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You And Your Career | The Path To Promotion

Author: Lauren Coleman

Early on in my career I was overlooked for a promotion. Crushed doesn’t come close to describing how I felt that day when I found the position had gone to one of my peers. To make matters worse I had been coaxed into putting myself forward for the role by senior management who had suggested the interview was a formality and the job was mine.

Back then I was too shy to ask for feedback for fear of having my bruised ego further damaged. However I imagine lack of experience, plus many of the factors we discuss below would have been the contributing factors to lack of promotion.

As part of our regular career feature we’re pleased to team up with Office Angels Director, Chris Moore once again. This time Chris shares some very helpful tips on securing your place on the next step of the career ladder.

Getting a promotion is harder than it’s ever been. Today, performing your job well is often not enough: you have to go above and beyond, fighting off stiff competition from your colleagues for promotions which are few and far between.

Unsurprisingly simply asking for a promotion won’t get you very far, with less than one in 100 employers (0.8%) being swayed by ad hoc requests.

  • The determining factors in career progression are also changing; fewer than one in six bosses (16%) now look at education and training when considering who to promote, and only one in five (21%) are concerned with specialist skills. Instead, personal and communication skills are on the up, and developing these, as well as your attitude to the workplace, could help you take the next step on the jobs ladder.
  • Show initiative: Nearly two-thirds (63%) of employers look for employees who are resourceful, enthusiastic and pro-active. Take every opportunity to stand out and show your skills. New opportunities are a fantastic way of raising your profile, so put yourself forward or offer to help your colleagues. When a problem arises, don’t wait for instructions from your seniors: Suggest a solution and make their lives easier. Show that you have taken the time to really understand the issue and how your team can move forward: Your initiative, drive and problem solving ability will all be recognised.
  • Be a team player: Whilst promotion is an individual achievement, more than half of bosses (55%) look for teamwork in those they promote. As well as being a dependable member of your team, working collaboratively and communicating constructively is a form of leadership in itself and won’t go unnoticed by your boss. Also, make sure you network with colleagues, suppliers and relevant organisations to build stronger, mutually beneficial relationships at work.
  • Demonstrate your ability to lead: Over half (55%) of employers rank leadership skills as essential for promotion. Volunteer to take responsibility for group projects, making sure to practice what you preach. Lead by example, and motivate your fellow team members with support. In demonstrating an ability to lead, you are showing your boss that you can step up to future roles.
  • Have a solid work ethic: Employers want employees who are willing to work hard and add value to the company. This is why 54% of bosses look for people who are prepared to go the extra mile, have the discipline to see the task through, and have a commitment to quality results.
  • Fine tune your communication skills: Nearly half (48%) of employers look for employees with top communication skills. Make sure you listen to what others are saying, encourage others to speak up and ask questions to grow and learn. Remember that a lot of communication is non-verbal, so be confident, smile and make eye contact.
  • While we’re on the subject of promotions I thought I’d add in another of my own tales. Several years ago after a colleague left suddenly, I found myself covering their role. It was a bit of a ‘step up’ and I had high hopes of securing a new fancier job as a result. However though the extra effort was appreciated it didn’t result in any compensation during my annual appraisal. Personally I believed I was covering all aspects of the job but it was pointed out I had in fact just been keeping the role ticking over. I hadn’t necessarily displayed any evidence of anything hugely strategic, or set in place any long term (come to think of it, short term) goals for growth. It was a bit of an eye-opener for me as I had convinced myself I was doing their job. It’s a tricky balance considering there’s hardly ever enough time to do your own job let alone take on extra obligations but it’s definitely something to think about.
    This led to some smashing advice, suggesting you should do all you can to perform at the level of a job a grade higher than your own (obviously being careful not to step on anyone’s toes). Yep, you may not be financially rewarded for all the effort at the time but it’s a great way to demonstrate to your peers and management how you can be trusted to take on additional responsibility. I did all I could to get exposure at a higher level and polished my business acumen. After a bit of a bumpy ride I have to say it has paid off. Also when I finally did get a job at a higher grade it was a far smoother transition dealing with the new responsibilities.

    What are your tips for bagging a great job within the work place? Anyone keen to step on to the next rung of the ladder but experiencing a few set-backs? Any recent promotions we should be celebrating?


