You’ve been at the company for three years. You’re the first one in the office in the morning, and the last one to leave at night. You consistently get great feedback, and your managers and coworkers all love you. So why is it that you haven’t gotten that promotion you’ve been eyeing?
Even when it feels like you’re doing all the right things, it may not be bad luck or resentment from senior management that’s holding you back. There are many factors besides performance at play when it comes to getting promoted, and if you don’t already know what they are, you may be left feeling confused and frustrated. We reached out to a handful of career experts to figure out what those not-often-mentioned, yet critical criteria are — if you’re serious about climbing up the ladder, it’s time to overcome the eight mistakes below.
1. You Think Promotions Are Based on Tenure
You may routinely see coworkers getting promoted after they hit their one- or two-year mark, but don’t mistake their tenure for being 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. “I constantly hear people say ‘I’ve been here for five years and I haven’t gotten promoted, I’m due a promotion’ and I find that confusing. You think you get a promotion just for showing up? There’s a disconnect there with what you need to do to get to the next level.”
2. You Don’t Advocate 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. “I see this all the time! When people say ‘Oh, it was nothing,’ or otherwise minimize their efforts, they’re coaching other people to view their contributions as small. Take credit where credit is due, and people will begin to recognize your achievements.”
3. You Didn’t Let Your Boss Know You Wanted One
It may sound obvious, but you might be surprised at how few people come out and directly tell their manager that 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. To many, that increase in scope is more stressful than exciting and they would rather not pursue it.”
“Most employees are content with where they already are, so if you don’t tell your boss that you want to move, they may have no idea that that is what you want,” Gardner adds. “Make sure to be clear with your boss that you want to grow in the company. Ask them what the next level would entail and what you need to demonstrate in order to get there.”
4. You Haven’t Demonstrated Leadership Skills
It’s important to remember that promotions aren’t just about leveling up in title — they often carry with them the responsibility of overseeing others. So while you may be great at your job, if you haven’t shown that you can be an effective leader, you may be out of the running 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. “I’m not a believer that people are born leaders and can’t learn, but 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.”
“Managers want to be careful with disrupting the team dynamic by promoting from within because it can oftentimes lead to resentment, but their decision will be a lot easier if you have shown your ability to rise up as an informal leader,” adds Gardner. “This could mean taking on the lead role for a project and rallying your peers to achieve a goal. Show that you can lead even without the formal authority and your manager will notice.”
5. You Haven’t Received Accurate Performance Reviews
“The adult version of grade inflation is managers giving everyone overly high reviews,” Santopietro Panall says. “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.” If you’ve received consistently amazing performance reviews but haven’t been advancing in your career, it’s time to ignore the pats on the back and have an honest conversation with your manager about what your strengths and weaknesses are, what the criteria for promotion are, and how you can achieve them.
6. You Don’t Respond Well 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. So when you receive it, don’t follow through on any knee-jerk reactions to argue about whether or not it’s true.
“If [an employee] get 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.
7. You Miss the Forest for the Trees
In a fast-paced office, sometimes it seems like all you can do is keep your head above water with day-to-day tasks, projects, and meetings. But “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. “Managers need to be able to see the big picture, and if you want that promotion, you need to show you can do that.”
8. You Don’t Push Beyond Your Comfort Zone
On a similar note, another reason you may not be getting promoted is because you’re too focused on the responsibilities of your current job description. But to prove that you’re worthy of a promotion, you need to show your ability to go above and beyond your position, Gardner says. “If you continue to do well in just your current responsibilities, your manager may believe you are content doing that work and that it would be best for the company to keep you where you are. Show your boss that you can apply your skills in a variety of settings, and you may be more likely to be considered for a promotion.”