There’s nothing worse than working your butt off and still not getting the promotion you believe you deserve. It’s also frustrating when coworkers get recognized and rewarded, while you’re still unsure how to move forward in your career. Promotions reflect high-quality work, overall contributions, and yes, sometimes the politics of a particular work environment or industry. If you want more responsibility (and let’s be real—that elusive raise!), but want to be promoted, here are six things that might be standing in your way.
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1. You wait to be told what to do.
Before I shifted into a management role, I was the type of employee who loved knowing exact expectations and assignments from my superiors. However, I didn’t get promoted until I started taking more initiative, such as raising my hand for new projects outside of my comfort zone or speaking up at meetings.
Leaders don’t clock in and out on auto-pilot; they’re present, curious and action-oriented.
Leaders don’t clock in and out on auto-pilot; they’re present, curious and action-oriented. If there’s a problem, be the person who tries to fix it versus the one who gives a noncommittal shrug in response. Anticipate work that could make a product or service better. Offer to take the load off a team member who is swamped. Do extra research to be better informed.
It sounds simple, but it isn’t—you can be the smartest person in the room, or the one who has devoted twenty years to the company, but if you don’t bother being proactive, a promotion is unlikely to come your way.
2. You have a “that’s not my job” mentality.
Listen, you might work really hard, bill tons of hours for clients or show up at your desk for ten hours a day, but if you find yourself thinking or saying, “Sorry, that’s not my job,” you’re not going to get very far in your career. It’s one thing to delegate when necessary, or set boundaries for certain tasks.
However, volunteering to do work that needs to be done, even if it is outside of your job description, especially when it involves solving problems, frames you as a “go-to” person at your organization. It means you’ll show up, help out, and contribute however possible toward the best interests of your team and your company.
3. You don’t devote time to hard or soft skills.
In my experience, people who get promoted are willing to do one thing: learn. Always. They’re the ones picking up an additional certification, or doing an online class on the weekends, or reading books and articles from an industry expert. They’re the ones reading about conflict negotiation, or finding a mentor to help them level up, or building relationships at the office and in their community.
If you want to be recognized as a leader and promoted for more responsibility, you have to showcase your ability to adapt and grow in tactical ways. I see it all the time—coworkers who give up upon the first sign of struggle when learning something new, which is a red flag for a leadership. Instead, use what you don’t know or understand as an opportunity for education and a chance to make yourself more valuable. Feeling like you don’t understand budgets? Ask to be in charge of a small budget for a work event in partnership with the person who always does it. Google Analytics blurring your mind every time you explore data? Get certified online in a couple months with an hour a week.
Take responsibility for your career. Nobody is going to hand you a promotion. You have to earn it.
Don’t minimize the relevance of soft skills, either. Things like taking responsibility when an error happens, maintaining confidentiality with peers, knowing the difference between a quick vent session and nonstop complaining, responding to gossip, and being punctual can set you apart for better or worse when it comes to a potential promotion.
4. You’re waiting.
Sometimes, you’re not getting promoted because the situation is entirely out of your control. Maybe there are limited resources or spots available, and that may have nothing to do with you or your work performance. If that’s the case, talk to your manager about your desire to grow with the business, and ask how you can be mindful of opportunities. Keep track of your accomplishments to prove your case for a promotion, so when the time is right, you can speak up. A good company, and a good supervisor, will be invested in you as an employee, help set expectations, and find ways (however minor or major) to help you improve.
And if it’s been several months or years with no possibilities in sight for a promotion, and you truly feel you’ve done all you can, start job-hunting. You definitely want to build a career at a place where you can evolve. It’s important to be patient and demonstrate your worth, but also be realistic about what’s available at any given point.
5. You haven’t earned it yet.
I remember once telling my mom that a “C” grade was fine, because it was average. Sure, that’s technically true—but if you want to build a career on greatness, you need to deliver on the level of A+.
When you’re feeling frustrated about not getting recognized or moving up, ask yourself: have I earned it? No, but really. Do you deserve a promotion right now? Do you go above and beyond your current role, or are you merely meeting the status quo? Where do you have potential to grow? How are you moving the needle for your work, your team, your boss, your company? Have you mastered everything on your plate? How often do you raise your hand for something new? Are you confident you can contribute to more transformation? What skills could you build upon to be a better asset, and do you have mentors to speak on your behalf?
Tough love, but take responsibility for your career. Nobody is going to hand you a promotion. You have to earn it.
6. You’re not asking for more.
I’ve watched highly qualified team members get passed over for promotions based on the assumption that their work speaks for itself. Sometimes that happens, but more often than not, you have to make your work visible to leadership or hiring managers. So put yourself out there! Make note of projects you’d love to work on, and share your career ambitions. Identify a couple of areas you’re passionate about, and get involved to impact outcomes. Once you can confidently attest to your ability to do more, you’ll be prepared the next time a promotion rolls around—and you’ll feel equipped to promote yourself as the best fit.