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Getting passed over for a promotion hurts.
And almost anyone who’s worked for awhile has experienced it. As frustrating as it seems, the reasons you haven’t been promoted may be unrelated to the quality of your work.
Office politics has such a nasty connotation. But the fact is, unless you know how to tactfully advocate for yourself, you’ll probably see coworkers move on while you languish in your beige cubicle.
It’s a common frustration for someone technically savvy with a good work ethic, to place too much emphasis on “getting the job done” and not enough on your path in the company.
Here, we’ll point out 7 ways you can take your nose off the grindstone a bit, and plant the seeds that’ll help to grow your career rather than be a slave to your job.
The 7 likely reasons you haven’t been promoted
It’s a pretty common situation for anyone who’s worked in an office or any kind of team environment for awhile. You suspect there’ll be an opening coming up, and you’re pretty sure you’re the candidate who’ll be selected. You’ve been there for five years, you’ve had really positive performance reviews, and you get along great with your manager.
And then it happens. Your teammate, who’s been with the company half the time you have, gets the job.
There’s a flurry of congratulatory emails, and you put on a smile, but inside you’re seething. You’re stung.
But when the dust settles, and you have time to think of the reasons you haven’t been promoted, it could be one of the seven below. If you can correct even some of these, you’ll put yourself in a much better position for next time.
1. You mistake tenure as criteria for being promoted.
I’ll use the same example we used above. Suppose you’ve been in a position for five years, just hanging on because you’re pretty sure your team leader is leaving. Finally, she makes the announcement she’s taking a job somewhere else.
You’re certain the job is yours. You’ve been here twice as long as every other team member.
The next day, your teammate with 18 months on the job is selected. You’re in disbelief. You want to get up and walk out, but you grit your teeth, congratulate your teammate and go home and cry.
You made the mistake of assuming that your length of service entitled you to the promotion.
Think of it this way:
Suppose you were a house painter. You’ve been in business for three years, and you’ve built up a successful business. You pride yourself in going over and above for every customer, and you’ve got dozens of references. One day you bid on a job that’s larger than any you’ve done before, but you know you’re capable of.
The job is awarded to another company, and when you ask why, you’re told… “They’ve been in business longer so we felt more comfortable going with them.”
You’d probably be pissed that someone was selected based solely on their years of service and not the quality of work they’d deliver.
In a union shop maybe seniority is a given. But anywhere else it’s not a good idea.
- When team members know the only way to a promotion is to outlast their coworkers, who’s ever going to step up in an emergency?
- Who’s gonna go the extra mile and volunteer to improve processes?
- Many employees work hard naturally, and don’t need to be micro managed. But when they see people repeatedly being promoted solely on the basis of tenure, how hard will it be to retain good people?
2. It’s not enough to be a subject matter expert
Suppose your department starts to use a new database or a new email system. Everyone has a learning curve. But you, being a dedicated employee, spend extra time on your own getting to know this new system. In fact, you get to know it well enough that you’re no longer struggling and you’re helping out your coworkers.
Here’s where you can help your team and yourself simultaneously.
Does your manager know you’re helping out your coworkers? Have a talk with him or her and volunteer to document some procedures or cheat sheets. Or offer to host a few informal lunch and learn sessions. Invite the team and your manager.
Make it known that you’re not only a subject matter expert, but you’re anxious to help out other team members.
When management can see that you’re not only an expert but you’re also mentoring and coaching others, you’ll gain recognition above and beyond that of an individual contributor. You’ll begin to be seen as a leader.
3. Don’t just dress the part – act the part
Nowadays where so many businesses employ a business casual workplace, it’s easy to spot the person dressing for success every day. But don’t assume a power tie or a nice outfit will get you anywhere.
Its substance not style, that’ll get you promoted.
I worked in IT for a long time where we were tasked with solving problems very quickly. One of the tools we used was an online chat. Every team member was required to join the chat first thing in the morning. So whenever someone ran into a roadblock they’d quickly bring it up in the chat.
Usually, someone else had already encountered the issue and would be able to give some quick assistance. But not always. Many times it’d be a real stumper. Something none of us had encountered.
A pattern emerged in our team chat. While everyone chimed in here and there, the same two or three people always made the effort to respond. They were just as busy as everyone else and sometimes had never heard of the issue.
By repeatedly stepping up and helping out, they not only became familiar with a lot more issues, but they became go to people on our team. People sought them out. When projects came up they’d be selected to participate. And when our entire department was outsourced to an overseas company and only a handful of employees were retained, guess who they kept?
It’s natural to feel overworked and want to stick to the scope of your job. After all, why should you do something you’re not getting paid for?
Answer – because leaders don’t wait to be told to lead. They see an issue and recognize the need for action. They help and mentor team members. And when it comes time to fill a leadership position, their work habits make it very hard to look elsewhere.
4. Be smart about showing up and saying the right things
In addition to becoming technically proficient, you’ll increase your chances of advancement by championing the company culture and getting to know the right people outside the office.
I don’t mean ass kissing. It’s not about buying the boss a donut every morning or ratting out your coworker.
You spend a third of your life in this place. Many companies recognize that and go to great lengths trying to foster a culture of inclusiveness and comradery. So if you have your sights set on advancement, then ignoring every activity isn’t a good idea.
