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Going for a promotion in work? You better put in the groundwork now

If you know a vacancy is likely, 12 months down the line, you should objectively assess yourself and see have you got what it takes now.

Eoghan McDermott

YOU GO FOR an interview in a company where nobody knows you. Tough? Perhaps. But sometimes, going for an external interview with strangers can be a whole lot easier than going for promotion in your own company.

The person going for the internal interview carries baggage they’d never carry into the same encounter in another company. The reasons for this stem from one thing – they know you. And that obstacle is overcome in two ways; laying the right ground work, and nailing the interview.

Laying the groundwork

Start the groundwork early. If you know a vacancy is likely, 12 months down the line, you should objectively assess yourself and see have you got what it takes now. If you don’t, what are you going to do about it? Pursue a relevant further qualification, or ask to work on different challenging projects, or take on tasks you may have to do at the higher rank?

You also need figure out if your boss feels you have what it takes. That can be done by a bit of reflection, or just by asking them straight out “Am I ready? And if not, what can I do to be ready?” Your boss may think you’re technically excellent, but lack the management skills to progress up the ladder. Find a way to change their view.

Remember, there is no zero option. We are always being assessed. And if you’re not delivering what your boss wants, or to the level they want it done in your current role, there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that they’ll view you as competent for the next level, no matter how well you perform in the interview.

If promotion is what you want, you should be regularly asking yourself “What do I need to do to make the next step?”

Nailing the interview

Then you have to deliver in the interview. And internally, that can be tough. Often the biggest risk in internal interviews is a tendency to cut to the chase too fast. For example, the candidate is asked about a time when they showed a management competence, a candidate says ‘Well I was tasked to lead a team to deliver X task.

The end result was an event that went without a hitch. That gives the panel no insight into what they actually did to make the thing run well. Worse than that, it gives the panel no insight into what they were thinking, or what judgement they brought to bear of their management of the task or people.

Feedback I often hear is “sure they know that anyway.” Doesn’t mean they don’t need to be reminded.

The major difference between a good and bad promotional interview is whether or not you made the panel ‘see’ the skill you’re displaying and then whether or not you show them that what happened wasn’t luck, it was the result of judgement, thinking and insight on your part.

It’s making sure you describe the ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘when’ and then explain the ‘how’ and the ‘why’.

The second major hurdle for people at promotion interviews is failing to extrapolate from their current role to the higher position they’re applying for.

In other words, they prove they can communicate, or manage, or organise at their current level but don’t show how that will fit when they get promoted. It’s a bit like convincing your girlfriend to marry you; it’s one thing to show how you’re thoughtful as a boyfriend, it’s another to show how that thoughtfulness will make you a great dad to a clutch of kids.

Your job is to provide the evidence that you are that person. Gather it together, think it through, paint the picture and link it to the future.

Your skills 

Before you go into the interview, spend some time imagining how each of your experiences and skills will be useful after you get promoted. If you show great teamwork, try to think how you’ll use that skill when you’re managing a new team. If you’ve got great organisational skills, try to imagine how you’d use them if you were handed a new project.

An easy way to do it is ask yourself ‘If I’m a manager, how will I communicate with my reports? If I’m a sergeant, how will you organise resources for different tasks? If I’m consultant, how will you motivate your people?’

Once you think through the implications and see yourself at the higher grade it becomes easy for you to show the panel, not only that you’re competent in your current role, but that your competence would directly translate into the more senior gig. The simple act of moving your thinking into the future and converting your past-tense examples into future-tense potential will help.

Always remember, when preparing for the interview, that the panel are looking for the best person for the role. Your job is to provide the evidence that you are that person. Gather it together, think it through, paint the picture and link it to the future. Don’t just think about the past, figure out what your past means to your future. Then go right in and solve their problem by being inescapably the solution to it.

Eoghan McDermott is a Director of The Communications Clinic and is Head of Training and Careers there. www.communicationsclinic.ie. Follow him on Twitter @EoghanMcDermott 

Read: Women often undersell their experience and capabilities, while men don’t think twice about it>

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