Career Advice

13 Mistakes Employees Make When Trying to Land a Promotion

You’re trying to land a promotion, so you’re not exactly out to commit a work faux pas. Yet, according to career coach Hallie Crawford, it’s very common for employees to make a wrong move when they want to climb the corporate ladder. What’s even worse, “most people don’t realize they are making these mistakes,” Crawford says.

What are those promotion-killing mistakes? Here are 13 you never want to make.

1. You don’t tell your boss you want a promotion.

Contrary to some employees’ opinions, “getting a promotion is not a miracle,” says Crawford. Rather, hard-working and talented workers — who have vocalized their desires to do more — are rewarded with new titles. But if you’ve never told your boss your dreams of a new, higher-up role, you can’t expect him or her to give you one. “Your boss may not even be aware of your career goals,” Crawford says. ” So, schedule a meeting with him or her to let your boss know that you would like to work towards a promotion. [Then, while there,] ask for feedback on how to do so.”

2. You don’t show off your leadership skills.

You can still be a leader at work, even when you’re not the boss. And in fact, if you want a promotion, you have to show off those leadership skills, Crawford says. Why? “Superiors look for those [employees] with leadership skills for promotions,” she says, “so being good at your job isn’t enough.” Instead, Crawford suggests you “look for ways to motivate [your] coworkers, offer suggestions, and go the extra mile.”

3. You aren’t dressing for the job you want.

As Crawford points out, “a leadership position further represents the organization you work for, so if you don’t look like a leader you probably won’t be chosen to be a leader.” In other words, while it may be OK to show up to your job in jeans a T-shirt, if your boss wears khakis and a polo — or even slacks and a jacket — then it’s time to upgrade your work wardrobe. “While dress codes vary by industry, take note of how the person in the position you would like to have dresses and try to imitate them,” Crawford suggests. “You don’t want to sacrifice individuality, but dress your best.”

4. You only do the bare minimum.

If you think your boss doesn’t know just how many minutes you log on Facebook a day, think again. “Your boss notices if you are just coasting through your job,” says Crawford. “And that will not help you to get a promotion.” Instead, try conducting a little experiment during your full day of work. “Track your time,” she instructs, “and determine how you can better manage it to get more done without cutting corners.”

5. You act like a know-it-all.

There’s a difference between being knowledgeable and being a know-it-all — because being the latter could cost you a promotion. “Superiors will look for someone who can still be trained and molded for a new position,” explains Crawford. “And if you come across as a know-it-all, they may feel that they can’t train you.” Instead, “don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know something and cultivate humility,” she says.

6. You complain — a lot.

Everyone has to get out a work gripe here or there. But constant complaining “raises a red flag for superiors,” Crawford says, “because it drains energy and excitement from the workplace. [Plus,] complainers don’t make good leaders.” Not sure where you fall on the spectrum? Try to “tally up how many times you complain this week, determine what themes you see, and come up with a plan to improve the situation,” instructs Crawford.

7. You don’t know what your boss wants.

You know you want a promotion. But do you know what your boss wants, his or her work desires that will get you there? “You may not be communicating or completing tasks in the most effective way, and this could lose you a promotion,” explains Crawford. Rather than assuming you already know, “get to know your boss and his preferences, and see how you can adjust your work to better please him,” she says.

8. Your boss doesn’t trust you.

We’re not saying you flat-out lied. (Though maybe your boss caught you in a fib if you took a sick day and then posted photos of yourself at the beach.) What we’re talking about is the kind of trust that comes when a boss knows you can complete a task, and complete it well. “You may not have great communication skills or you may regularly miss deadlines,” explains Crawford, and that can cause trust issues between you and your boss. If so, “talk to your boss about the best way to keep him updated on projects and then be diligent about completing them,” Crawford advises.

9. You seem shady.

According to Crawford, “Your reputation will say a lot about you, especially when it comes to a promotion.” To snag one, you’ll have to “avoid any gray areas,” she says, “and dishonesty,” like that aforementioned sick day you took so you could hit the beach. In other words, don’t give your boss a reason to question the kind of worker you are, or the kind of employee you would be in that new, higher-up position.

10. You only want the money.

Most promotions also come with a pay raise, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to earn a little (or a lot) more money. But if you’re only chasing a new role for the cash, you might get passed up for people who really want the job responsibilities as well as the extra income. “Your superiors will choose someone who cares about the company, not just someone who wants a bigger paycheck,” says Crawford.

11. You don’t set personal goals.

You have to have your eyes on the prize — a.k.a. the promotion, of course — but you should have other goals in your nine-to-five, too. And if you do, Crawford says, you will make yourself a more appealing candidate for the job. “If you aren’t currently improving yourself, your boss may feel that you won’t help others,” she explains. You don’t have to go crazy. “Think of three things you want to improve and gauge your progress over the next few months,” she says. Crush those, then pick more.

12. You don’t have people skills.

“If you aren’t able to communicate effectively or get along with others, it will limit your chances of climbing the corporate ladder,” warns Crawford. In your new role, you may have to manage another employee or an entire team—and your boss needs to know that you can interact with them in a positive, motivating way. Show off those skills now. “Think about the ways you currently interact with others,” she says, “and determine how you can better your people skills in each situation.”

13. You don’t take care of yourself.

Think your boss doesn’t care if you’re taking care of yourself as long as you get the job done? Think again. “Bad eating, exercise, and sleep habits come across in the workplace, whether you like it or not,” Crawford warns. And your boss may think, “if you can’t take care of yourself how can you take care of others?” she says. If you know you could take better care of yourself at work and home, “set small, attainable goals for yourself,” Crawford says. “This will help you feel energized and positive.”

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