How to Position Yourself for a Promotion

8 min read

You’ve been at your job for a while, and you just feel ready to take the next step. Or perhaps you’re wondering why other people with similar education and experiences seem to be getting ahead faster than you? 

It’s easy to blame “office politics” or just plain bad luck – and sometimes those things are certainly a factor – but not always. Promotions aren’t guaranteed, but there are steps you can take to improve your odds of being ready when an attractive opportunity for a promotion arises.

Here are nine tips to help you position yourself for a promotion at work.

Completely Master Your Current Role

Before trying to jump ahead to a new role, it’s important to establish your performance in the one you have. That will take some time – even several years – so you may need to be patient. Some organizations have formal guidelines on how quickly someone can be promoted, while others are influenced by informal cultural expectations. 

Develop a Reputation for Reliability

Consistency is essential to building great habits, developing your skills, and establishing your reputation. Show up to work on time, respect others, and work hard to produce high-quality work every day.

Take Initiative

Completing your daily to-do list is just the beginning. If you’re building your case for a promotion, you’ll want to search for ways to contribute your skills beyond the letter of your job description.

Focus on the areas that cause your boss the most stress. That demonstrates that you pay attention to the bigger picture beyond your job and that you’re a team player. 

Part of making your boss’s life easier lies in how you approach your boss with this offer of help. Instead of a general request to “take on more responsibility,” detail the specific types of projects or tasks you’d like to pick up. 

If you handle these small projects well, your boss may have you cover for them while they are on vacation, which is an excellent way to improve your visibility in the organization.

Track Your Performance History

Write down your wins. Include compliments you have received from customers, as well as teammates. Make a note of the outcome and impact of your work. 

By keeping a record of your accomplishments, you’ll be able to point to specific examples during your performance reviews, as well as your eventual job interview for a potential promotion.

Prepare for the Next Role

If you’re angling for a promotion, it’s not enough to be great at the job you have now. You’ll need to learn everything you can about the role you’re going after. That includes the technical skills you’ll need to perform the job, as well as the softer skills you’ll need to really thrive. 

Look for Patterns in Who Gets Promoted

Observe the people within your organization who have been promoted and see what they have in common. Did they take on additional responsibilities over time? Go back to school or earn other credentials or certifications? Did they work on high-visibility initiatives? Or pick up cross-functional experience? These factors can vary significantly depending on the culture of your organization.  

You may also notice patterns outside of your control, such as family-controlled businesses, or that potentially represent bias in hiring and promotion decisions. That can be disheartening, but at least you’ll know and can make a clear-headed decision about whether to stay in that environment or look elsewhere for opportunities.

Build Connections

Network with people who do the job you want or have held it before. That first-hand experience can give you significant insight into what to expect and how to prepare yourself to do it well.

Seek out a mentor or sponsor. A mentor can advise you on what skills you need to advance. A sponsor can champion you for opportunities.

Expand Your Skills to Match the New Job

Once you know what skills are required in the job you want, you’ll need to find ways to acquire and develop them. 

One obvious place to start: The official job description, if one exists. Go through line by line and assess where you stack up right now. Then seek out courses and projects that will give you a chance to develop them. Your employer may be willing to pick up the cost for some of this, so don’t be afraid to ask! 

Continuous Professional Development

You don’t have to wait until you are ready to apply for a specific opening to invest in your professional advancement. In fact, by continuously improving your skills and seeking out opportunities for growth and development, you’ll be well positioned to identify opportunities for promotion before they even become official jobs. 

Continuously Invest in Your Soft Skills

Technical skills are essential but don’t forget that “soft skills” become increasingly important as you move up the ranks. 

Invest your time developing skills that allow you to create more value at work. That can involve taking a course, reading a book, or attending virtual or in-person events. Volunteer work can also allow you to apply what you’re learning to real-life situations.

Be a Good Teammate

Being a strong individual contributor is rarely enough to earn a promotion, particularly one into management. Those roles go to people who can function well as part of a team. 

As you work with others, keep an open mind to ideas and methods that aren’t yours. Help to foster an environment that encourages collaboration and growth.

Find ways to develop social connections, as well. Attend office parties, join people for lunch, and grab coffee with team members in other departments.

Advocate for Yourself

Many of us may have been conditioned with the belief that we should let our hard work “speak for itself.” We might feel like we deserve a raise yet still hold back in salary negotiations because of this belief. 

However, that mindset can significantly hinder you from pursuing your career goals.

It really is OK to tell your manager that you want a raise or a promotion – and ask for their advice on how to get there. Focus on what you’ve done to deserve a promotion – not merely why you’d like one. They may say “not yet,” but don’t get discouraged. As for their advice on what you should do to get ready. Pay close attention to the feedback and guidance they provide and implement it in your work. Report back to them with how it turned out. This demonstrates that you can receive and adapt to constructive feedback, a critical leadership skill.

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