What is the secret to getting ahead at work?

Why do some people get promoted over others?

I’ve managed, trained and promoted dozens of people in my career. In fact, my first management position was when I was just 19. No doubt, it's frustrating and de-motivating when you don’t get picked for the job, especially when the person who did get the promotion has been with the company less time or has less experience. This happens! It’s happened to me.

First, we need to clear up a big misconception about what it takes to get promoted. A lot of people think that getting promoted is about doing really well in the current role. If you're a star performer and get a perfect score on your reviews, you'll surely get promoted. Well, maybe. But getting promoted isn’t just about proving that you can do your current position, it’s about proving that you can do the next position. If you just perform well doing your current job (which by the way, is already the expectation), they might just want to keep you in that role.

How do you go about proving that you can do the next role before you’ve even done it?

Step one: Speak up. If the company doesn't know you are interested in moving up, they might not consider you. And this may seem like it’s assumed, but it's not. Not everyone wants to be a manager. Not everyone values a job title, or bigger salary or the notion of climbing the ladder. Make sure you are checking in regularly with your boss and having career path conversations and letting them know that you are interested in advancement opportunities and want to work towards them.

Step two: Determine the skill gap. You need to very clear on what skills your desired job in the company requires and which have those you have and don’t have. If there happens to be an open position right now, then look at the job description. Your goal is to identify if there is a skill gap, so you know what you need to work on. If there isn’t an opening to move up right now at your company, that’s okay. Go onto the job boards and find the type of position you want somewhere else. You’re not doing to apply but just study it and see what it requires. If you can find a few examples, that’s even better. Then you can look for trends and skills that recurrent in all of them.

Step three: Put it into action. There are two types of action I want you to take after studying the job description of your desired new role. For those skills that you feel that you already have, showcase them. Find new and creative ways to show off these skills. You can ask for additional projects and responsibilities if you need to. But make sure you are consciously demonstrating that which you want to be known for.

Then the second action involves the skills that you don’t have. You need to come up with a plan for how you’re going to get them. Do whatever you have to do. Get a certification. Take a training course. Get a whole new degree if you have to. I’ve done all three of those!  But it's also possible that whatever skills you need might not be something you can get a certification or degree in. It might be a soft skill like communication, managing people or handling negotiations. In that case, get help from someone. Identify someone in your network who is good at that and ask them to mentor you. Trust me, they’ll be flattered.

Alright, so those are your steps. Make your desired known and speak up. Then figure out what is required and what you’re missing if anything. Then fix it. Take action. Oh, and don’t wait for the employer to pay for your certifications and training either! If they will, fabulous. If they won’t, do it anyway. It’s your career and your responsibility. Your career advancement is yours and yours alone.
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