By Erika Andersen
If you think it’s harder to get a promotion now than it used to be, you’re right. One ongoing outcome of the 2008-2010 recession is that many companies of necessity have found leaner ways of operating — fewer layers of management, broader spans of control. New technologies have also radically shifted some industries and automated many thousands of jobs in others, leaving fewer positions and less potential for promotion. And as if that weren’t enough, the baby boomers aren’t retiring at the same age or in the same numbers as previous generations. Given that many of them are hanging out in those coveted senior level jobs, that leads to a phenomenon known as “crowding”: simply put, if the person at the top doesn’t leave, then everyone below gets stuck.
What’s an ambitious person to do? Sadly, what a lot of people do is hound their boss for a promotion on a regular basis and complain when it doesn’t happen. Tempting, but not very helpful. If you’re finding yourself caught in that doom loop, here are six ways to break out:
1. Go lateral. Sometimes, longing for a promotion in your current job can blind you to opportunities in other parts of your organization – like wrestling to open a locked door when there’s a door standing open in the next room. Do some investigation to find out if other departments have more upward movement, and if their work is something you would like and be good at doing. Learn whatever you need to learn in order to be a credible candidate for jobs in that area, and when a position comes open at your level (or even a step back) be prepared to make the case for yourself. A few years ago, someone I know in the banking industry moved from her part of the business, which was shrinking, into compliance, which has been growing since the sub-prime mortgage debacle. She’s since been promoted, and finds the work both challenging and interesting.
2. Deliver amazing results. This may sound obvious, but I’ve seen lots of folks lobby hard for a promotion without first making sure that they’re performing better than their peers. If there is any promotion to be had at all, you’re more likely to get it if you do remarkable work day in and day out – and especially if that work includes achieving results that are important to your boss. For instance, if your manager relies upon you for a weekly report that goes to his boss – and you deliver it on time and fully accurate without fail — and then suggest ways it could be improved – you’re putting yourself in line for any advancement opportunities that might come up. And if there still aren’t any promotions available, you can use your great track record in your current job to help you go lateral or change industries…
3. Change industries. Even in today’s flatter, less promotion-available world, some industries and some companies are still in growth mode. (For your reference, here’s a list.) Which means more promotions. It’s easy to assume that it’s too hard to change industries or companies, and that you’re therefore stuck where you are — but it can be less difficult than you think. It requires targeting a growth industry and a company that appeals to you culturally and in terms of their product of service, and then figuring out what you need to learn in order to position yourself as a viable candidate. It can be uncomfortable, though – so you have to ask yourself if you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone to find new opportunities. Which leads me to the next option…
4. Become a world-class learner. I’m completely convinced that the key to success in today’s world is building the ability to learn new skills quickly and continuously. Becoming this kind of world-class learner will automatically put you ahead of the pack in your current job, but it will also best position you to take advantage of new opportunities that might arise in other parts of your company. It’s also core to successfully changing industries, if that’s what you decide to do. Think about the people you know who resist learning new approaches, systems or processes that arise at work: they get marginalized. Over the past few years, I watched this happen to an HR manager I know. She insisted on practicing her craft as it had been done years ago; she didn’t learn the skills needed to become a better business partner, and she didn’t take advantage of the ways in which analytics have changed her field. She was first moved into a less prestigious and demanding job, and then, finally, she was let go. If you only do one thing on this list, do this: get great at learning new things.
5. Let go of the word “promotion”. Recently at my company, one of our staff members took on new responsibilities that expanded her role and resulted in a pay increase. Was it a promotion? She still reports to the same person, and her title didn’t change. Sometimes we can get so mono-focused on a promotion in the traditional sense – new title, moving up in the chain of hierarchy – that we overlook opportunities to grow professionally, take on new responsibilities and make more money. And isn’t that what you really want? A rose by any other name, in the words of Mr. Shakespeare, would smell as sweet.
6. Do your own thing. If you really want to be in charge of your own career trajectory, you can always become your own boss. Of course, this is a big step, and not one to be undertaken lightly – and entrepreneurship does require certain personal characteristics. But if you do decide you want to go down that path, there are some less scary on-ramps. For example, many people’s first step to their own business is freelancing or consulting in their current area. A young man I know who was working in the marketing department of a large company and not seeing any room for advancement decided to start his own creative agency with a friend; they spent the first eighteen months paying the bills with part-time free-lance work while they built their business model, gathered together some friends-and-family investment, and built their industry relationships. They’ve been in business for three years now, and they’re both glad they made the change.
You might have noticed a thread running through all six of these possibilities: they’re not easy. Asking for a promotion at regular intervals, on the other hand, is pretty easy. But how’s that working out for you? Growing professionally in today’s work world requires fresh thinking, new kinds of effort and a modicum of courage.
Good luck – and I’d love to hear how it goes…
Erika’ is the author of Be Bad First – Get Good at Things Fast to Stay Ready for the Future.
This article was written by Erika Andersen from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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