, abilities and behaviors. Middle and upper tiers will build on the competencies for the tiers below, adding specialized knowledge and technical competencies as well as leadership skills and behaviors.

Create and refine specific job titles and descriptions for each level, including the tasks and responsibilities of the position, reporting relationships, competencies, educational and experience requirements. Consider differences between responsibilities and qualifications for each tier and how an employee might move between jobs

Create a visual representation that describes your structure, showing each job and possible paths to and from it.

Assign salary ranges and obtain final approval from management.

Publish the job ladder information along with guidelines for employees about the critical development experiences needed to progress to the next tier.

Validate your job ladder over time by observing how effectively employees are able to progress from one tier to the next by acquiring and demonstrating the competencies you have included in the ladder.


Although listed as a linear series of steps, you will probably find that you need to move back and forth between the steps as you draft and refine the job ladder. Check with senior management to ensure that the structure you are creating represents organizational needs and does not create unnecessary hierarchical levels. Consider the impact on existing job incumbents.


Make sure that the requirements cited for each job are directly applicable to it. Be aware that people working in the field may tend to cite characteristics that they believe have made them personally successful but may or may not have direct application to the specific job or tier. Validate your information through multiple sources.