“Why Can't I Get Promoted?!”

Suggestions for qualified employees who keep getting passed over.

Posted Aug 09, 2018

Pxhere, Public Domain
Source: Pxhere, Public Domain

This is part of a series, "Why Not Me?!"

The others are:

"Why Can't I Land a Job?"

"Why Can't I Get Into Graduate School?"

"Unsuccessful in Love"

Here, I turn to people who are employed, believe they deserve a promotion, and are frustrated that they haven't gotten one. A typical lament, “Some people who got promoted are much less competent and hard working than I am!”

What’s a good employee who’s been passed over to do? The following ideas derive from my new book, Careers for Dummies.

Looking Inward

It’s tempting to blame not getting promoted on factors beyond your control, for example, your age, race, ethnicity, gender, or physical appearance. And sometimes, those are at play, but it rarely helps to focus on those. It's usually wiser to start by looking inward and asking yourself whether, if you were the boss, why might you not promote you?  Are you too critical or too much of a milquetoast? Are you productive enough? Is your work or contributions in meetings weak? Do you lack a key attribute for promotion, for example, technical expertise, public speaking ability, emotional intelligence, good attitude, solid work ethic, or the difficult to improve, reasoning ability?

If any of those ring a bell, should you up-skill? Should you find an employer for whom your existing package of skills and abilities is sufficient for a higher-level position? Or should you accept that you’re appropriately placed?

Looking Outward

If that inward look suggests that you deserve a promotion, one or more of these ideas might help:

Have a champion. It helps to have a champion, a colleague who likes and respects you. You might ask him or her, “I’ve been passed over a number of times for promotion and I’m wondering if you have any idea why?” You might yield helpful feedback or even reveal that someone is sabotaging you, if not by bad-mouthing you, by withholding helpful information. Also, you might ask your champion if s/he might tout you to higher-ups.

Be your own champion. Especially if you don’t have a champion, you need to—without appearing to be unduly self-promoting—self-promote. For example, if appropriate, send a draft of work you’re proud of to others “for feedback.”  “Run into” a pooh-bah in the break room and when s/he asks, “How are you?” instead of just saying, “Fine, how are you?” say, for example, “Fine. I’m pleased that my report on X is being used across the division.”

Get to work with stars. Look for opportunities to work with your workplace’s power players. For example, you might ask such a person, “I’ve heard good things about you. If by any chance, you could use a little extra help on some project, I have a bit of extra bandwidth and would welcome the opportunity to work with you." That could help you rise on the person's coattails.

Perform well at meetings. Recognize that meetings are an opportunity to showcase your ability. Review agenda items—Could you say something valuable? Perhaps practice it in advance, so you sound smooth and leaderly.

Run meetings crisply. If you’re in charge of running a meeting, realize that many people dislike meetings. So, if possible, communicate with a group by email. When a meeting is appropriate, for example, when an issue is time-sensitive and dynamic input is required, minimize the number of attendees. That both conserves employee time and ensures that the central people get adequate opportunity to participate. If possible, schedule meetings right before lunch or quitting time, so attendees will be motivated to be crisp. If an attendee goes off-topic, tactfully bring them back, for example, “That’s an interesting point and maybe we’ll address it later. (You might even write it on the white board) but let’s return to the agenda item.” If an attendee is dominating or long-winded, again, be crisp. It’s appropriate to interrupt in a face-saving way. When the person stops for breath, say something like, “Good point. (Paraphrase it.) Let’s see what others have to say.”

Get good at public speaking. Especially at higher-levels of employment, public speaking is a critical skill. Work on yours. For example, you might read this article: "Good Public Speaking Without Fear."

These suggestions should up your chances of getting promoted, within or outside your organization.

I read this aloud on YouTube.