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When You Do All the Right Things but Still Don't Get the Promotion

Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.  

I've wanted a promotion for years. Following your comments about hiring and promotions being based more on credentials and less on potential, I identified and defined my next step up and developed the skills needed for that position. Now I have the credentials but no promotion. Your comments about inner circles and outer circles and how you should position yourself for growth were spot on, and I've made the inner circle, just as you said I could. I've become a reliable right hand—but again, no promotion. And I've positioned myself for growth by religiously applying the behaviors and principles you've recommended. My credibility and visibility have grown tremendously—but still, no promotion. I'm tired of waiting.

My question comes from your comments about making "strategic career moves on your own timetable." I want and deserve a promotion. I have decided after almost three years of doing the right things that if it doesn't happen this year, I need to look elsewhere. Can I tie Plan A (a promotion) and Plan B (a new opportunity) goals into a coordinated strategy?

I applaud your question. This is exactly how we should all be thinking about our career growth: bringing our desires for professional and financial growth to reality by setting a clear goal, supported by planning, preparation and relentless striving toward that goal.

You have taken the time to identify and develop the skills required for the responsibilities of that promotion, so you have the credentials. With your inner-circle positioning and integration of the transferable behaviors and principles, you have increased your visibility and credibility where it counts.

Announce Your Goals

If you have just been doing your best to improve but not making clear your desire for a promotion, it's time to rethink your strategy. All too often you can get categorized and pigeonholed: The boss is happy with the work you are doing and could well imagine you are happy. Consequently, your first step might be a casual sit-down with your manager to talk about your skills, dedication and accomplishments, and communicate your desire to grow into more demanding responsibilities with skills you have already proven. At the same time, reinforce that you enjoy working with your colleagues, love the company and want to grow with the company. Re-emphasize what you see as your next career step and the experience and credentials you can bring to the job.

Here's an example of what you can say: "I love the company. I do very good work, I have skills way beyond my position, and I'd really like you to help groom me for upcoming openings, because the company is growing. I need your help and wisdom to advance. Will you help me?" This might do the trick.

If not, it might be because promotions always take longer than we want, often two to three years. However, these factors may hold you back:

  1. You are being discriminated against. If this is the case, you may need to pursue legal remedies or look for a better job elsewhere.
  2. You work for a small, family-owned company.
  3. You work for a foreign-based company, where you see that U.S. workers rarely rise beyond a certain level.
  4. Your employer is stagnant, and no one is getting promotions.
  5. You have a personal issue that you're unaware of, such as halitosis, body odor or other personal hygiene issue that may be off-putting.

These are all real stumbling blocks, especially—crazy as it sounds—the last one. I've seen someone denied entry into management ranks because no one could stand the thought of being in an enclosed meeting space with him for extended periods.

If none of the above apply to you, continue to work toward the promotion while you very quietly prepare the tools and the plan of attack for a stealth job search. By the way, never quit a job until you have a new one, because doing so will make your transition that much more difficult, never mind the cash-flow interruption.

There are about nine months left in the year, and a really effective job-search plan of attack can take six months to build when you are holding down a full-time job. In all the above scenarios, you should still go all out in your work and for that promotion while you prepare to make a strategic move on your own timetable.

Promotions often, but not always, happen in the fourth quarter around performance-review time. So if one doesn't come by then, you are ready with a properly built resume and plan of attack, and maybe a fresh raise in your pocket. Launch your search in January, when the new hiring budgets are released and the most jobs are available. This will give you the best odds for making the right change quickly and positioning yourself at the new job to receive a salary review and a third raise at the end of the year.

Whether you have big issues or small concerns, please e-mail your queries to Martin at We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.

Packed with practical, honest, real-world guidance for successfully navigating common HR career challenges, Martin Yate's new book, The HR Career Guide: Great Answers to Tough Career Questions, is available at the SHRMStore. Order your copy today!


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