Where Do I Start to Get Promoted?

It’s officially open – this is the first in a series of posts where I will show you the ins and outs of getting promoted.

Why? Because my new course, GET PROMOTED is open and I want you to see how much juicy information will be packed into this four-week adventure. I hope you’ll join us!

Where Do I Start?

Moving up the ladder used to accurately describe the way you navigated a company. Just 15 years ago, the standard formula to calculate promotions centered around how many years you had been at the company combined with your tenure in the position. In other words, how much time you’ve sat your butt in the same seat.

That’s not the case any longer for 95% of the workforce. Thankfully for high performers, the formula components have shifted to focus more on capability, output, potential, and results, instead of just time. But with this shift, the way to GET PROMOTED has changed significantly as well.

There isn’t a set-in-stone path up the ladder any more. And instead of being rewarded for putting the time in, you have to exercise your influence and actually be promoted.

With so many different components driving promotion decisions, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and not know where to start. So let’s change that, shall we?

1. Understand how promotions work

Unless you are sitting at the table for all promotion discussions, it’s probably difficult to understand how getting promoted actually works. Here’s what I know for sure:

  • A new position at a higher level and higher pay does not get created or made available for a mediocre performer
  • Not all high performers are seen as ready for the next step
  • Promotions are not just in title – a true promotion comes with a bump in income, always
  • There are several people who “vote” or agree on promotions
  • It’s never “fair”
  • There has to be a business need and justification for the promotion

2. You do drive the bus

It’s not the 90’s anymore (or the 50’s) – no one will just promoted you because they want to recognize all of the years you have put into the company. It’s not going to happen. You have to take action and make your promotion happen.

The saying, “No one cares about your career as much as you do,” is accurate. Your boss and Human Resources will assume that your silence indicates contentment. Get that? If you aren’t actively seeking out new opportunities or the next level, then the important decision makers are going to believe that you are pleased where you are.

You have to be willing to pursue a promotion, to even be considered.

3. Promotions aren’t processed by your boss only

Your boss doesn’t have that much authority and autonomy, not really. He/she will have a very big say in whether or not you get promoted, but most of the time they aren’t able to process your promotion on their own.

Good news for those of you who don’t get along great with your boss (more on this later in the series). Bad news for those of you who have put all of you relationship eggs in your boss’s basket. Essentially, you need to identify who is part of the promotion approval team.

At large companies, the process and team is probably somewhat transparent. You may even have a pretty Q&A document that your friendly HR team put together for you on your intraweb. If not, don’t worry – it’s pretty easy to figure out.

The players are: your boss, your boss’s boss (always), someone in Human Resources (usually your key HR contact or strategic partner), key clients (internal and external), and some kind of Finance component.

At a minimum, these are your new influence circles. Each person mentioned above will have a say on your promotion. Remember that.

4. Timing is everything

Most promotions happen around the annual review process. That isn’t by accident. Essentially, having solid data in the form of a review to support or negate a promotion, is timely and comes in handy in defending a promotional request.

It doesn’t mean that you aren’t able to get promoted before/after the review period, in fact, even if they say that’s the case there are always exceptions. But it does mean that your review has a lot of weight and value in the promotion market.

You want your review to capture your performance as accurately as possible, to showcase your performance and trends. When you are asked to write a self-assessment, keep this in mind – glowing support for your work is helpful.

5. You have to be working at the next level

The easiest thing for you to take action on now, is to start doing the work at the next level. Remember that “business need” justification noted above? It’s a lot easier to justify the need of someone at the next level, when you are fulfilling the duties at that level.

It’s going to be painful doing more work but not getting paid at the next level for a while. But it will show your boss and the promotion “team” your capabilities. And once they get used to you delivering at the next level, they won’t want to live without it.


So, that’s where you start. Later this week I’m going to review What You Can Do to Get Promoted. For now, go check out GET PROMOTED. Go on, it’s worth a look.