Created By: anithri on April 19, 2011 Last Edited By: InTheMirror on March 19, 2014

Career Ladder

The career of the protagonist, especially in a military context, is an important element of the story.

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Do We Have This One?, Needs More Examples, Needs a Better Description, Needs a Better Title, Up for Grabs.

Alt Titles: Climbing the Ranks

In a series with multiple installments, One or more of the antagonists is nurturing a career. Usually the series will include training, apprentice time, coming into his own (The Captain), and climbing into the highest ranks. This is often in a military context where the hero may start as a lowly soldier, but is rewarded time after time with promotions, better assignments and other recognitions. Tropes like Reassignment Backfire, The Neidermeyer, Field Promotion, Pointy-Haired Military Boss, and Tyrant Takes the Helm are often seen during the series.

Rank Up is related to a single promotion, and not a career. Workaholic is concerned with the negative ramifications of such dedication to a career.

Any organization that has a hierarchy is capable of supporting a Climbing The Ranks character. The military is the prime example, but police, government, intelligence, and corporate organizations also nicely fit.

Realistically this trope is used by millions around the world.

It falls into the Characterization Tropes and Military and Warfare Tropes groups.

Climbing the Ranks is most often seen in mediums that tell many different storys about the same character. Literature, Anime/Manga, Comic Books, Live-Action TV, Western Animation, Tabletop Games, Video Games

Examples

Film

Literature
  • The Horatio Hornblower series shows him at all ranks from Midshipman to Admiral.
  • Since Honor Harrington is Horatio Hornblower IN SPACE!! (even the same initials) that naturally it follows the same Climbing The Ranks. Honor starts with her first cruiser command (On Basilisk Station) and followers her as she is knighted, ennobled, and ascended the ranks to Fleet Admiral.
  • The Richard Sharpe series follows him from footsoldier to Officer.
  • The Aubrey-Maturin series follows Jack Aubrey through only a few ranks, but a whole series of ships and assignments. Jack takes his career very seriously and his worst enemies are often the ones who threaten his career rather than simply his person.
  • The second half of Elizabeth Moon's Familias Regnant series (starting with Once A Hero) follows Esmay Suiza as she moves up in the ranks from newly-promoted lieutenant through her first command.
  • In the Discworld City Watch novels, Carrot and Angua both go from Lance-Constable to Captain.
  • Ryan starts off as a lowly analyst and eventually becomes President.

Live-Action TV

Community Feedback Replies: 22
  • April 20, 2011
    Unknown Troper
    Given the feedback I got, I changed Climbing the Ranks to Career Ladder to make it a bit more general. I'll prolly add a different trope for the kind of attention and nurturing some characters give their career (Aubrey, Harrington, Hornblower...).
  • April 20, 2011
    Fanra
    The Honor Harrington series starts with her first cruiser command (On Basilisk Station) and followers her as she is knighted, ennobled, and ascended the ranks to Fleet Admiral.
    The Horatio Hornblower series shows him at all ranks from Midshipman to Admiral.

    I think it should be noted that since Word Of God has stated that Honor Harrington is Horatio Hornblower In Space! (even the same initials) that naturally it follows the same Climbing The Ranks.
  • April 20, 2011
    0dd1
    The Abbott And Costello movie Little Giant involves Costello's character moving up the ranks from salesman (after getting hired in the most hilarious way to eventually being in charge of the company.
  • April 20, 2011
    Micah
    • The second half of Elizabeth Moon's Familias Regnant series (starting with Once A Hero) follows Esmay Suiza as she moves up in the ranks from newly-promoted lieutenant through her first command.
  • April 22, 2011
    DaibhidC
    • In the Discworld City Watch novels, Carrot and Angua both go from Lance-Constable to Captain.
  • April 24, 2011
    captainbrass2
    • This is an element of The Departed, as we see Colin Sullivan rise from State Police cadet, to State Trooper, to Detective. His promotion is relatively rapid and doesn't exactly increase his popularity with some of the other characters. Of course, he'd be even less popular if they knew that he's The Mole /spoiler.
  • June 11, 2013
    InTheMirror
    YKTTW Bump. Let's see if we can resurrect this discussion.
  • June 11, 2013
    RandomSurfer
    In the Time Enough For Love substory "The Tale of the Man who was Too Lazy to Fail" a man joins the Navy because he's too lazy to plow his father's fields. Through "constructive laziness" he rises to the rank of Admiral.
  • June 11, 2013
    eowynjedi
    Live Action TV:
    • Happens in various Star Trek series:
      • Members of The Original Series' crew go from lieutenant, commander, etcetera to captaincy in the interval between series and movies.
      • Commander Riker's refusal to advance upwards is discussed more than once The Next Generation. He would rather remain first officer of the flagship than captain of an unknown vessel, but he finally takes the promotion as of Nemesis.
      • Nog of Deep Space 9 is one of the most-promoted characters in the franchise--some of it due to the Timey Wimey Ball and circumstances of war, but his advancement from cadet to lieutenant by the end of the series does stick. He is personally quite conscious of his career, too.

