Why the Job Promotion is a mystery

Landing a job promotion isn’t easy. This isn’t surprising because most of us don’t know or understand what we need to demonstrate to our managers.

When was the last time your manager coached you on exactly what it takes to land your next job promotion?

Today we clear up the mystery. Unless we have a mentor or a proactive manager, we are not given specific advice as to HOW we land the next a job promotion. Most managers will let us know when we are doing well, that’s easy. Some managers will give us feedback to improve when needed. This takes courage and not all managers have it. Very few managers provide a direct path to a promotion. Probably because their own path to promotion wasn’t demonstrated to them. They are not holding back, they just don’t realize how much it can help or don’t have the time.

In a backbackward, we are usually told about a promotion after the decision has been made. The explanation was simply “We promoted you because of your hard work and results”. Specific examples beyond “hard work” or realistic advice on what it takes to land the next promotion is usually not mentioned.

This becomes more confusing because the requirements for a job promotion changes as we climb the ladder. What got us to manager won’t get us to a director. What got us here won’t get us there.

Advice for the Job Promotion

Over the next few weeks, I will demystify the path to promotions at different levels. What does it take to go from:

  • Individual contributor to Manager
  • Manager / Sr. Manager to Director / Sr. Director
  • Director to VP

If you are looking for your first promotion or trying to figure out why you rose so quickly through the ranks and then plateaued, the next few posts are for you.

Career path advice, the good and the ugly

Long hours and hard work aren’t always enough for a promotion. My goal is to focus on the specific behaviors and results that will land us a job promotion and why. Where should you concentrate your hard work and those long hours? As mentioned above, career advice falls into two categories: (the bullets are just examples, your manager’s qualification requirements can differ)

Worthless Career Advice

  • “You are being promoted because you did really well on your last couple of projects and put up good results.”


Valuable Career Advice

  • I can promote you when you are:
    • Recognized as a Subject Matter Expertise
    • Perceived as a leader among your peers
    • Respected by the other managers in the department,

“I know you’re a SME. You have demonstrated leadership amongst your peers by leading the team on the last integration project working with various departments. Let’s work on getting you visibility with the management team!”

We don’t know what we don’t know

I’d rather hear the second set of commentary. Without any coaching, we could easily check the “Subject Matter Expertise” and the “Perceived leader amongst peers” boxes. But with only 2 of the three boxes checked, our careers would still remain stagnant. We THINK we are doing well because no one is providing feedback to the contrary. Because no one mentioned “respect of the other managers”, we have no reason to think it is important. The feedback makes complete sense when we hear it, but until we hear, “respect from other managers”, we keep swinging and missing. We continue to focus our efforts on what earned us the positive feedback; SME and Leader amongst peers. If our manager doesn’t have the courage to give us feedback on what we need to work on, this leaves us in the dark. We keep asking ourselves, “WhereTF is my promotion? Why am I not being considered?”

It’s difficult to become promoted when we don’t know what it takes or what our managers are looking for

In this example, most of us are only thinking about making an impression with our current manager. Pro-actively gaining the respect of other managers in the department isn’t something most of us think about. If your manager doesn’t have the professional savvy or intestinal fortitude to give you honest feedback, we will never know.

Concentrate on what will get you hired

We can narrow our efforts and save everyone a lot of time and heartache with the second explanation. Over the next few posts, I will provide the HRNasty guideline to promotions.

I will outline a few standard qualifiers to earn a job promotion. These are not hard and fast rules. These are guidelines which could vary from company to company and can change depending on company size and culture. Don’t worry about differences between companies. These posts will:

  • Give you a solid foundation for what managers and HR is looking for
  • Provide a framework so you can drive a conversation with your manager on what it takes to land the next job promotion. If you are not talking with your manager on a regular basis, (at least monthly) don’t expect to be promoted.

Job promotion politics and the dirty secrets

Before we go into what it takes to land a job promotion, I want to share a few of the dirty secrets that get in the way of most job promotions. There are two sets of questions going through most managers mind when direct reports ask for a promotion. The manager will usually think about the first question, but in most cases, you won’t hear about their concern. Rarely will they admit to the second set of questions.

What managers think about but don’t mention out loud?

  • What will the other individual contributors on the team think about you receiving this promotion?
  • Will team members disagree? Do I need to defend this promotion to the other managers in the department?

Second set of questions:

  • Will other managers feel that someone on their team is more deserving of the same promotion?
  • How much shit will I have to deal with from the other managers that might want to grant a similar job promotion? How easy will it be to defend my guy/gal?

Although it may not sound fair, there are politics at play. Remember, other managers have asked if they could promote folks from their team and were declined for one reason or another. It won’t be admitted to, but we have to agree, it makes sense.

Put yourself in your manager’s shoes

Do you want your peers and other managers asking or thinking “Why did YOU get promoted?” Or do you want your peers to say “It’s about time you were promoted”? We don’t want our peers asking “Why him/her?” We want them saying “It’s about time, you deserve this job promotion”. Credibility will put us in the second category.

Your manager will be putting their reputation on the line and needs to be able to defend your promotion to their peers. The easier it is to defend your promotion, the sooner you will be promoted.