Career Advancement Begins Now!

What are you doing to demonstrate your readiness for advancement at work?

By David Cox, SHRM-SCP | April 10, 2018

In delivering my seminars to groups of employees, individuals commonly ask me for advice concerning advancement at work. In response, I typically ask the following three questions.

  1. How long have you worked in your current position?
  2. What’s the next position for which you are eligible for advancement?
  3. What are you doing/have done to demonstrate your readiness for advancement?

Most have no trouble answering the first two questions, but when they hear the third, they look at me as if I were speaking in some unknown language. So, I repeat the question: What are you doing/have done to demonstrate your readiness for advancement?

Some of the answers aren’t even closely related to the question. Others sound good, but the answers don’t really distinguish them from any other employee. Some claim they demonstrate qualities of character or leadership, which often seems to surprise everyone else in the room.

What becomes painfully obvious is how few employees have given this question any serious thought.

The most common answer I hear is a reiteration of their answer to question #1. Regardless of how it’s stated, the message is clear: “I’ve been in this job for a long time and now I deserve a promotion.”

Unfortunately, this a false assumption that often results in disappointment when the much-desired promotion goes to someone else. Moreover, it raises concern as to whether this employee’s disappointment will translate into lower productivity which could, in turn, jeopardize his/her job security.

Tenure is not automatically a determining factor in advancement decisions. However, under the right circumstances, it can be a positive factor.

I recall the story an employer told me about Bridget and Carla, two employees both hoping for the same promotion. Both had proven themselves to be reliable and trustworthy. Both were respected and had demonstrated the ability to get along well with co-workers. At a glance, the only significant difference between the two was their respective time with the company.

Bridget had worked in her position with the company just over six years. Carla had worked in her position a little more than four years. The unit manager chose to promote Carla. Bridget was obviously disappointed, so following the announcement she made an appointment to sit down with her manager to ask why the decision didn’t go her way.

It was a shorter conversation than Bridget expected. Her manager explained that Carla had spent the last two years learning many of the skills she would be using in her new position. She had taken on more projects and responsibilities to apply these skills and gain needed experience. Her manager didn’t say it, but Bridget knew she had stayed within her assigned duties and responsibilities and had passed on learning new skills.

The manager finally said, “It came down to a choice between a good employee with four years of progressive experience and another good employee who had the same year of experience six times.”

When Bridget went home that evening, she was upset and considered quitting. She eventually decided it would be better to secure another job before resigning from her current position. However, the more she reflected on the matter during the evening, the more she knew her manager was right.

By the next morning, Bridget accepted that she had failed to adequately position herself for the promotion and it was a missed opportunity. She decided to stay with the company, but determined she would never miss another opportunity to advance at work.

Bridget also decided to get advice from someone who had proven successful at career advancement. So, she arranged a time to meet with Carla, which proved to be a wise decision. Together, they began to formulate a plan for Bridget’s career development.

Time in service alone won’t guarantee a promotion, but what you’ve done with that time—the skills you’ve developed and a demonstrated willingness to accept new challenges—may prove to be determining factors in your advancement.

Is it time for you to put your career development on project status? Employees who distinguish themselves, build job security, and position themselves for advancement are the most likely to be the consensus choice for advancement when such opportunities arise. Don’t waste another day to distinguish yourself. The time to start your career advancement is now!

Up next: Treating Employees With Respect

David Cox


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