A couple of weeks ago, I talked with a friend who had just left a job that paid well and had great benefits, at a company he really loved. I asked if he was comfortable talking about why he’d made the decision, and I discovered the real reason he left: He felt he’d been repeatedly overlooked for a promotion.
During our conversation, I took some notes—and I realized that a few key moves on his part could have made a big difference in his experience. With his permission, I thought I’d share them with you.
1. Work at a company that values career advancement
When you interview, ask about career advancement.
There are a surprisingly large proportion of companies that do not believe in internal advancement. They like to train a person and then keep them in the job they were hired to do indefinitely.
“You control your career path. Take the reins and pave your own way.”
I’m lucky to work for a company that isn’t that way at all. We have tons of room for career advancement, even cross-departmentally. If you’re a person who values the ability to grow in your career, make sure the company you decide to work for is aligned with that particular value.
When I say self-advocate, I don’t mean pester your senior management on a daily basis with emails and texts and tweets and coffee talk about how much you want a promotion.
If you have a direct manager, request to speak with him or her about career advancement opportunities, and the steps you need to take to achieve them. Once you’ve been given the details, work toward achieving them. Once you feel you’ve mastered a majority of them, request another meeting to discuss areas that your manager feels you may need to improve in in order to move on.
“Managers can’t read minds.”
Some companies do this regularly with staff reviews (mine does), but if yours doesn’t, make it a point to schedule a few minutes yourself.
3. Go above and beyond, but not to the point that you overextend yourself
If there’s an opportunity to take on an additional task or process that goes above and beyond your job description, consider it. If it’s something you feel you could accomplish without the work you do for your real job suffering, then jump right on it.
Don’t overdo it, though. I’ve seen over-eager employees try to prove themselves by taking on tons of extra responsibilities, only to fail at not only the bonus tasks, but their real jobs as well. And typically rather than admitting that they can’t hang, they eventually just burned out completely.
Really look at your workload and be honest with yourself when you evaluate these situations.
I’m not saying that you should shoot down every opportunity to go above and beyond, I’m just saying that you need to be careful to select opportunities that won’t over-extend you and your sanity, and put you on a fast track to burning out.
4. Network up a storm
Some jobs have really active career communities. Networking through services like Twitter, LinkedIn, and GitHub can really help launch you into a pool of collective industry knowledge that would otherwise be nearly impossible to gather on your own.
“Networking actually makes you an even more valuable employee.”
Networking with folks in your industry may not seem like a direct way to get a promotion, but indirectly it can mean all the difference in the world. I’ve learned more through the tweets and LinkedIn articles posted by other industry folks than I have from any book. Social media is where industry pros share bleeding-edge knowledge. (People also share piles of rambling garbage, so be judicious in your selection of resources.)
Networking helps you unlock a world of knowledge that will keep you up to date with the latest trends and practices in your industry, and will in turn make you an even more valuable employee.
5. Stay on top of the latest industry practices and trends
For UX pros, this is especially important, but this point really applies to all industries. Make sure that you’re always researching and staying up to date on the latest in industry practices and trends. You never know when you might have the opportunity to pitch an idea that integrates the latest and greatest thing you’ve been reading about.
And often times, those innovative ideas are the ones that wind up making products great.
6. Be awesome at your job
This one seems obvious, but some folks miss this step. If you’re not amazing at your job, you shouldn’t expect a promotion.
To become amazing at your job, go above and beyond when you can, network to tap into the giant knowledge base that is your peers, research the daylights out of new trends, and truly strive to be the best employee you can be.
“If you aren’t amazing at your job, don’t expect a promotion.”
Even when you get stuck with a small, seemingly pointless assignment, it’s still an opportunity for you to show your employer how amazing you truly are. View each task assigned as an an opportunity to shine.
After our chat, my friend realized that he had never really discussed his wish for career advancement with his direct supervisor, and he realized that his boss may not have even been aware of how important advancement opportunities were to him.
If you get to the point where you feel frustrated enough to start looking for other jobs because you’re feeling a lack of advancement opportunity, before you jump ship request an appointment to speak with your supervisor to communicate your interests.
Managers can’t read minds, and yours may not have any idea that you’re unhappy. If your manager flat out tells you that you’re in a position where advancement is not an opportunity available to you, then you’ll know for sure that it’s time to start looking for a new job—but at least give communicating a chance.
To sum things up: Make sure your company supports advancement from the get-go, self-advocate, go above and beyond when you’re able, network like a champ, keep up with new tricks, rock your job, and if you’re unhappy, express it.
If you do all of these things and you still don’t nab that promotion, it’s time to move on.
You control your career path. Take the reins and pave your own way.