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Looking for a promotion? Here are the 7 simple steps to getting there

It’s not always possible to land that dream promotion. But here’s how to give it your best shot.

GETTING A PROMOTION in work is no mean feat – the competition is fierce, and the ladder is a tough climb.

There can often be ‘rules’ around getting promoted that will never appear on paper, and office politics can play a role, too.

Clara Whitaker, a ‘Career Doctor’ specialising in bringing a spark back to burned-out executives, says that there are two main factors that hold people back from promotion. Firstly, “a misalignment with their managers and/or the company”. And secondly, “lack of trust in [a person’s] own ability to pull it off.”

Misalignment is difficult to get around – your job may only promote after a certain amount of time in a role, or not at all. But a lack of trust in yourself can be even trickier to manage.

If you’re ready for that extra responsibility, though, these tips will help to get the spotlight on you.

1. Know exactly what you want

“When I work with my clients, I always use a set of tests and questionnaires to clearly map out what they want out of their careers and lives, why they want it and how they’re going to get there,” says Clara. “So they can have a clear vision of what success looks like for them, instead of for other people.”

This helps them understand where they can fit themselves into a new role, as well as the promotion market at their company and beyond. It is, in Clara’s words, being “smart about your career”.

Kieran O’Connell, an executive with DIT Hothouse, also recommends having a clear roadmap for yourself. “You have to have a permanent campaign for career progression,” he says.

2. Decide whether you need to upskill

“Investing in education, learning and development is one of the single biggest factors influencing both employability and the ability to progress,” says Dr Ronan Carbery, Senior Lecturer in Management at UCC and the Irish Management Institute.

It may not seem like the most obvious thing to do, but going back to education can have a real impact on your job aspirations.

Kieran O’Connell recently completed a Masters in Business in order to keep up with the demands of the market. “When everyone has a degree, no one does,” he says. “So one of the best ways to differentiate yourself is to upskill.”

Not only does it differentiate you, but letting your boss know that you’re working on something new shows initiative and drive. “The ability to articulate what specific skills and competencies have been developed as a result of completing a course or programme is hugely important [to career progression],” says Dr Carbery.

If you can’t take on a degree – and let’s face it, many of us can’t – you might have a think about night or online courses too.

3. Prepare, prepare, prepare

Once you decide you want a promotion, it’s best to set the wheels in motion – so that by the time a position crops up, you have everything ready to go as if the interview were tomorrow.

“For starters, assess your current skill set, check out what the new position would entail, and prepare, prepare, prepare for the role,” says Clara Whitaker. “Look beyond your current position to see where else you can add value: what opportunities or threats can you perceive?”

4. Find a mentor

Another tactic is to ask for help within the organisation. Dr Carbery recommends “seeking out mentoring or sponsorship opportunities.”

Having a powerful employee on your side can make all the difference, he says. “Here the sponsor acts as an advocate for an employee when it comes to career opportunities, promotions, and who has the power to effect change.”

5. Help your manager succeed

“If you want to get ahead, you have to start thinking and acting like you’re ahead.” says Clara. “That means understanding the differences in scope, responsibility, skills and vision that will be necessary to the new role, and preparing accordingly.”

In other words: start acting like you’re already in the role you’re coveting. Taking on extra responsibilities and working as hard as you can get you noticed by a superior – in all the right ways. “You are more likely to be noticed as someone deserving if you consistently help your boss succeed, and rally the troops to help you help her succeed,” according to Clara.

Dr Carbery recommends preparing “a concise document that clearly outlines your proven track record and provides concrete details on the impact you’ve had on the business”. Aligning this with the company’s objectives, where possible, is a sure-fire way to stand out.

6. Know where the company is going

“What helps [with self-promotion] is to think about the position you want and then build a compelling argument as to how it aligns with the objectives of your boss and the organisation,” says Dr Carbery.

Many companies have a long-term strategic plan or vision for the company, as well as for the staff – it’s worth finding and studying this, as more often than not it’s a bible to management. Knowing it inside out not only impresses in an interview setting, but it can help you build a coherent strategy for your new role.

Clara stresses the importance of doing your homework too. “Know what the company’s short and long term goals are and how you can add value to them. And research the market to find out what it pays someone with your experience and qualifications.”

7. Have a plan B (and be ready to look elsewhere)

Much as the idea of being told ‘No’ may turn your stomach, Clara says it’s important to be ready for rejection – without expecting it. “Always have a plan B” she advises. “Companies are not always able or willing to promote employees at certain times. It happens. So what would your next steps be if your request for a promotion was met with a ‘No’?”

If you’re knocked back, try not to take it personally – it really is just business.
At the very least, your boss knows that you’re willing, ready and able to upskill – and it also might be a good time to shop around, says Dr Carbery.

“Research shows that one of the best ways to get a pay raise is to switch organisations between three and five years after you started there. Less than three years may be too little time to develop the most marketable skills and after five years people become tied to the organisation.”

So maybe if your time is up, and you’re not getting that promotion, it’s best to take your newly sharpened skills elsewhere.

More: Silence your inner critic: How to be more confident at work (and why your boss will thank you)

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