This is a true story about how to get a promotion. Here goes.
There I sat in my office chair. 6 months pregnant. Swollen. Sweaty. Motivated.
I knew this was my opportunity. My opportunity to show that I had found a problem that I could solve. That I could do what I love to do every day and positively impact the company’s revenue. This was big. It felt right. I had no choice but to go for it.
For two weeks straight, I researched, wrote, designed, edited, redesigned, and rewrote a strategy for the business that presented a foolproof argument for me to establish and lead a new marketing function within the company. It asked questions and provided answers. It found new challenges and solutions. It covered everything, and it put me in the driver’s seat.
This was the presentation of my career.
I turned my home office into a production shop. I bought a new printer. I bought fancy, glossy paper. I meticulously picked colors and images that were bold and impactful. I took care to create a piece that was full of rich content, felt nice to flip through, and looked awesome.
As I waddled into the office with copies of my presentation carefully tucked into my bag, I noticed that the air was thick. Unrelenting. The kind of Florida heat that smacks you square in the face the moment you leave air conditioning and doesn’t let up…for months. Normally, I wouldn’t bother putting myself through the misery of dressing up and putting on makeup only to have it instantly melt off my face. But that day was different. I didn’t really care about the hell that is the summer Florida heat. I was on a mission.
He welcomed me into his office. This was our first conversation, ever. He didn’t know me from Adam. After all, why would he? As the President of the company, there were many layers in the hierarchy to get through before he would ever need to know what was going on with little (actually, huge) old me.
We sat at a small circular table meant for guests and important group conversations. I handed him my presentation.
“Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me. I’ve put together a short presentation on what I believe is missing from our company in the market, and how I think I can fill the gap. If you don’t mind, I’d like to jump right in.”
“Sounds great,” he said.
I started to walk him through my presentation, but by the time I got to page two…so, like 15 seconds in, I stopped abruptly, out of breath.
“Sorry,” I said looking up. “I’m so nervous.”
“What?!” He said. “Don’t be. You’re doing fine.”
I took a deep breath. Laughed at myself, and continued.
When I finished the presentation, he started asking questions. How could we start this now? Where should this function sit within the business? How can the business help support this? I was thrilled. He listened, he seemed impressed, and he thought the idea was a good one. We ended the conversation somewhat ambiguously in terms of next steps. He needed a little time to think through some of the questions we’d talked about. I thanked him for his time, and waddled out of the office.
Then later in the day, and as luck would have it, we ended up taking the elevator down to the first floor at the same time.
He pushed the button and said to me, “I talked to the senior team today about your presentation. I’d like to you to present it to our VP of Business Development to see what he thinks because I think this role fits on that team. Also, you should manage the interns this summer and use your strategy as the basis for their project.”
Ummmmm. What? Is this real life? Did that just happen?
Yes. Yes, it did. I just promoted myself to a new role where I would establish and lead a new marketing function in the company. Holy crap, it worked!
This story could be your story
I’m not special. I just cared about the direction of my career, and took advantage of an opportunity when it presented itself. If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself, “I’d really like to stay at this company, but there has to be something more for me to do here that gets me excited to come to work every day,” then I submit to you the following lessons that I learned from my own experience. Maybe this year is your year to do the same.
You are responsible for your own career growth
No one is going to come to you one day and say, “You know what, we think you’re awesome. What can we do to help you grow your career today?” Sure, every company says that’s what they do, but most actually don’t. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just that it’s not really the company’s job to continually find ways to advance your career. So, assume that no one cares about your career growth or your next promotion but you. If you’re working hard, getting results, building relationships with your coworkers, and still getting passed up for a promotion…take that feedback as a signal that you need to do something radically different to stand out and add massive value to the company.
Create a solution to a problem
No business is perfect, which means that there are always gaps to fill. Your job is to find them and fill them quickly. It’s true that gaps in processes, resources, and capabilities can be hard to find at first, but over time if you keep your eyes and ears open, you’ll find that they’re everywhere. It’s just that most people don’t see those gaps as opportunities to advance their own career, or they do see them but they simply don’t care enough to do something about them. That’s where you come in. Find the holes and fill the gaps.
You must take advantage of opportunities immediately when they show up
Thriving companies help good employees get a promotion around the 18 months of service mark. That means there are plenty of opportunities at your company to add value if you just look around. If you want to be promoted in your current position, or you want to create a new role for yourself in the company, do not hesitate when an opportunity presents itself. Go for it now, and don’t look back.
If you’ve been looking and listening and there haven’t been any opportunities coming your way, then it’s time to create one. In almost every company there is an open door policy, so get to know the decision makers and influencers in your company on a personal level. Then, when it’s time to present your idea that will make a business impact, you can spend your time showing them how you’ll do it. And not spend valuable time explaining who you are and what you do.
Present an ironclad case
At the end of the day, you work for a company, and that company is in the business of making or saving money. While your idea might sound great on paper, how does it benefit the company’s bottom line? To get buy in from senior leadership on your promotion or new role, you need to make it very easy for them to see the connection between the work you plan to do and cost benefit to the company. Do your research and make sure you cover every place where you can maximize productivity and influence profitability. Before you present your idea to a decision maker at work, present it to the toughest critic in your network. Ask them to poke holes in your strategy. I’m sure they’ll be happy to do it, and you’ll be very happy that you asked.
Believe in yourself
This is the toughest lesson to put in practice, isn’t it? Having the confidence to put your ideas, your skills, and your reputation on the line at the risk of not getting what you want is a really difficult thing to do. Nevertheless, it’s absolutely necessary if you want to get a promotion. Believing in yourself starts with understanding what makes you different, and finding ways to reinforce the notion that your differences make you an asset–at work and in life.
If you’re considering taking the risk and putting yourself out there to get a promotion, understand that you are rare and that’s what makes you great. Most people at work just want to get by with doing the minimum amount required to keep their job. You’re special because you want to do more. So, push yourself, take the risk, and see what happens.
If your current company doesn’t see your passion to add value, then find one that does.