Ask a coach: “How do I get promoted?”

This is one of those questions that I sometimes get asked after a training workshop, when someone hangs back because they’ve got a burning question that they didn’t want their colleagues to hear. On one hand I can help, as I can offer suggestions that enable the individual to clarify what they may need to do more or less of. On the other hand, as I’m not on the payroll I won’t know all the unwritten rules about ‘how things get done around here’ – but at least I can be impartial. Reflect on these five points to identify the action(s) you need to take.

How great are you at the job you’ve got?

Let’s not beat about the bush: are you 100% able to prove that you are worth more to your employer than the job you now have? Just occupying a role for a few years won’t get you promoted. How have you contributed to the performance of your team in particular and the business as a whole? What progress have you made in the past 3 months, 6 months, year? What results have you achieved? You need to be great at the job you’ve already got to be considered for the next level.

What knows? Who cares?

Now this might seem beyond obvious, but it’s worth stopping to think: have you actually had a clear and honest conversation about your promotion prospects? With whom? Your immediate boss can have some say so that’s always a good place to start. But just them? It may be worth sounding out someone more senior or a department head for their views and advice. If you’re just waiting in the wings wondering when you’ll get called, you could be waiting a long time. Put yourself forward and talk to the right people.

What does the next job up require?

As you talk to the right people, brace yourself for a reality check. Many years back I had a sobering conversation when I demanded (yes, demanded) the next step up and was shown the job description. There were heaps of things I needed to learn, practise and reassure my boss I could do before he was even going to consider promotion. What I was able to get was his support for me to take on new tasks and responsibilities to build skills and prove my worth. So my advice is to make sure you know exactly what the job you want entails and find ways to acquire and demonstrate those skills.

How can you plug your skills gaps?

OK, there may be some areas where you’re just not ready – yet. There are heaps of ways you can boost your skills. A training course may be just the right thing at the right time; find out what’s on offer at your employer, and if there’s nothing suitable check out your professional association or industry body. Or you may benefit from working with a mentor who’s in a different part of your organisation, or a coach (for differences between mentors and coaches, see this post).

Upwards or sideways?

A sideways move to another division, discipline or location, could be a brilliant way to round out your ability and build your network in the process. Blue-chip employers tend to do this as a matter of course to ensure valued employees really get to know the business, rather than move on up in a straight line with narrow knowledge. One of my most valuable experiences in my previous career was a three-month secondment; if you can find an opportunity like this, grab it.


You may also find this blog post useful: Getting promoted: what are you an expert in?

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’


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