You should be happy you have a job - how often have you heard that these past few years? With unemployment still high, and many highly skilled and experienced professionals waiting at the sidelines, those of us with jobs don't complain too much about non-existent pay raises or stagnant careers. So which careers are the hardest to be promoted in? Here are some of America's toughest corporate ladders to climb, and some tips on how to get ahead. (For more, see the Top Paying Jobs For Undergrads.)

IN PICTURES: 6 Hot Careers With Lots Of Jobs

  1. Finance
    It's all about the numbers in finance - and they'd better be going up if you want to get ahead. Not only does this career field expect you to have a broad knowledge of economics and finance, be licensed in many cases, and keep up with ever-changing regulations, you also have to add to the corporate bottom line. For financial advisors, this means gaining enough clients, for brokers, this means making the right investment calls.
    Recent shakeups in the financial markets have left many professionals unemployed, making entry and promotion in this field highly competitive. (Are you a finance student? Don't miss Top Job-Search Mistakes For Finance Grads.)

  2. Advertising
    We've all cringed at bad commercials, and laughed and replayed the good ones. It's the advertising professionals who labor over these 20-second spots, catchy jingles and clever slogans, and as you can imagine, advertising is a highly competitive field. This sector is first hit when companies look to cut costs, making it prone to layoffs. Climbing the corporate ladder takes creativity and sales savvy - and a willingness to travel and work long hours.

  3. Sales
    Even more so than finance and advertising, a career in sales is all dependent on your sales numbers - what have you brought to the company's bottom line? In a shifting economy with countless layoffs, many of which in sales, the career field has become more competitive, with tougher promotion chances than ever. Where sales was once a good entry-level career for high school graduates, to get the best pay and chance at promotion, you'll need a proven track record and more often than not, a college degree.

IN PICTURES: A Bigger Salary Or Better Benefits?

  1. Publishing
    Ah, to be a writer - seems like a fun and easy job, right? Think again; with many publishing venues like newspapers going under or suffering corporate cutbacks, many experienced writers find themselves working harder for less, with few chances for advancement. Editors and other publishing professionals face fierce competition. Many editors are evaluated by the sales of their end products, like books or magazines, making this a highly competitive field. With increasing competition, getting promoted is tougher than ever in publishing.

  2. Sports
    We all watch the baseball players, football stars, and Olympic athletes on TV - and yell when they make those dumb, obvious mistakes. It looks so easy, right? The truth is that only a few make it big in sports, with many staying at the bottom rung of the ladder, unable to move up. (To learn more, check out The Professional Sports Portfolio.)

    Competition is fierce, even among those who are fortunate and talented enough to call themselves professional athletes. Coaches pay their dues, building a winning record at the lowest level before working their way up. Even umpires must undergo rigorous training, and work an average of seven to ten years in the minor leagues before being eligible for the majors. Not to mention the people reporting on the games, they too are in an ultra-competitive industry. A career in sports is as competitive as the game, making it one of the hardest ladders to climb.

  3. Entertainment
    Who hasn't dreamed of being an actor or a singer? A career in entertainment is truly a dream, with one of the toughest career ladders to climb. Actors have to pay their dues, competing for work with thousands of hopefuls. Musicians face similar competition, having to work long hours, extra jobs, with uncertain career prospects. Producers, directors and other entertainment professionals face similar competition. A career in entertainment means fighting and networking your way up the ladder if you want to get ahead. (You can learn a lot from superstar comebacks. Check out Top Celebrity Career Comeback Tips.)

The Bottom Line
So what to do if you find yourself stuck in one of these competitive careers, or if your dream job happens to be in one of these fields? Get noticed by going the extra mile and taking on projects that others shy away from. Look for opportunities to innovate, and take on more complex tasks that might not fall under your current job description, but would fit your desired promotion. Mentors can teach you the tricks of the trade, and help you get ahead once you're ready. For careers in sports, entertainment and publishing, understand the importance of paying your dues. Sometimes you have to start at the very bottom of the ladder to get your best footing.

For all of these tough career ladders to climb, network with professionals, peers - anyone you know could be your leg up to the next rung on the ladder. In these competitive careers, it's the savviest man or woman who wins and climbs the fastest. (For more tips, see the Top 6 Ways To Recession-Proof Your Job.)

For the latest financial news, check out Water Cooler Finance: The End Of The Recession.

Want to learn how to invest?

Get a free 10 week email series that will teach you how to start investing.

Delivered twice a week, straight to your inbox.