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Lay the Foundation for a Promotion

Two businessmen shaking hands in an office.

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.

The company I worked for was bought. I saw layoffs coming, and so I found a new job elsewhere. However, the new position is a bit below my experience and skill level. I don't want to step on toes or come in acting like I know everything. But I do want to grow, and I want to be a part of the team. I have been here now for three weeks, and I am very impressed by the people I get to work with. Everyone is very kind and supportive, but I can tell that the woman who is doing most of my training is a bit leery of me. Do you have any suggestions on how I might be able to win her over? I don't want to compete with her; I want to support her and learn from her. 

You've been with the company only a short time, but still long enough for one of the people who is likely to be involved in getting you a promotion to become "a bit leery" of you. It's hard to say, but maybe you have come on too strong? Let's take a step back and talk about how to lay the foundation for winning a promotion.

The first lesson to learn about winning promotions is that you can never expect to land one unless you have first been accepted as a productive member of the team.

Ideally, you start positioning yourself as a team member—as you say you want to be—as soon as you join the company. The sooner you begin to do this, the fewer negative impressions you might have to overcome. This is when you focus on becoming accepted as a member of the team and the department's inner circle—that inner circle being where the raises and promotions are distributed.

Make a Positive First Impression

Your boss expects the same person who interviewed for the job to show up for the job, so make sure you are presenting yourself that way.

Get clear direction on the responsibilities of your job and the deliverables of each responsibility.

Just as you need time to get to know the company, its services and its people, they need time to get to know you. Go out of your way to smile and introduce yourself to everyone, learn their names and show interest in their responsibilities.

Understand and show respect for the roles of other team members and people in other departments with whom you regularly interact. Do your job in a way that shows you are striving to make everyone's work easier; this helps others—especially your department's decision-makers—accept and trust you.

Learn Who's Who

In every department, there is an inner and outer circle. People in the inner circle get things done, enjoy plum assignments and earn promotions. People in the outer circle do what it takes to get by, enjoy finding fault and rarely contribute to solutions. Any critical, dismissive or derisive comments you make in the early days can quickly get you assigned to the outer circle. Form good relationships inside and outside your department, and whatever you do, never gossip or speak ill of any person or directive.

As you are settling in and learning the ropes, your managers and co-workers are looking carefully at how you function and trying to fit you into the group. Their considerations evaluate:

  • How well you know your job.
  • Whether you execute your duties in a professional way that is respectful of the work and responsibilities of others.
  • Whether you shoulder your share of the responsibility for creating a friendly, positive workplace.
  • How you make decisions and if you respect professional protocols.
  • How you treat other people, recognize their contributions and give due credit.
  • Whether you recognize and respect the hierarchy of the team.

Understand Management's Expectations

Knowing and delivering on management's expectations of your productivity is critical, first to keeping your job and then to gaining a promotion. Regularly ask your boss for informal feedback on how you are doing and how you can do better. 

Managers appreciate direct reports who make giving constructive input painless and then use the feedback to improve their performance. If performance issues come up, be open to the input and clarify the steps you should take to improve.

Pursue these informal evaluations every few weeks—they help keep your drive and commitment visible to those who count.

Gain Management's Acceptance

Learn your job and how its role plays into the goals of the department. Put in whatever effort is necessary to get the job done right. Whenever you see a colleague who needs a hand, step up and help. If you see something that needs to be done, either volunteer or simply step up and get it done. 

Communication Rules

Taking a slow, methodical approach in the first 90 days will speed your acceptance by the group while giving you the time to recognize the power players among your peers. No one likes to be overwhelmed with genius, and the better you are, the more you have to work at humility and a low profile until you have been accepted.

Take the time to start your new job on the right foot, and you'll gain acceptance by the team and especially by that inner circle—where your professional future lies.

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 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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