June 16, 2021

4 Mistakes People Make When Trying to Get Promoted

I'm Melissa
I'm a Career and Leadership Coach for Women in Pharma/Biotech. I've been where you are, and I help you create the career you want without working more hours or settling for good enough.
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If you have ever wanted to be promoted and find yourself stuck, not making progress, and seeing your colleagues pass you by, this episode is for you.

With various promotion policies in place, it can be competitive and difficult to advance. The days of automatic promotions every 2 years with consistent performance are long gone. In this episode I’m sharing the 4 mistakes people make when trying to get promoted. You’ll also learn how you can combat each mistake so you can get the promotion you deserve.

What You’ll Learn

The 4 mistakes people make when trying to get promoted

How to turn things around so you can get promoted easier and faster than ever before

Real stories of people who have made these mistakes and turned it around to get promoted within weeks

Featured in This Episode

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Welcome to Navigating Your Career, the only podcast that blends personal development, professional skills and psychology to help you get happy at work and live the life you want if you want to stop feeling stuck and start feeling better. This is the place for you. I’m your host, Melissa Lawrence.

Let’s get started.

Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of the podcast. Before we get started, I just want to say Happy Pride Month to my fellow LGBTQIA+ plus community and allies. It is June and it’s Pride Month. I love seeing all of the supportive posts and events going on around our communities. Now, today, we are going to talk about the mistakes you might be making if you are trying to get promoted. In many companies, the days of automatic promotions every two years is long gone.

Now we have things like vacancy based promotion policies where most roles, promotions only occur if there is a vacancy and you have to actually apply for it or it’s just so competitive to be promoted. You have your senior leaders all advocating for their own staff to get promoted and it can seem impossible to get ahead. Or maybe you work for a company where everyone gets promoted at the same time. So it just kind of takes the pleasure out of it. You don’t feel that you really earned it or did anything special for it because there’s so many of your peers getting the same recognition.

And one of my recent clients came to me because she was really frustrated that she wasn’t getting promoted. She was watching all of her colleagues pass her by colleagues that had seemingly less experience or education. The colleagues happen to be men, too. So she wondered, was it her? Was it because she was a woman? Was it because she wasn’t doing a good enough job? She had a critical role in the company and was a high performer. So what was the problem?

Or maybe you’re like another one of my clients who wanted to advance in their career but not sure to what a promotion within the same lines that wouldn’t really result in different work or something that would stretch beyond her current skills, no matter what your situation is. I’m going to break down some mistakes I see people make when it comes to trying to get promoted so that you can set yourself up for success. Whether you want the promotion now or later, you can stop feeling frustrated if you haven’t been promoted and you’re getting impatient and for each mistake you could be making or fall into the trap of, I’m going to tell you what to do.

Instead, these strategies are tried and true. Several of my clients have gotten promoted after using this approach and they stopped making these common mistakes. So let’s dove in. The first mistake is losing perspective on your quest to be promoted. Sometimes we can get really focused and what we want and we lose sight of the big picture, how we are behaving. If you’re focused on being promoted, that you’re not promoted and what you can do to be promoted, I can tell you that you aren’t doing the things that will get you promoted.

When your thoughts are consumed with what you don’t have and you’re comparing yourself to others, you feel frustrated, rejected. It brings up feelings that you aren’t good enough or something is wrong with you or your work. How do you think you are showing up to work when you have all of those feelings going on? You may think you’re still rocking your job and no one knows what you’re really thinking and feeling and you do a really nice job at masking it.

But that just isn’t true. Your energy will be off. You’ll be doing things or not doing things because you are looking for that validation. And when things go wrong, you’ll use it as evidence that something is wrong and you’ll continually question yourself. This is just how our brains work. But if you shift your thinking from something like I should be promoted by now to I am where I’m supposed to be, your feelings are going to be completely different.

Think about how you would show up to your job, to your team meetings in your one on ones with your boss. If you really believed that you’re right where you’re supposed to be, you wouldn’t be graspy and comparing so much and you’d be doing your best work, you would be focused on enjoying your work and what you can do to be the best where you are instead of those thoughts that something is wrong. Now, I know you might be thinking, but you do deserve that promotion.

And I’m not saying that you don’t. I’m saying you thinking that you are owed something and being wronged isn’t going to get it for you. One of my clients was in a similar situation. She did deserve the promotion, but she was so focused on why she didn’t have it that she was becoming disengaged, tuning out, applying to other jobs, scrolling LinkedIn, avoiding her manager. And she realized that we were coaching, that she was doing this and also not doing the things.

And all of that was preventing her from getting what she wanted. She wasn’t doing the things that she needed to do to be seen as the leader that she wanted to be recognized as, because her brain had just shut down, because it went through this pattern of looking for all of the evidence as to why she’s not being promoted and what could be wrong that other people are and all of the different theories around a quality or the quality of her work.

