How to Be Promoted

Martin Yate By Martin Yate February 28, 2017
How to Be Promoted

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 read your article on how to get promotions in HR. It all sounds good, but what do you do when you are an HR assistant and your supervisors won't promote you? Sometimes, having a low-level title is hard to break out of. I have been working in a bank for nine and a half years and am not being promoted, despite doing much of the HR work and onboarding the past assistant vice president. This is very frustrating. I am studying to be certified in HR and have a bachelor's degree, but none of that is helping.


All companies exist to make a profit, and profitability is maximized when competent people have responsibilities for which they are qualified, credentialed and experienced.

When you have been with a company for two or three years without a promotion, it could mean you have been categorized, stereotyped and pigeonholed. Reconstructing how you are perceived takes strategy and conscientiously executed tactics.

It's a misconception, though, to think that just length of service entitles you to a promotion. It sometimes used to work that way in the distant past but not recently. Yet that myth of "time served should result in a promotion," still lingers.

[SHRM members-only sample policy: Staff Promotions]

It is not an employer's responsibility to ensure your success. The hard facts are that, other than you, few people really care what happens in your work life. Turning a series of jobs into a career is your responsibility alone. Consequently, to successfully manage your career, you have to take responsibility for making those promotions happen. To do that, you need relevant experience, credentials and demonstrated potential. There are many criteria that play into these essentials, led by these three:

Be qualified for the job you want. That next career step has an elevated level of responsibility, and supervisors must believe you have the majority of the skills needed to execute that role. Imagine for a moment that you were responsible for filling that position and you had two candidates to choose from. One had many years of experience in the title below and did a creditable job. The other applicant also had several years of experience, did well and had also gained experience in the responsibilities of the new job. As a manager, you must be objective and you must do what is in the best interests of the company, so who would you promote? The second applicant.

Consequently, your first task is to look at the job description for your next career step and compare it with a few job descriptions for the same job from other companies. Take note of those areas where you need to develop new skills or gain more experience. This process is a gap analysis, identifying the gap between the skills you have and the skills you need. What you're left with is your own professional skills development program that will qualify you for that promotion.

While continuing to work to the very best of your abilities in your current role, start developing the skills identified in your gap analysis via books, courses and accreditations and by volunteering for any project that will get you involved in developing those needed skills.

Know the players. In most departments, there is an inner and an outer circle. Consciously or otherwise, you stand in one of them. Employees in the inner circle get the best raises and opportunities to gain the experience required for promotions. You need to identify who is in that inner circle and what is different about the way they conduct themselves, then remodel yourself and your behavior based on this new awareness.

You won't see a difference overnight, but gradually your supervisors will see you as someone who is more committed and connected to supporting the profit mandate that drives every department in every company. Over the coming year, you may well find yourself in the inner circle and the opportunities for gaining the necessary experience will increase.

Understand that personality plays a role in every career. If you feel trapped in your current role, your attitude may have soured just a little and you may need to make a conscious decision to adjust that.

As you identify the skills needed for that next step and determine who belongs to the inner circle within your department, you will start to notice how the real players communicate. This may then affect how you dress; interact with others; and think and talk about your work, the department and the organization. Likewise, the company you keep will impact the way you are perceived by the people who hold influence over your future.

Much earlier in my own career, I was dissatisfied with my progress and took a step back to see if there was any way I could bring my professional persona more in line with the way the movers and shakers do things.

When I realized that I needed to align my focus with the focus of the people who could impact my future, I came to two important decisions:

  • I had to change the way I thought and talked about my work and company management.
  • There were people whom I would slowly have to leave behind as I aligned myself with more positive influencers.

Hard decisions to make, but in the management of my career, I realized that I could either stand by and whine or do whatever it took to make things happen. Consider choosing the latter.

Have a question for Martin? E-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!

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SHRM's Employee Engagement Survey service focuses on more than 50 aspects of job satisfaction and engagement commonly linked to performance.

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