Proving You Deserve a Promotion

April 2, 2014

When advancement is a real option, you need to demonstrate that you deserve a promotion. This starts on Day One.

You Don’t Start With A Clean Slate

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Proving you deserve a promotion within the company is very different from coming in from outside. It’s more than likely you’ll know your interviewer well. You’ll probably know your new boss, their team, and the projects they’re working on. You’ll be familiar with the company ethos, you’ll be privy to some insider gossip, and you’ll probably know exactly what the role involves.

Conversely, they almost certainly know you, not just your resume. Your prospective boss can draw on plenty of actual experience with your work, either directly or indirectly, to see if you’re fit for advancement. They’ll talk to your colleagues, to clients, and check out your personnel reviews. You’re not being assessed on the basis of a cover letter and a half-hour chat: you’re being assessed on the basis of everything you’ve done for the company since you joined.

In some ways, that’s a huge advantage. It’s far easier for a manager to pick someone they know and trust than to take a chance on a newcomer. They know exactly who they’re hiring, they know you can fit straight into the new role, and they’re already aware of all your strengths and weaknesses.

On the other hand, all that can count against you if you haven’t set yourself up right in the past. That missed deadline, that unhappy client, that intemperate email outburst, that indiscreet evening in Las Vegas… all those could come back to haunt you when they decide if you deserve promotion.

Preparation Starts Early – Very Early!

If you’re bucking for a promotion, the ideal approach is to impress everyone so far in advance that there’s no question you deserve it. If you come across well in the preceding few months or years, then the interview should be nothing more than a formality.

Randall C. Iliff, Director of Insight Services at points out that there are two aspects to this: You need to show that you’re competent, but it’s equally important to demonstrate the right attitude. “I think of skills and attitude as multipliers rather than adders, in practice.  All the skills in the world multiplied by a terrible attitude are useless, as is a great attitude multiplied by zero skills.  The net result of that viewpoint is that balance is better than one-dimensional excellence. I actually extend that equation to include terms for communication and political skills, since weakness in either of those can also destroy the whole equation.”

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Todd Rhoad of Atlanta-based careers advisers BT Consulting concurs. “As you become more seasoned, you’ll learn that it’s more about your social skills than your technical skills.  As you move up, you’ll deal with people more than you’ll deal with technology, such as managing employees or interfacing with customers.  The fastest way to determine what social skills are important is to observe what the highest levels of management exude and provide a perspective on the skills that get rewarded.  This will help you avoid misreading what’s really important.”

Remember that when you’re promoted, the new job may require different skills. Even if you’re excellent at what you do right now, that’s no guarantee you’re suited for a more senior role with different responsibilities. The well-known “Peter Principle” suggests that hierarchical companies become dysfunctional because they promote people who are good at their jobs until they reach a job they’re bad at, then leave them there. Savvy interviewers will focus less on what you’re doing now and more on whether you can adapt to a new role.

What you need is to get them predisposed to see you in that new role. Iliff suggests taking a very methodical approach to get on your boss’s good side. “Think like an engineer and ask what skills your boss is equipped to recognize or understand, based on their own experience.  In those areas it is merely a question of finding the opportunity to demonstrate your capability.  That can be either current assignments, outside work, willingness to take on new roles and so on.  The tough one is trying to be recognized for skills and potential that your boss lacks ‘antenna’ to pick up on.  Sometimes the answer is to help them recognize new types of value, in other cases it is a complete waste of time and effort.“

Perhaps most importantly, ensure you project the right image. “Create the appropriate perception of you and your abilities by influencing the existing social networks in your company,” suggests Rhoad. “People need to know who you are.  If you study executive career movements, you’ll find that the best executives are great at painting a masterful image of themselves.”

If the right people already think you deserve a promotion, you’re most of the way there.

Ask The Right Questions

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An interview is always a two-way process. No matter how desperate you are for the job, it’s as much for you to determine whether it’s right for you, as for them to assess whether they want you. But when you already know the company, then the standard set of investigative questions don’t really apply.
One technique that is often effective is to exude confidence by turning the interview around.  Ask why they they think you deserve a promotion into this new role, what skills you need to develop, and whether they think there are training courses you should take. Get the interviewer to talk positively about you, and show that you’re open to addressing any perceived weaknesses.

Follow this with specific and targeted questions designed to demonstrate an in-depth awareness of your new role. For example, clarify whether you will have sole responsibility for a task such as project scheduling, or whether you will need to get sign-off from anyone else.

Finally, show that you have considered the role in detail and can bring something important to it. Ask whether they would be open to certain changes, and put forward some ideas to address any perceived problems. Be careful not to make your current boss look like an idiot, of course, but create the mindset that appointing you will bring immediate benefits to the company.

Make It An Easy Decision

In essence, the secret to getting that promotion is to make it a complete no-brainer. You’ve got a massive head start on anyone from outside, and any internal competition should be immediately obvious. Use that time to get everyone who matters on your side before the job’s already open. Act like you’re made for the role, walk into the interview knowing you deserve promotion, and all you have to do is let the interviewer justify a decision they’ve probably already made.


How did you prove you deserved your promotion? We want to hear from you.  Leave a comment, or join the conversation via Twitter, Google+, or on the EngineerJobs subreddit.

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