She had a lot of different ideas about what was happening, and she tried so hard to fix each of those ideas that her brain offered her. But when she was doing all of that, she just got burnt out and frustrated and then completely disengaged. It became harder to do her job well. And you have to think about how the outside world is going to look at that. The outside world doesn’t know what’s going on in your head. They don’t know the injustices you’ve experienced.

They don’t know your thoughts and feelings. All they see is you calling into work or being more chatty with your work friends or something like that. They’re just seeing you disengage. And so that includes your leadership. And so when they look at you, they’re not going to think, oh, my gosh, we need to promote you. They’re going to think what’s going on? Is this person going to leave the company? Are they looking for another job?

Why aren’t they engaged in their work anymore? And they’re not going to know your whole back story. So you have to be really focused on how those thoughts and feelings are impacting the way that you’re showing up at work. So what I did is I gave my client a challenge for four weeks and helped her stop focusing on the promotion and instead how she could focus on doing her best work for just four weeks to stop scrolling LinkedIn and indeed to stop applying for jobs, to just focus on herself and how she could be the best in her role.

And what she found is that she was less stressed. She had more time because she wasn’t spending so much time looking at other jobs, comparing herself to others, wondering what was wrong with her. It took practice and a lot of coaching. And we use different strategies for her to empower herself with her boss to be more visible, to take new opportunities to demonstrate her leadership abilities. And do you know what happened when she stopped focusing on that promotion?

She got promoted within five to six weeks. Her boss gave her the promotion she wanted so badly. Isn’t that cool? She did all of that just by changing her focus, by changing her energy, which comes from her thoughts and her feelings. Something similar happened with another client. She wanted to be promoted and thought this was her future when she got happy, where she was stopped stressing and focusing on prioritizing herself. Her boss approached her for a promotion, but she had decided that she didn’t really want that promotion anymore.

In fact, she’s turning down a promotion because she realized the way that it’s being offered is not aligned with what she wants. She wants systems and staffing issues to be resolved before she steps into it. And she has the confidence now to negotiate that with her boss. So something that she thought she wanted so badly when she stopped focusing on what she didn’t have and focus on what she really wanted for herself in her life, she realized she didn’t want that demanding new level the way that it is now.

That was going to cause her to essentially have to do two jobs at once. So she’s now in the driver’s seat and driving that development conversation and promotion conversation with her boss who can’t wait to promote her. How cool is that? OK, let’s move on to the second mistake, the second mistake is pushing for promotion before being ready. You’re probably thinking, but you are ready. So just listen it. Another mistake I see people making is you’re really wanting that promotion, but you’re not really ready for the responsibility of that promotion requires for promotions to be really valuable.

I think that you should be moved into a role that will play in your strengths, but also be a stretch if you’re promoted. But doing the same job that is more of a vanity promotion or a recognition promotion. So I’m going to assume that this promotion that you want is for your growth to do something new that is interesting to you, to use your skills. Being too focused on needing that external validation that it has been a certain period of time that you want those bragging rights that you see, others are as qualified in the same role, you want more money?

I think you deserve that promotion. That is what I see a lot of people focus on when it comes to promotions and it’s not a bad thing. There’s a reason for it. We’re all trained from the time that we are born to always be up leveling, to always be comparing. If you think of how you grew up in school and college, you’re graded, you’re given a letter. When you’re in work environments, you’re given a number. Everyone’s always comparing each other.

You measure your progress by those mile markers, and every time you achieve one, you move it and you set another one. But if you’re not ready for that level, it totally backfires. You may think you’re ready, but how much time do you spend looking at what that role would require, the work life balance, the responsibilities, the stretch it will take? I see this happen more with people that are going into management roles or that next level of leadership.

You think it’s the next logical step or achieving this promotion will help you feel a certain way. But if you’re not ready, you can end up disappointing yourself and your boss to know if you’re ready. I would suggest spending some time thinking about the role that you want. What will you be able to crush and knock out of the park and what parts will be a stretch for you? What can you bring to make the role more effective, what resources will you need to be successful?

If you have a mentor or trusted advisor, ask for their advice or input on the move, what blind spots might you have? Look beyond just what the promotion will get you, but what you will give it. Be really clear on if this is something that you really want, if this is a lifestyle that you want, if this role is going to help you. And not just that you want to get this because you want to be seen a certain way, because you want to feel a certain way, because like my other client that I mentioned, that thought she wanted this big promotion and then we went through some coaching, realized she didn’t actually want that right now.

She wants it eventually, but she wants the right systems to be in place. She wants to be able to influence and create the change that she wants to for that role. So she is influencing her leadership team to put those systems in place and then put her into that role to lead them. So you can do that, too, so really think about why you want this promotion and if you’re really ready for it. Now, the next mistake is thinking it’s the only way to grow, that getting promoted is just what you need to do in order to take that next step.

And you’ve probably heard before that there are more ways to develop than just a promotion, and you may be thinking it’s just a line from H.R. Human Resources Department. And to be honest with you, I think in some situations it definitely is. But there really is some truth that you can grow without that promotion. A promotion will give you more money, status, responsibility. But guess what, you can change your status, your presence or brand, whatever you want to call it, and your responsibility without the promotion and the money will come to.

