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Why Don’t I Get Promoted?

We’ve all been there — someone gets promoted in record time and we’re left wondering why we weren’t promoted as readily. What did they do that resulted in a promotion, and what is holding us back from obtaining that same end?

Mary Abbajay, President at Careerstone Group, addressed this topic at GovLoop’s NextGen Professional Development Virtual Summit: Advance Your Gov Career. Doug Mashkuri, General Manager at GovLoop, moderated.

Abbajay first outlined five meta-level factors that help people succeed:

  • Anticipate and accept change.
  • Develop a network: “Opportunities do not fall from the sky, they come from people you know,” Abbajay stated. “The more people you know, the more successful you can be.”
  • Advance diversity: “I mean diversity in all shapes and forms,” Abbajay said. “Bring more people to the table who have different perspectives from you.”
  • Play well with others: “You have to be the kind of person that people want to work with,” Abbajay detailed. “All other things equal, we choose to work with people we want to work with.”
  • Take responsibility: “I mean this in two ways,” Abbajay elaborated. “The first way is that we have to take responsibility for our careers to make our professional goals come true. The other way is taking responsibility for our impact on the world: how our behaviors, our words, our deeds, have an impact on other people.”

You can work on these meta factors in the long-term. Ask you ruminate on these elements, you can ask yourself: how willing am I to do things differently? How willing am I to adapt to my circumstances?

Here are five things you can do right now to help position yourself for a promotion:

Display a positive attitude and image.

Positive and professional image matters, Abbajay stated, and in her own personal experience, the people she turns to when things get difficult are the positive people who approach work with a positive attitude. In terms of image, Abbajay recommends that you look and act the part.

“Human beings are visual creatures,” Abbajay asserted. You want to make sure your physical appearance aligns with the image of your organization and the role you want to play within it.

Also, start thinking about building your brand. This is a relatively new thing, but your brand is what people think of when they think of you. What are the qualities you want to be known for?

Ask yourself the following (Abbajay recommended that viewers write out answers immediately after the session):

  • What are the adjectives you want people to associate with you?
  • What skills, talents, or knowledge do you want to be known for?
  • What impression do you want to make?
  • What adjustments might you make to improve your impression?

    Exert effort and initiative.

“Promotions often go to the people who work a little harder than the people next to them,” Abbajay said. “This may mean that you start a little earlier, work a little harder, stay a little later. This doesn’t mean that you turn into a workaholic, though.” Extra effort often pays off.

You should also take on extra projects, especially the ones that no one wants, bring your A game every day and do more than necessary.

Embrace self-awareness, improvement, and advocacy.

“You need to know yourself: who you are, your goals, your priorities, what you’re hoping to accomplish, what promotion you want, and your impact,” Abbajay advised. “You want to assess your strengths, your weaknesses, your likes, your dislikes.”

For example, if you want to be a branch chief, you have to really think about whether you want the job before you angle for a promotion.

Additionally, make a point to seek and utilize feedback. “Feedback is always a gift,” Abbajay said. “Even if it’s wrong and stupid, there’s a golden nugget — your impact on somebody and their perception of you.” You can look for patterns in the feedback and ask yourself why they feel that way.

Also, let it be known that you want a promotion! There’s an art form to let people know, however. What you want to say is something along the lines of “I want more responsibility” or “I want to do something like XYZ.” A key question to ask is, “What are some ways that I can put myself on the path to success?”

Go home and have that conversation with your supervisor, Abbajay urged.

Create opportunities.

“The world sadly isn’t a meritocracy,” Abbajay said. “Just being great at your job isn’t enough; the opportunities for growth matter.” Choose organizations or departments with “room to grow” and build a broad network. Research shows that most people get job opportunities from their tertiary network, or friends of friends, according to Abbajay. This should be a robust network of diverse people.

Get a mentor, join professional associations, and make lateral moves. “Sometimes the best way up is across,” Abbajay said. “Lateral moves can put you in a new environment and help you acquire new skills.”

Manage relationships.

“Relationship management matters a lot because the workplace is a social system and we have to do work with, through, and around other people,” Abbajay stated. “If I’m working with a team, I can be limited by how successful my team is.” Every workplace relationship matters and you want to have good relationships up, down, and across.

Maintaining a great relationship with your boss doesn’t mean licking their boots. Abbajay explained: “Managing up is consciously working with higher-ups to obtain the best possible results for you, your boss, and the organization.” Understanding where your boss is coming from and their work style, and having conversations about working well together, are crucial steps to better manage relationships.

If you want to attend sessions like this one at future virtual summits, pre-register today!

Photo Credit: JJ Ying on Unsplash

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