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The Promotion Paradox

Very few people want to stay in the same job forever, and it shows a healthy competitiveness to be ambitious and seek success. But long gone are the days when you can expect to be promoted just because of the length of time you have been in a particular role.

Nowadays, climbing the corporate ladder can be a very confusing and complicated experience. You may have a great reputation within your industry, and you may be ready for your next step up. But when the opportunity arises for promotion, you are either overlooked or told you don't have enough experience. This can be extremely discouraging, especially when you see other people rising effortlessly through the ranks.

I think we can all be in agreement that it is not simply how good you do you current job that determines the probability of promotion. The more important factor is how well people think you can do the job you are applying for. And here lies the paradox. How can you convince your colleagues that you have the skills to perform effectively in a new role when you are still in your current job?

You can't get promoted unless you have the relevant experience. But you can't get the relevant experience unless you get promoted. How can you break this catch-22 "Promotion Paradox"?

Rule 1 - Stay Positive

Rule number one is to stay positive. This, of course, is easier said than done especially if you are struggling to get recognition. But is important to remain confident. Research has shown that positive people are more likely to be promoted than despondent and pessimistic people. That may seem obvious, but when things are not working out it is easy to feel the world is against us, so it is crucial to remain a productive member of the team.

Rule 2 - Pressure Management

Rule number two is an extension of the previous rule. If you want to really demonstrate your positivity you should follow the "Pressure Management" principle.

This principle is based on the assumption that when you get employed at a company, your Manager hired you to reduce their work pressure. They want someone who is capable of making their lives easier, not harder.

You can achieve this in a number of ways such as helping to increase revenue or reducing costs, developing workflows and processes, or simply taking on some of their workload. But the fundamental objective is to remove some of the pressure they are under. If you can effectively accomplish this, you will be very valuable and someone who people want to be around.

One simple way to achieve this is through positivity and control. In all areas of your work, you want to be displaying an attitude of total control. If you are being asked to manage a project or process, you want to demonstrate a self-belief of total success. The attitude you want to be exhibiting is a winning mindset. The aim is to keep everyone reassured and show that you are in full control and are the right person to deliver success.

The Pressure Management idea may feel simplistic, but I've seen it in action many times. At one company I worked at, a particular external consultancy was used on many projects across the business. They did not appear to offer any additional expertise, or superior performance than any other person. But what they did well was take the pressure off the management team responsible for the project. They would make quick and firm decisions, quash any concerns of failure and ensure the atmosphere around the project remained positive at all times. I witnessed on various occasions a less than perfect project performance from the consultancy, but the positivity and "Pressure Management" that they provided was the reason this consultancy was requested time and again.

Rule 3 - Personal Perception

One obstacle to overcome when trying to climb the promotion ladder can be a problem of personal perception. Often other people cannot visualise you in a role other than the one you are currently doing. When I was in a Team Assistant role I found it very difficult to advance my career. People would only see me as a Team Assistant, so when I made attempts at applying for a more senior role, I was not considered as a suitable candidate. You will also regularly find that the better you do your job the less easy it is for others to see you capable of doing anything else. Colleagues see you and your skillet as perfect for you current job and they therefore think you can't extend your abilities to any other role.

This is a difficult obstacle to overcome. You don't, of course, want to lower the quality of your work in order to give the impression you are too senior for your current role.

It is important to pay particular attention to those areas of your job that have the most impact on your Manager. Not only will this get you the most recognition, but it will most likely be the best use of your time for the success of the overall business. You shouldn't neglect the other parts of your role, but developing the areas that have the greatest effect will lead to the best results for everyone.

Rule 4 - Tell People You Want To Be Promoted

One of the attitudes a Manager loves to hear from their direct reports is a desire to be promoted. This shows that their team has aspirations and an eagerness to take on more responsibility. Therefore, there is nothing wrong in communicating, to the correct people, that you have ambitions to move higher up in the organisation. If you communicate this in a positive way then it can only have good outcomes.