One of my first managers had a philosophy that you had to prove that you could do the job before you got it. That may seem unfair or hard, but it taught me a lot. For example, before I was promoted to lead people, I had to demonstrate I could lead without direct authority before I could manage at a statewide level. I had to prove that I could build relationships, influence and lead across multiple sites. This philosophy has worked really well for me in my career, and I see it work well for my clients and colleagues as well.

Before thinking you are ready for the promotion or that you’ve earned it. Ask yourself how you can demonstrate your capabilities and prove the value to the company. First, be strategic. I’m sure whatever role you are trying to go after, you will need to apply some sort of strategic thinking. Use that now. What relationships could you build now that will help you later if you need help on this. I have a whole podcast episode on the fundamentals of networking, so go check that out.

And if you have an idea for the company that will help it be more effective. But your leadership isn’t big on changing things, show how it can work and prove its value first. Prove to the people around you, especially your leadership team, that you are capable of this next level and that you are not only capable, but you are needed, you to demonstrate that you are the right person for that role. So it becomes inevitable and there’s no question about your fit.

Can behave now as though you already have the promotion. I have spoken before about how I did this at my last job and pharma, I led talent and development, but I didn’t get hired to do that. I was hired to be a business partner for training. However, I had greater skills than that role required. And I later went on to get a master’s degree in organizational psychology. And I piloted my ideas with different leaders. The state had never had a talent and development person, a person focused on employee engagement and career development.

It was more something that was done on the side when people had time and I saw the need and the value to influence. I had to show why it was needed and make the business case really clear. So I used relationships to study different groups. I would then propose my idea for how I could improve a business problem. I would get the buy in to try it. It went really well. I now had a senior leader outside of my group advocating for me that I had other leaders wanting to work with me so I could help them because they saw the value I brought to another group.

Little by little, I built my portfolio to demonstrate the value. Then when it became clear how valuable my skill set was and I had the data to show the impact on the business, I pitched my leadership to change my role. And I kept it small. I initially asked to move into a lateral move with a job description that I wrote, so I moved from being a business partner for training to being a business partner for organization effectiveness, that I continued to build my network and build relationships globally.

I showed how my role really needed to be at the director level to have the influence and effectiveness I needed. So I wrote that job description and I worked with my leadership to make it happen. And it did. And it didn’t happen overnight. This process can take several months or longer, but really think about it. I have built my skills. I was able to use my company as a playground to try new things and improve the employee experience.

I was able to put those results on my resume. I was able to spend time doing what I loved and was able to change the culture and the ways of working for a large manufacturing facility in the process. The money and the title came. Isn’t that a better approach? You can do what you want now, show the value and continue to grow without the promotion. Look at what you want to do and how you can do it right where you are.

Think about how you can make the business case for your promotion so that it is inevitable if you need some help. I have a podcast episode on this as well. It’s called Changing What You Do Without Changing Your Job. And I tell you exactly how to conduct a roll audit and get buy in to change your work. OK, the next mistake, the next mistake and the last mistake is focusing only on the work. Another pitfall I see and I felt trapped in this one before is focusing only on your work and expecting it to speak for itself.

If you work really hard, then you should get promoted. If you do an awesome job on a big project, your value should be clear, but you also have to think about how you’re getting the work done. And I get it, you’re the best at what you do. And that does matter. But it’s not all that matters. Who can advocate for you that isn’t your boss or work friend? How did you lift others up in the process?

Do you have a trail of dead bodies behind you? Are you a good team player? Do people want to work with you? You have to have a network of advocates and relationships that will support your promotion. So when it’s you and five others all up for the same promotion, you have the gallery of allies cheering you on and speaking up on your behalf. So the four mistakes people make when trying to get promoted are losing perspective in the quest of the promotion, pushing for promotion before you’re ready, thinking it’s the only way to grow and focusing only on the work.

I give you some strategies for combating each of these mistakes so that you can accelerate your career and be successful and happy in the process. Now, go out there and show us what you’re made of. Have a great week. I get asked all of the time, how do I know if I’m in the right career? Now you can find out I created a free quiz using my criteria for what makes a great job that you can take the quiz at my website, www.melissamlawrence.com

And in less than three minutes, you’ll know the answer so you can stop guessing and take some action. And as a bonus, if your job isn’t a great fit, you’ll get some resources to help you decide what to do about it. Head there now.

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Hi, I’m Melissa.

Career & Leadership Coach for Women in Pharma/Biotech

I'm a former Talent & Development leader in Pharma/Biotech turned CEO and Certified Professional Career & Life Coach. I also host the podcast, Your Worthy Career.

I've been where you are, and I help you create the career you want without working more hours or settling for good enough.

I'm leading a movement of women in the industry who are figuring out exactly what they want and shattering the glass ceiling. The very real ceiling in the industry, but also the one that we impose on ourselves. 

So long, imposter syndrome and overthinking. It's time to step into the impact and life you're worthy of having.

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