    Video Games:
    • Final Fantasy VIII uses this as a gameplay mechanic. Although Squall becomes commander of Garden on Disc 2, his pay grade is determined by things that the player does. Dawdling around the world map for too long can get you demoted a rank, but you can also raise it by taking a written test.

    Theater:
  • June 11, 2013
    arbiter099
  • June 12, 2013
    Koveras
    • The Sith Inquisitor's storyline in Star Wars The Old Republic is revolves mainly around your character rising through the Sith hierarchy from a simple slave, through acolyte (prologue), apprentice (chapter 1), independent Lord (chapters 2 and 3), and finally to a Dark Lord of the Sith with a seat on the Dark Council (end of chapter 3).
  • June 12, 2013
    nielas
    • Golden Boy is the story of Walter Clarke, a police officer who is promoted to detective and then rises through the ranks all the way to police commissioner in only seven years. The show's Framing Device is the newly promoted police commissioner recalling the events that led to his meteoric rise to the top. A major theme of the series is Walter trying to reconcile his career ambitions with doing what's right.
  • June 13, 2013
    nielas
    • On Suits a major plot point is the competition for promotions between Harvey Specter and Louis Litt. They started out at the law firm of Pearson Harman at the same time as Junior Associates and have risen through the ranks of the firm at a similar pace. Luis became a Junior Partner ahead of Harvey and as the series starts Louis resents the fact that Harvey is about to be named a Senior Partner instead of Louis. It's no secret to anyone that Harvey ultimately wants to get his name added to the firm's. Jessica Pearson fears that Harvey's ultimate career ambition might be to replace her as Managing Partner which leads to increasing conflict between them as the series progresses.
  • November 27, 2013
    XFllo
    Does anyone want to sponsor this draft?
  • March 17, 2014
    XFllo
    Hm, a very simiar trope has been lauched recently. Up Through The Ranks. We probably can just copy examples from here there and discuss which description is better and tweak that one.

    Career Ladder and Climbing The Ranks could be redirects.

    Any comments?
  • March 17, 2014
    Koveras
    ^ Laconic.Up Through The Ranks reads "Veteran enlisted soldier is made a commissioned officer." This is about plots where the protagonist gets a Rank Up multiple times, reflective of his character growth. I see a related trope but definitely not a duplicate. Besides, some of the examples above are not even from a military context.
  • March 18, 2014
    marcoasalazarm
    Ykttw bump.
  • March 19, 2014
    XFllo
    ^^ Ok then, I must read the trope description once again. I probably somehow mis-read it.
  • March 19, 2014
    randomsurfer
    Music: In Allan Sherman's version of "When I Was a Lad" subverts this by describing his ascent through the ranks of corporate society, going from a pencil-sharpener to a partner, by keeping his mouth shut and his ears open; but at the end:
    So I thank old Yale
    And I thank the Lord
    And I also thank my father who was Chairman of the Board
  • March 19, 2014
    nielas
    This is common in stories about lawyers and law firms where "making partner" is often a major motivation for a character.

    • On The Good Wife all the associates want to become partners someday and are keenly aware of their position within the firm's ranks. It causes a bit of a controversy when third year associate Alicia is given her own office since that is a privilege usually reserved for partners and fourth+ year associates.
      • Carey decides to quit his job at the State Attorney's office when an office indiscretion causes him to lose seniority and stall any chance of advancement for the foreseeable future
  • March 19, 2014
    StarSword
    Sponsor of Up Through The Ranks here. This is definitely not the same thing. That trope started out titled "Prior Enlisted" and referred to an enlisted man who got made a commissioned officer (the definition was tightened to veteran rank-and-file soldier later in the YKTTW process).

    This trope may potentially incorporate Up Through The Ranks, but they're not the same.

    Literature:
    • The Dirigent Mercenary Corps series follows Lon Nolan through his career with the DMC. The titles of the six books in the series correspond to the rank he holds, from Officer Cadet to Colonel.

    Video Games:
    • Done oddly in Star Trek Online, since your Player Character's rank is tied to their Character Level. You get an early promotion to O-3 (Lieutenant) at the end of the tutorial and by the endgame you hit O-9 (Starfleet/Romulan vice admiral, Klingon lieutenant general) at level 50.
  • March 19, 2014
    randomsurfer
    In one episode of Gomer Pyle USMC Gomer is pushed into taking the Corporal's exam along with the rest of his platoon. He doesn't want to because Privates are considered the 'backbone' of the Marine Corps and "I like being the backbone."

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

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