Last week we covered the mysteries surrounding a promotion at work and why climbing the career ladder can be so elusive. We shed light on the qualifiers that most of us do NOT think about when it comes to promotions:

  • What is really being discussed behind the scenes when a promotion is being considered?
  • Is your manager really sharing all the feedback you are working towards a promotion at work?
  • What politics are at play when your promotion is being considered?

After guiding 100’s of employees to multiple promotions and new opportunities, I know with 100% certainty that we can take control of our careers. In all cases:

  • I only suggested strategies and talking points for the employees to have with their managers and they executed.
  • I brought up points most of hadn’t considered, yet made obvious sense after hearing them for the first time.

This week I outline what it takes to be promoted from an individual contributor to a manager. Next week we outline the qualifications for a job promotion at work from manager to director. Each of these jumps requires a different set of skill sets, mentality, and conversation with your manager.

Checklist for promotions

I want to provide you with a checklist so that you understand the differences needed for each specific job promotion. The below are talking points so that you can have a candid conversation with your manager. With this new mindset, you can manage your manager, manage your career, and land the next opportunity. We are going to make it easy for your manager to promote you.

As you read the job promotion at work guidelines, keep in mind your manager will be putting their reputation on the line. Your manager MUST be able to defend your promotion at work to their boss. More importantly, your manager needs to defend your promotion to their peers who are managers.

Has your manager promoted others in the past?

Great managers know how to promote others. They are egoless in this category and want to see others succeed. There is a reason the same college teams go to the National Championships year after year. Why do some coaches and quarterbacks make it to the Super Bowl year after year and others do not? If you want to be a winner, play for a winning coach/manager. If your manager doesn’t have a track record of promoting others, don’t worry. The talking points below will help you arm them with everything needed.

Talk with your manager on a monthly basis

I could not stress this one enough. If we think that showing up to work and doing a great job is enough to be promoted, we couldn’t be more wrong.

If we are not talking with our manager on a monthly basis, assume they do not know your long-term goals or the progress against those goals.

Managers won’t promote us just because of hard work. They need to know we want to be a manager and they want to see consistent effort towards that goal. A regular meeting with our manager ensures that specific requirements for the next opportunity are being met. One manager may want public speaking skills. The next manager may want subject matter expertise and others want the ability to influence outside of the group. Until we know what our managers want and can articulate our results, a promotion isn’t going to happen. Meet your manager with the list of qualifiers below and start a dialogue with the following:

“The below is what I think I need to demonstrate to qualify for a promotion. Can you tell me where you think I am against these qualifiers? Am I missing anything to be eligible for the next opportunity?” (we need to name the specific opportunity)

Job promotion at work from individual contributor to group manager

The typical org structure in most departments consists of the following

  • Individual contributor
  • Group Manager (with 5-7 Individual contributors as direct reports)
  • Director (with 3-4 Managers as direct reports)
  • VP (with 3-4 Directors as direct reports)
  • C level (with 2-3 VP’s as direct reports)

*actual numbers will vary between companies

As an individual contributor, we are working with a group of individual contributors and reporting to a manager. If we are looking for a promotion, we need to check in with our managers and find out what is holding us back. In the very least, we need to demonstrate the following:

Subject Matter Expertise and reputation for helping others solve problems

If you have subject matter expertise, make sure you let ALL the managers in your department know that you want (are not just willing) to help colleagues learn more and tackle tough problems. This Nasty move will provide other managers visibility to your expertise and mentorship. We don’t need managers looking at their teams and thinking “My Suzy should have been promoted before this bozo. She helps others more than this dumbass”. You want to be recognized as an employee who is as strong as any other individual contributor in the entire department.

We need to be seen as a subject matter expert within our group of peers. It surprises me how often someone asks “Why did Johnny get promoted? I have been here longer and know more than him”. Gaining recognition as a subject matter expert will work to your favor, but means nothing if we are not recognized as someone who will help others with that subject matter expertise. Be recognized as someone who is easily approachable and coaches to results.

Company / culture champion

Managers are representatives of the company and have influence over others. We are not going to land a promotion at work if we are skipping company functions.

When our managers make an announcement, avoid challenging them in front of the team. Instead, talk with your manager in private, behind closed doors. Be the counselor vs. the accuser. The rest of the group should look to us as a leader both technically and culturally. In some companies, the cultural aspect can be just as important as the technical proficiency.

Leadership: Can you lead others without the manager title?

It is common for individual contributors to think that they can’t or should not help or lead others until they get the promotion in title. The thought process is that no one will listen to them until they have the title. This mentality is a career killer. The folks that will be promoted are the folks that ARE influencing and leading others despite a lack of title. Think of the most inspirational or most valuable player award. These players are usually not the captain or quarterback of the team.


Do I need to say anything more? If you are asking for an example of credibility, just close this window and open up your video game or skip to your favorite porn site. For the record, tenure doesn’t buy credibility. Do what you say, smile and don’t give excuses bitches. BOOM!

Communication skills: email, verbal, ability to take direction and listen to feedback

We probably wouldn’t have been hired if we were not able to demonstrate written and verbal communication skills via the interview process. Where most folks fall on their faces is when they are given feedback or questioned about a mistake. The ability to handle these delicate situations in a diplomatic and positive manner will make or break candidates that are otherwise qualified. It’s OK to push back, but we don’t want to do it defensively or sound like we are making excuses. True leaders want to move forward, not dwell in the past. Excuses focus on the past. The best candidates apologize, take responsibility and move forward. Focus on how to fix the current situation, put new process in place to avoid similar situations in the future. A lot of 10 year veterans don’t ever learn this one and wonder why they are never promoted.

In conclusion, to land a promotion at work from individual contributor to manager:

Sit down with your manager and ask them: “Will you rate you on the above qualities?” After you get that answer, ask your manager:

“Will you rate me on these qualities against other managers. On a scale of 1-10 where do I fall?”

These are two VERY different questions and the answers to the second question is the answer that counts. You want to be as good as or better than the other managers.

After we receive that feedback, ask about what other qualities we should be working on and you will be on the right path.

Read more: Promotion from Manager to Director, Why This Jump is Difficult for Most