The idea of deals being made on the golf course isn’t just a myth or something that applies only to VPs and directors. Unfortunately, promotions aren’t based on merit alone.
Make an effort to analyze your corporate culture. Are there after-hours clubs or get-togethers? Lunchtime activities? Free training in other areas?
Showing up at the holiday party, the picnic or other functions gives you a chance to build relationships with people who can have a big effect on your future.
Once you get to the party or the picnic keep a few things in mind.
- You may have busted your butt all year long, but if you puke on the dance floor that’s what you’ll be known for. It may be an open bar but a few free drinks aren’t worth the bad rep that’ll stick with you.
- And whether you’re at work or away from the office, sometimes the smartest thing to say is nothing. If your boss just said something in a group setting that you know to be incorrect, engage him or her in private. Showing them up in front of others isn’t a wise career move.
5. You don’t communicate strategically
It’s tough to get your foot in the door anywhere unless you’re seen as an “effective communicator”. But selling yourself in an interview and actually communicating on the job is much different.
Being detail oriented is one thing. But knowing who to speak with, how much to say, and when to say it is another.
One area where it’s easy to screw up is when something goes wrong. When something doesn’t go according to plan and impacts other areas, it can be overwhelming facing the slings and arrows.
You’re trying to resolve a situation and ensure it doesn’t happen again, and someone three levels above wants to know the root cause. Like today.
It’s essential to be accountable, diplomatic and maybe even push back a little. But you don’t want to appear to be making excuses or blaming other people.
Being able to acknowledge the situation, take ownership and communicate an effective solution shows that you’ve focused on the resolution and are ready to move forward.
If your communication focuses on the process and not the personalities, you appear to be more of a leader to upper management.
6. You didn’t ask for It – or communicate your intentions
If you’ve contributed to the success of your team for the past year, and you’ve received positive feedback from your manager, then it’s time to start making your intentions known.
You never know when an opportunity will present itself. And if you haven’t sat down and let your manager know what your aspirations are, someone else on your team probably has.
Try to set up a regular communications session with your manager, even if it’s a monthly lunch. Since managers vary in style, a regular sit-down will be a chance to learn more about their expectations.
But more than that, it gives you a chance to ask specifically what he or she expects from you that would qualify you to move into X position. Discuss each qualification and whether you meet it now, or what you’d need to do to get there.
How will this help?
- Initiating regular communication plants the seed in your manager’s mind that you’re not content to sit in this position for the next five years.
- You’ll be sending the message that you’re here to contribute and make a difference. And if you can agree at some point that you’re meeting the qualifications for X position and are still passed over then you won’t be sticking around.
- You don’t want to come off as demanding, but you also don’t want to leave any doubt between you that you have aspirations above and beyond where you are today.
To use a sales analogy – you could be selling a product to someone, and go on for an hour about every benefit your product will provide to your customer.
But at some point, you have to ask for the sale. I once heard a sales trainer say, “If at some point, you can’t ask for the sale, then you don’t deserve to make the sale”.
The same goes for your career. At some point, you have to ask for what you want.
7. Positioning Yourself for Further Advancement
If you’ve been hired by the company into your present position then you’ve come in with hardly any familiarity with the company culture, the employees or the management.
But once you’ve been there long enough to build some relationships and get a feel for the organization you’ll be better prepared to evaluate potential managers.
Why is it important to evaluate managers and not just your next potential position?
Have you ever wondered why the New England Patriots play deep into the playoffs every single year? Yea, I know, Tom Brady is one of the most skilled, competitive quarterbacks in the history of the NFL.
But much of the Patriot’s success is also attributed to their leader, Bill Belichick. Belichick has an uncanny ability to design systems and lead in a way that compensates for injuries, talent levels, and personalities.
He brings in ordinary players from other teams, plugs them into his system and they excel. The team never misses a beat. He devises a unique approach each week depending on their opponent, and always puts his team in a position to succeed.
So when you’re considering your next move in the company, it may not necessarily be a vertical one. And salary alone may not be the most important factor.
- Is there a team that stands out as successful and innovative, working on projects that’d further your own skill set? Who is the manager? Is he or she known for nurturing talent on the team and positioning them for success?
- Does the manager encourage training and back it up with a budget? Can you see where team members have had success and been promoted?
A manager who’s a real leader knows that their own, as well as their team’s success, depends on them setting their people up to succeed.
So instead of considering just salary, think a couple steps ahead. You may want to jump at a 6% raise, but consider where you might be two years down the road working under this manager.
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As bad as it feels to get passed over for a promotion, leaving isn’t always the best remedy.
It may have been office politics, and this may be an opportunity to learn what to do to increase your stock for next time – either here, or somewhere else.
I’ve seen one case, where a new, inexperienced employee rose particularly fast within about a year. It was obvious that this employee had very little experience, and yet within 6 months, this person was approving time off requests and getting assigned to projects. Then suddenly – surprise – both the employee and the manager were let go due to an improper relationship.
So, sure. Sometimes it’s possible to fall into an unfair situation regardless of how hard you work and how well you position yourself. But in most cases, trying to see the situation through your manager’s eyes – and actually initiating communication and feedback should increase your chances for the next promotion.
How about you? Have you been passed over for a promotion you thought you were qualified for? How did it affect you, and was there anything you began to do differently?
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