Throughout your career you must navigate a wide array of situations. One area in particular seems to cause the most confusion, angst and frustration, confounding new and seasoned employees alike:
How do I get promoted?
It's a topic that evokes a depth of emotion, causing intelligent people to question their worth, drawing out insecurities in even the most confident people. As an HR professional I frequently find people perplexed by the promotion process and hear complaints of unfairness, even conspiracy, as to why an individual hasn't been promoted. More often than not, there are a handful of fundamental actions every employee should be taking that these employees are neglecting. Here are nine tips to help you get promoted.
1. Get around the right people. The law of association is powerful. If you want to become more intelligent, spend time with intelligent people. If you want to be a great Product Manager, spend your time with great Product Managers. If you want to get promoted, then associate with those in your field who have been promoted. They've done something right. Habits rub off. Be intentional about spending time with the very best and you will become more like them.
2. Stop spending time with the wrong people. The counter point to tip #1 is equally important. If you spend time with the whiners, complainers, those who feel they have been unduly passed over for promotion, you are likely to take on a similar victim mentality and you are likely to languish in no man's land longer than you wish.
3. Attitude is everything. You may be the most brilliant programmer, designer (fill in your job here) in the company, but if you are prickly and difficult to work with, then you are certainly adding to the complexity of getting promoted. Central to getting a promotion is the endorsement of others. If you are arrogant, self-aggrandizing, grumpy, or generally unpleasant, chances are your endorsements will be slow in coming.
4. Communicate. No one knows better than you all that you are doing. It's important that you create an appropriate and effective method of communicating your accomplishments to your manager in a manner that suits their style, not yours. It should be written, brief, and consistent. A few bullet points at the end of each week will go a long way in keeping your boss informed. Too often I hear, "My manager doesn't ask me for weekly status reports." Do it anyway. Otherwise be content to know that your manager has a very limited understanding of your contributions. Limited understanding leads to slow promotions.
5. After you communicate, communicate some more. Many people take the stance, "My work will speak for itself." Understand that "your work" has a limited vocabulary. Your manager, and everyone else in the company, is juggling a thousand things, putting out fires, dealing with their own career aspirations, and managing the expectations of every one of their direct reports, all of whom want a promotion. Your great work needs a voice and a spokesperson. (Tip #4 above should help.)
6. Participation is highly recommended (read: required). Just like Spanish class in high school, participation is essential if you want to do well. You've got to speak up, participate in meetings, interact effectively and regularly with your team. If you don't participate, people will assume you have nothing to contribute. Those who are perceived as having nothing to contribute generally do not get promoted. It would be better for you to not attend a meeting than to attend and never say a word. If you truly have nothing to say, then ask yourself why you are attending the meeting at all.
7. Invisibility is great if you are Harry Potter, but it won't help you get promoted. The promotion process inevitably includes discussions between managers and a comparison of employees to determine who is and isn't ready for a promotion. If your manager recommends you for a promotion and the other managers do not know who you are, it's going to be difficult to get the necessary endorsement. You may be doing phenomenal work, but if people don't know who you are, they certainly don't know your work. Get to know the managers across the org. Make sure that you are visible enough so that when your name comes up people know who you are and can speak to the impact of your work.
8. Don't fixate, obsess, myopically focus on getting promoted. Sometimes employees get stuck in a rut and spend way too much time and energy thinking about when he/she will get promoted. A conversation about promotion should take place once or twice a year (maybe three times?), but not every month. An employee who is constantly bringing up promotion risks having their manager shut down and tune out. Too many promotion conversations will actually work against you. Badgering and begging will only convince your manager that you lack the maturity needed. Instead, focus on the work, understand what's expected of someone at the next level and start performing at that level of work.
9. Go with the current not against it. Companies usually have a regular cadence of when promotions are considered, often in conjunction with the annual performance review, or every six months. If you are going to make the case to your manager that you should be promoted, do it ahead of these regular promotion cycles. Work with the cadence of the company, not against it. Yes, off-cycle promotions do happen, but it's much easier to be the rule and not the exception. Don't fight the odds. Time your request for consideration to align with the natural times the company does promotions and you will increase you likelihood of success.
Too many people cross their fingers and hope it will all work out. Worse, in their frustration, they take actions or make demands that are counter productive to advancing their careers. Try the nine tips outlined above for the next six months and see if the outcome improves.