Updated: Jul 8
Getting promoted is not an easy task—it takes patience, tenacity, self-awareness, dedication - and probably some luck.
Despite the pandemic, organisations in most sectors are still looking to promote. Still, a hiatus last year at the height of the COVID crisis is now leading to a "backlog" in the promotion pipeline.
So what can you do to make sure your name is in the frame?
Know the process and plan early
In some cases, the promotion process can take 12-18 months. If promotion is in your sights in the medium term, then it pays to start planning now. Find out how it works. If you need to put together a business case, start thinking about that now - what it is, who can help you fine-tune it, and how you can make it compelling.
Get an understanding of how someone at the next level performs - both formally and informally. Formal can come from competency frameworks or job descriptions - informal will come from chatting to those at that level and above.
Once you have done this, then make a plan as to how you will get yourself ready. This plan will evolve as you go through the coming months, so keep coming back to it.
Get people on your side and make sure they know your intentions
Work out who your stakeholders are, and have honest conversations about your intentions and whether you have their support. Your line manager is your first port of call - if they don’t think you’re ready, no one else will. Ask them for an honest opinion of any skill gaps and what you can do to fill them.
You may also want to talk to a few people 2-3 levels up from you. Introduce yourself, make it clear to want to progress to the next level and ask for their opinion on what makes a good promotee. Be specific and feedback any responses into your plan.
Raise your visibility
In large organisations, promotion decisions may be made by people you have no direct contact with, so raise your visibility by introducing yourself to a few strategic people, using the guidance above.
Showcase your talents through company meetings, newsletters or by just sending tactical emails to people. Demonstrate a success you have had recently and how you could help their projects have that same success.
An almost pre-requisite for any promotion nowadays is to be involved in some kind of “extra-curricular” activity. Whether it’s taking time to improve processes and procedures in your office, or delivering training to graduates, actively seek these opportunities out. Don’t wait to be asked.
Demonstrate a track record of personal development
A high level of self-awareness and commitment to development is key. Your career or personal development plan should link to the competency attributes of the next level. Take note of any development opportunities you have taken part in, the feedback you have received and how you have acted upon it.
You need to tell a story of how you have overcome setbacks and how you have improved over time. No one expects you to be the finished article, so be clear on where you still have more work to do. Finding a mentor or coach to help you with this can help you see blind spots and accelerate the process.
Don’t let the day job slip.
The most fundamental requisite for any upwards move is to make sure you’re doing your current role well. I’m assuming you are! But don’t be so concerned about getting to the next level that you take your eye off the ball. Continue to be a great team leader, delivering high-quality work and building strong relationships.
Act like you have got the promotion
Being seen as promotable is an art rather than a science. One of the best pieces of advice I received was to act as if I had gotten the promotion already. Walk with confidence into meetings and see yourself as an equal to those in the room. Think and act strategically and put your hand up to challenge the status quo. Be a role model, speaking positively about your managers and the organisation, and constructively and tactfully deal with difficult situations.
Like all aspects of career development, gaining a promotion needs intentionality. Yes, you may still make it if you’re lucky, but why leave it to chance? Get yourself in the best possible position as early as you can, and then attaining that milestone will be plain sailing.