Your Career Q&A: Chasing Promotions

By Martin Yate Oct 18, 2016
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​Having trouble getting to that next rung on the career ladder? 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.

Thank you for your Career Q&A column. I am in a stage where my HR credentials have taken me as far as they can. It seems that, despite years and depth of experience and demonstrated expertise in the HR profession, I have not been successful in being considered for promotion.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to answer my question.


No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, which is why hiring managers often cite "too much / too little experience" or "need a higher degree" when they reject someone for a job offer or promotion. Sometimes that answer reflects the reality; sometimes it does not. As applicants, we don't always have an entirely objective point of view about what it takes to land that promotion. All too often, we sincerely believe that tenure and education are enough, but that is not the case.

While there are many factors that contribute to professional success, they can all be boiled down to a simple phrase: "Success depends on knowing what you do well and doing more of it, and then seeing where you are falling short and turning that weakness into a strength." Consequently, your pursuit of professional growth starts with objective self-analysis and self-development programs that turn weaknesses into strengths.

Who Gets Promoted and Why

There are a handful of considerations that have considerable impact on who gets promoted, and they have little to do with education or tenure. To be selected for a promotion, you must first possess superior skills in every aspect of your current job. Next, you must be seen as someone who comes to work every day to make a difference for the good of the department—meaning that you support the department's role in all you do and you perform your job well and with consideration for your colleagues' work. At the same time, you have an obligation to be a positive and cohesive influence with your colleagues. As you improve your skills and take on new initiatives, your productivity will grow. So will your credibility and visibility, which are key ingredients to getting ahead in any environment.

You can also advance by doing the things others don't want to do or won't do. Once your skills, performance and team standing are the best they can be, look around the department for jobs that need to be done but aren't, often because, while they are important, they are also messy or seem to have little prestige or visibility attached to them.

The only people likely to notice and appreciate your picking up the slack will be supervisors who hold your professional growth in their hands. I once worked with a competent guy who used to bend down and pick up pieces of trash in the hallways. I thought it was a joke at first. Then I noticed he was making those little extra efforts all the time. Regardless of rank, he knew everyone by name and always had a smile for everyone he met. Everyone knew and liked him. His rise was meteoric.

Groundwork for Promotions

To position yourself for that next step up the ladder, look at the job description for your desired position and compare it against job postings from other companies that describe the same job. Examine the responsibilities they have in common and notice the skills you don't have or that need a little buffing. Also study the people in your company who hold this target job title and identify how they execute their work, quietly ranking them as you observe so that you have models to emulate.

Regardless of title, all jobs have one thing in common: to support company profitability. This applies even if you are in the social impact or nonprofit sector.

How does this play into winning a promotion? In every job, you must know how to identify, anticipate and prevent the problems that interfere with your job's deliverables—and that interfere with profitability. So, when problems inevitably drop on your desk, you know how to handle them efficiently and with due respect for colleagues, which helps the company grow.

Pulling all of this together means that you analyze your weaknesses and work on them, quietly asking to be part of projects that would help you build those skills. It isn't necessary to spell out why you want to work on a particular project beyond, "I think I can make a contribution and learn at the same time." If you follow this advice, you will increase your credibility, visibility and reputation as someone who always takes the extra step, works for the good and harmony of the team, and has developed the skills required in the new job—and that will lead to promotions.

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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