You’re Not Ready Yet: Landing that Promotion

Sally felt terrible. She had been an engineer at the company for three solid years and always performed well. Over the last year, she began to think about her career growth and knew that the next step was to be promoted to a senior position. She had pushed herself so hard to make sure the work she did was worthy of a promotion and even put in extra time on the side to shore up her technical skills. The other day, she approached her boss, Steven, about being promoted, and it was a disaster. She felt deflated, frustrated, angry, and confused. Even after a long weekend, she wasn’t sure what her next steps should be.

Most every software engineer I come across wants to grow in their career, and those that don’t, usually don’t last very long. As humans, we have a desire for continuous growth and improvement. The trouble is, however, sometimes our growth is dependent on others. In the case of Sally, her hard work didn’t translate into being ready for a promotion. Simply doing a great job isn’t always enough, and you may find yourself spinning your wheels if you’re not properly aligned with the the expectations of your manager or company.

5 Simple Steps for a Career Promotion

  1. Open a dialogue with your manager
  2. Determine your career path
  3. Request the company’s criteria
  4. Outline tangible goals
  5. Schedule regular check-ins

Opening a dialogue with your manager is a critical first step, and doing it early is essential. If you wait too long, like Sally did, you’ll find yourself having wasted a lot of time doing things that don’t help build the skills needed to be promoted. On top of that, you may no longer have the patience, desire, or even the drive required to meet your goals for growth. This usually leads to people leaving companies before they’ve fully reached their potential, and can set someone back in their career for years to come.

Determining your career path is just common sense, but I find that many people don’t think very deeply about it and are simply rushing for a promotion. If your company has a technical track and a management track, sit down and think about which one makes sense for you in the short and long-term. Discuss with your manager to understand the difference between the options and even go to other managers or leads and get their input. Another really important tip is to plan for the next two promotions, not just the immediate one. This way you’ll really dig deep about where you see yourself over the next few years.

Oftentimes you—or even your manager!—may not know the company’s criteria for being able to be promoted, and this can cause a lot of ill will if it’s the reason you get rejected. Find out how long the process may take and if you’ll need more approvals than just your manager’s. Most tech companies today are structured in such a way that your manager simply puts you up for nomination, but the decision to promote is left to a broader group. Knowing this can also help you know who to network with to ensure the right people know who you are.

Tangible goals seem so simple but too often people leave this part out. I guarantee that if tangible goals aren’t set, you’ll end up with a disaster on your hands. Outline these goals with your manager (he/she should help you come up with them) and make sure they’re directly related to the skills needed to be promoted. If, for example, understanding other technical system in your company is a requirement, set some type of goal for speaking with a technical lead from specific teams over the course of a couple weeks. You should have a checklist of goals that if checked off, will allow your manager to put your promotion in the pipes.

Regular check-ins with your manager, that track your progress, will help move the process along more smoothly.  If you don’t already have a recurring 1:1 (just the two of you) meeting then it’s time to institute one. At least once a month, make sure to review your goals and see how you and your manager feel about your progress. As you get closer to checking everything off the list, bi-weekly or even weekly 1:1 meetings are a good idea. Keep these meetings short, 15-30 minutes, and make sure you have a purpose for each one.

In the end, remember that things don’t always go as smoothly as you’d like and being patient and persistent is very important. Building a trust relationship with your manager will help ease some of the anxiety. Also, don’t be surprised if there are some areas where you think you’re doing great but your manager thinks there could be some improvement.

Sally, reflecting on what had happened, realized—reluctantly—that her manager was right, and that she still had a few gaps to fill. Steven had said she needed to focus more on transferring knowledge to the other team members, since the senior role required mentoring others. She’d talk with him in the morning and work out a plan to shoring up these gaps. Yeah, she was still feeling pretty lousy, but she would use her frustration to fuel her determination and prove to others that she really had what it takes to grow.

Sally eventually did it, and like her, you can do the same. Try out these tips, and if you’re having any trouble, feel free to reach out. Best of luck on the promotion!

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