You shouldn't tell people that you think you are overqualified or bored of your existing role. The best approach is to reassure your Manager that you want to remain in the company and would like the opportunity to make a bigger impact in the business. This should open yourself up to getting involved in more significant projects. It will also signal to people that you want to be promoted, so that when you do apply for other roles within the organisation, there will not be any surprise or awkwardness.

Rule 5 - Find A Mentor

A Mentor can be a great guide to help you with managing your career. They may be able to open doors for you, advise on specific challenges and introduce you to helpful people. Of course, a Mentor-Mentee collaboration is not a one-way relationship. A Mentor can learn a lot about their leadership skills from coaching a Mentee. So a good match between Mentor and Mentee is important in order for both parties to benefit.

Choosing a Mentor can be difficult. I think it is best to look for someone who possesses the skills that you are keen to develop. It could be professional skills such as Finance and Accounting, or personal skills like gravitas and leadership. In the past, I have found that people who are not too far ahead of you in terms of seniority make the best Mentors. They will have more relatable experience and have a better understanding of the challenges you are facing.

It can be awkward to ask someone to be your Mentor. Most people don't like to impose on others, particularly if you don't know the person all that well. It can therefore be a good idea to see if someone can ask for you. If this person knows your target Mentor well, they will have a much better opportunity to approach them. This method is also much better for the Mentor as it will be more comfortable for them to say no to the request if they are unable to commit.

Rule 6 - Network

Getting to know new people is a really powerful way to become more visible, both internally as well as externally, in the wider business world.

Forbes wrote a great article on the benefits of networking:

The third advantage on the Forbes list states that good networks open up avenues for new opportunities. As clichéd as it sounds, jobs and promotions really do go to people who are well connected. As a Hiring Manager, it is much safer to offer a role to someone you know, or someone who has been recommended. And the better connected you are the more likely you are to not only hear about new jobs, but be recommended for them as well.

Rule 7 - Say "Yes"

In the 2008 movie "Yes Man", Jim Carey changes his life by saying yes to every opportunity he is offered. You may not want to take things this far, but putting yourself forward and saying yes to exciting projects will help you develop leadership skills. It will also have the additional benefit of introducing you to new people, potentially in different areas of the business. Working on high profile projects will also give you tangible examples of your skills and expertise when applying for promotions.

Rule 8 - Increase Your Presence

Navigating your way through all the different types of social media could be a full time job. But love it or hate it, social media is essential for your personal brand. There are some fundamental activities you should be regularly performing if you want to be seen as someone who is an authority in your industry. The most important business platform is LinkedIn, so it is essential to keep your Linkedin profile up-to-date. You should also be an active user of Linkedin, which at its most basic, would be "Liking" and commenting on people's Posts, sharing Posts and joining Groups. The more active you are, the greater exposure you are awarded on LinkedIn. You can, of course, go further and create your own Posts, as well as writing Articles. These are more time consuming to create, but they will get you more visibility.

There are a lot of other social media platforms around that you can use to build your presence. Apart from LinkedIn, the big ones are Twitter and Instagram. These two social media apps are probably more difficult to get noticed on than Linkedin, but if you can get a good number of followers they are really worth investing time in.

Other ways to get noticed could be to develop your own website or blog, create a podcast or YouTube channel or even write a book. These, of course, take a lot more effort than most social media, but they give you more control over the creativity and direction of your content.

Rule 9 - New Direction

This rule should be considered as a last resort, which is why it is at the end of the list. However, sometimes the only way to progress in your career is to move jobs. This could either be by transitioning internally (to another team or division), or moving to a new company.

You may decide that moving to a similar level position in a new company is worth the effort. This gives you the opportunity to re-invent yourself and present your skills in a different context. If you do go down this route, you should make sure that you don't remain in the position for too long otherwise you could end up in the same situation as you were before.

Final Thoughts

Navigating your way through the corporate hierarchy and promotional barriers is a skill that you will need to learn if you want to advance your career. The methods outlined in this article should provide some guidance to give you the best possible chance of success. They are tried and tested techniques that have been used by hundreds of people who have greatly benefitted from their impact and effect. You don't need to apply all nine rules at the same time, but you should be aware of each one so you can steer your career in the right direction.

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