You’re taught in school (whether intentionally or not) that you’re automatically moved forward simply by meeting expectations. In the real world, you can work as hard as you want, but you’ll never get ahead unless you start showing initiative. Before I was an activist, I was an Operations Manager at Bank of America. I’ve been in charge of both ends of a promotion, and I know what it takes. If you want that big promotion at work, here are some of the things management looks for.
It’s not enough to just dress for the position you want; in corporate America nearly everyone is wearing a suit and tie. Looking the part means more than just dressing the part; you need to smile. People are naturally attracted to those who smile, and you can’t expect to obtain a real promotion without a genuine smile. Smile until it hurts, if for no other reason than to bug everyone else.
Everyone makes mistakes. I can’t even count how many “career-ending” mistakes I’ve made. I crashed the entire overnight update system at one of the largest consumer banks in the world. I’ve been accused of every form of harassment, discrimination, etc. It’s part of being a leader. If you want to be promoted, you have to learn from these types of mistakes. People don’t mind seeing mistakes on your record if you learn from them.
If you’re sitting around waiting for someone to invite you to the party, you’ll never get an invite. Take the initiative to present a completed project to your manager. They may not appreciate the project, but they’ll appreciate the effort. You may get invited to work on this project, or you may be assigned a new one in the future. Either way you’re on the radar, and your name is on the table – keep working.
No matter which industry you work in, you’ll eventually come across situations where boldness is necessary. William Wallace didn’t free the Scots by being meek and mild. Superman didn’t save Earth because he was afraid to get hurt. Taking risks is what separates you from the pack. Even if the risks don’t pay off, as long as they’re calculated, you’ll have a leg up on your competition.
It’s OK to be a bit of a rebel; an honest business normally welcomes those who question processes and find new ways. You have to balance this, however, by listening to any feedback you get. You should be meeting with your supervisor on a monthly, quarterly, or annual (at the absolute least) basis. During this time, they’ll be telling you how you’re seen by management. You may disagree, but it doesn’t change how it is. Rather than resist, take the feedback to heart and make the necessary changes to change the way they see you.
If you want to prove you’re an expert, exceeding your goals is a great start. But what companies really want is people who are willing and able to train other people in their efficient ways of doing things. Something may happen to you, but your work will live on if you’re able to pass your knowledge on to others. Learn to take the measure of yourself by the performance of those around you instead of competing with co-workers.
We all appreciate that you think you can run this place better than everyone else. We’re sure you’re the one and only Neo who can save the Matrix. Just because the CEO once worked in the mail room doesn’t mean everyone in the mail room becomes CEO eventually. Just because you got a business degree doesn’t mean you’re going to run the business. Manage your expectations and take what’s available to people on your level. Lead by example and set realistic expectations to ensure you’re viewed in your office as a leader.
Following these seven steps won’t guarantee you a promotion, but as long as you follow them and continue applying for promotions (yes, you have to apply; they’re not just given away to anyone), you’ll eventually get it. You can continue being promoted this way until you reach the peak career level for your skill set. If you’re doing everything right, and you’re still being passed over, you’re not actually doing everything right: reread this list and try again.
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