You’ve been at your company for a few years. You get in early and stay late. You consistently get great feedback and have taken on more responsibility but still don’t have the promotion you want. At this point, progress may feel just out of reach like a shiny apple too far from the ground.
There are other factors besides job performance and time at your desk that go into getting promoted. We talked with some career experts to shine a light on the fruit at the top and why you haven’t been able to reach it. If you want to climb the ladder to get the rewards you feel match the fruits of your labor, consider these eight points.
1. Promotions aren’t based on tenure
You may see coworkers getting promoted after only one or two years, but here you are with no promotion after three or even five years. The length of time on the job isn’t the reason they were promoted. “A lot of employees equate time in [their] position as a primary criteria for promotion when I'd argue that it’s one of the smaller factors overall,” says Jill Santopietro Panall, HR consultant and owner of 21Oak HR Consulting, LLC.
Step up: It’s not about the time, it’s about your overarching progress and the steps you take toward advancement. If you’re not sure what needs to happen to advance your career, talk to your manager to open the conversation about your growth.
2. Taking credit: Advocating for yourself
Another reason people are passed on during promotion time? “They don’t speak up for themselves, or they minimize the work they do,” says Natasha Bowman, Chief Consultant at Performance ReNEW and author of the upcoming book You Can’t Do That At Work! 100 Common Mistakes That Managers Make. “When people say ‘Oh, it was nothing,’ or otherwise minimize their efforts, they’re coaching other people to view their contributions as small.
It’s ok to be proud: “Take credit where credit is due, and people will begin to recognize your achievements,” says Bowman. Figure out how to accept compliments on your work and track your achievements and progress so that you can build a case for your manager that shows your success and growth.
3. Bosses don’t read minds
You might be surprised how few people tell their manager they’re interested in a promotion. As Mary Grace Gardner, career strategist at The Young Professionista, points out, “Not every employee actually wants a promotion. While promotions oftentimes come with higher salaries, they also come with more responsibilities. Most employees are content with where they already are, so if you don't tell your boss that you want to move [ahead], they may have no idea that that is what you want.”
Reach: Meet with your supervisor and let them know about your desired growth path. Ask them what the next steps would be to get a promotion to the next level and what you need to do to get there.
4. Not demonstrating leadership skills
Promotions don’t just mean a new title, they often also mean overseeing and managing other workers. While you may be great at your current job, if you haven’t shown that you can be an effective leader and manager, you might not be considered for a promotion.
“Everyone thinks they can manage others, that it's a piece of cake, when, in fact, it's a tremendously difficult thing to do,” Santopietro Panall says. “If they have shown no aptitude for leading and also haven't made any concerted effort to try to gain those skills, I wouldn't move them into an advanced role just because they want it or they've been at your company for a while.”
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Walk the talk: Advancing into a management position can create resentment within the team, especially if you feel you were passed over for a promotion. Prepare for this by demonstrating your ability to be an empathetic, cool-headed leader when opportunities present themselves. Learn by the examples set by other good managers in the company. Hone your managerial communications and team-building skills.
5. Analyzing past performance reviews
“Many of my clients say ‘I'm giving everyone a 5 on their review, they are all going above and beyond!’ but that doesn't give anyone insight or room to grow,” says Santopietro Panall. If you have a good performance review but no promotion, your reviews might not be telling you what you need to work on to get to the next level.
Plan for your climb: If you’ve received consistently amazing performance reviews but haven’t been advancing in your career, it’s time to have an honest conversation with your manager about your strengths and weaknesses, what the criteria for promotion is, and how you can achieve that goal.
6. Responding to feedback
Constructive criticism can be a blow to your ego in the short term, but it’s essential to your career growth in the long term. “If [an employee] gets defensive when someone tries to give them criticism — deserved or not — that’s a good indicator to their supervisors that they are not open to growing in a senior position. If they want to get promoted, they have to be willing to take and use feedback to improve their performance,” Bowman shares.
Accept bruised apples: When you receive criticism, keep calm and resist the desire to argue about whether or not each aspect is true. Being able to take your lumps is part of career growth and development.
7. Not considering the big picture
Sometimes it seems like all you can do is keep your head above water with day-to-day tasks, projects, and meetings. “When people spend all their resources focusing on minute details or are so entrenched in their own projects, they miss the opportunity to develop their strategic thinking,” Bowman says.
Walk the whole orchard: Managers need to be able to see the big picture. Consider larger strategic goals for your team, department, and even the company and how you can help drive work towards those goals, and communicate those plans to your manager.
8. Staying in your comfort zone
You may not be getting promoted because you’re too focused on the responsibilities of your current job description. To prove that you’re worthy of a promotion, you need to show your ability to go above and beyond your position, Gardner says.
Uproot: If you have more responsibility at work but no promotion, your manager may believe you are satisfied where you are. Show your boss that you want to move ahead and can apply your work to more challenging scenarios, and you will be more likely to be considered for a promotion.Prepare to get ahead by preparing yourself for your conversation with your manager and be prepared to directly ask how a path can be carved out to get you where you want to be.