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    10 thoughts on “You And Your Career | The Path To Promotion

    1. I work in a small office (there are only three of us) so there is not a chance of me being promoted here. I don’t have any plans to leave in the near future but I am conscious that I don’t want to end up stuck in a rut. I recently went to a PA training day and and we had a session on the benefits of mentoring and coaching and I am keen to look into this option. Mentoring or coaching from someone in a senior position to yourself is a great way of preparing for a step up and is cost effective to a company.

      When I worked in HR after leaving uni I processed the majority of the application forms and my main gripe was that even though you receive a job description and person specification which clearly tells you what the company are looking for, most people do not refer to this criteria when filling in an application. I saw colleagues who had been doing great while covering jobs miss out on even being interviewed for the position because they did not submit a good application form.

      When sifting through applications the panel will look for forms in which people demonstrate they meet all of the essential criteria, and then whittle down further by the desirable criteria. You need to cover all of these requirements! Just saying you have done the job already to a good standard is not enough – you need to give the context in which you have displayed the required skills, give examples of what you have achieved in demonstrating the skills and what you have learnt. Draw on experience in all the positions you have worked in and don’t be afraid to blow you own trumpet – nobody else is going to do it for you!

    2. Hi Claire, we should definitely do a post about application forms and covering letters because you make an excellent point on the importance of this.
      You can tell from a mile off if someone is applying for a bulk of jobs as their applications aren’t tailored at all!

      1. If you want a job you have to work for it and put the time in to impress on paper. I learnt some great tips at my recent training day. One of them was aimed at appraisals but is also useful for applications/justifying promotion – make a note of all of your small achievements (I use my task list categorising it under ‘appraisal’) e.g. when you receive a compliment, when a client thanks you, when you finish ahead of a deadline, assisting someone you do not normally work with, even learning a new IT tip. It all adds up when selling yourself to an employer.

        1. Great tip on keeping a running list of achievements too. So much easier to remember them when it comes round to appraisal time.

      2. As a Manager who has recruited for quite a few different job roles over the last couple of years I get really frustrated with the amount of “generic” applications I see. Sometimes they are so non-specific that they don’t fit the job at all. It is such a wide-scale problem that it’s almost got to the point that all someone needs to do is tailor their application & show genuine interest in this specific role and they will get shortlisted because hardly anyone else is doing that!
        This applies across different levels of job aswell, so it’s not only inexperienced applicants making that mistake. It is a shame because clearly people don’t realise how much of a turn off it is for recruiting managers – I appreciate that job hunting is time consuming, but tailoring an application is (in my opinion at least) a necessary use of time rather than an added extra. Just my two pennies worth!

        1. Katie – I’m with you on this one.
          On a side note I can’t believe how many agencies put folks forward for jobs they just aren’t suitable for. It’s like they view a completely different CV!

    3. I am often stunned by the number of people who hold senior roles within their professions and seemingly have zero ‘people skills’. I have come to realise there are very few people who are natural leaders and those that are have made it a skill in itself! Recognising peoples strengths and weaknesses and developing a team who effectively have the confidence to perform to the best of their ability is very hard! I too have had to battle on the ladder of career progression and it has taken ten years to hone my skills. I am fortunate enough to work with a very talented group of individuals and I believe ‘I have learnt from the best’. Being humble, taking things on the chin and making mistakes have all lead to where I am now xx

      1. I completely agree Hannah! I work as a lawyer in a city law firm and I am also stunned on a day to day basis at the number of Partners in the firm who have managed to get in those positions with virtually no people skills and no desire to develop and mentor the younger, less experienced lawyers. It really is astonishing!

    4. Interesting read! Personally, I hate application forms. I don’t find them any less generic and I much rather read a well-written CV with a decent cover letter. I appreciate that larger organisations prefer the security of going through about a dozen tick-the-box questions, but in the end, I want to hire a person, not a robot who can meet every criteria (and don’t even get me started on examples…). We have hired some great people who probably wouldn’t have gotten the job if it would have been just based on meeting every single requirement in the job specification. However, they showed potential and interest and shone in the interview.

      I find the lack of interest companies have in training staff to become the best they can be quite sad, you need to invest in people and not just expect to have the perfect person walk into a role without any further effort on your end.

      Fully agree on the recruitment agency comment though – some of the CVs you get are just atrocious (not to mention unsuitable)!

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