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Getting a Promotion Takes More Than Tenure


A business woman is standing on a set of stairs with doodles on them.


​If you're trying for a promotion, you still have to win over the new job's supervisors—even if they already know you. 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 am seeking advice about career advancement in HR. I have been working in an entry-level role for about seven years now. My undergraduate degree is in HR, and I am almost halfway through my master's degree in HR as well. I earned my SHRM-CP last year and take every opportunity that I can to continue to develop my skills, but I just cannot seem to catch a break when it comes to getting promoted. I work for a very large organization, but HR opportunities are few and far between. I get great performance appraisals and I know it isn't that I don't deserve to be promoted. 

Every now and then I test the water externally to see what options I might have there, but I rarely get a response. I don't want to leave my organization, but I feel like sitting still is also damaging my career. I want career advancement, but it seems I have to make a lateral move to another organization and hope that they will acknowledge my true potential and promote me.
 

I feel like I have a strong resume, and I am not sure what else I can do to set myself up for success in this career field. Do you have any advice? I am starting to question whether I need to make a complete change and explore other fields.

Anonymous

An often-overlooked impediment to advancing at an organization is believing that good work, effort and loyalty make you deserving of promotion. While these traits do play into the decision, they are not management's main concern. To understand the priorities of management, we should look at your candidacy from that side of the desk. 

Imagine you are the promoting manager, and as such your prime responsibility is to get work done through the people you hire; fail in this and you fail in your job. Now imagine you have two final candidates, one with exactly your skills and another who has been doing this very job somewhere else for the last three years and is experienced with identifying, anticipating, preventing and solving the problems of the available job. Who would you hire: the person with the experience and credentials, or the one who would like to try? 

Don't worry, though. You can get there from here. I'm going to suggest an approach to build on the sterling work you have already done. 

Positioning for Promotions

The best way to position yourself for any promotion is to know the job title that you want and then to develop a deep understanding of the deliverables of that job. Conduct a GAP analysis to identify the difference between the skills and experience you have and the skills and experience you will need. This creates a professional development plan focused on the demands and deliverables of the target job. Looked at in this way, you can see that while education can add to your credentials, it by no means provides full justification for winning a promotion. 

To have a reasonable chance of winning a promotion or a new job, you need to possess 70 percent or more of the skills required. When you have developed these required skills, with as much real-world experience as you can get (possibly gained from volunteering for assignments), you are ready to go after a promotion. You'll have good odds of success because you have the credentials, plus your supervisors know everything you have done to date, strengthening your candidacy. 

You say you have a strong resume, but when you pursue external opportunities you rarely get a response. My guess is that you have based your resume on what you think is important, forgetting the first two lessons of professional life:

  1. The customer is always right.
  2. Find out what the customers want and give it to them. 

Following these two dictums will give you an objectively based resume, which will be far more effective. 

Your Resume for Promotions and New Opportunities

Your final preparatory step is to reconstruct your resume, not in terms of what you think is important but rather focused on what you know is important to the needs of the target job.

Rewriting your resume will also help you prepare for the interview cycle because you will know the topics most likely to be addressed and you can carefully think through what you bring to the table in each area. External candidates will have properly focused resumes, so to be considered for a promotion, presenting your supervisors with a fresh, job-targeted resume demonstrates that you are qualified, serious and a proven quantity. 

Initiating Your Plan

You are now ready to meet with both your organization's management and HR department. Be very positive about the job and the company as you hand over your carefully job-targeted resume and ask to be considered for the next suitable opportunity that opens up. Ask them to review your document, explaining that it highlights skills and experience that enhance your qualifications. You'll send the message that you are serious about your career development and that you are a top-rate employee the company doesn't want to lose. 

You will then also be properly positioned to pursue other opportunities outside the company with far greater odds of success: Your resume will be more discoverable in databases and better focused on employer needs for the job. 

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. 

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