Four Areas of Focus to Get that Promotion
Updated: Oct 17, 2020
I have interviewed hundreds of people in my 23-year career in technology, data and banking. I have coached, mentored or sponsored hundreds more who were working towards their next promotion or preparing for interviews. I have had the great privilege and responsibility of making promotion and hiring decisions, many of these related to executive level roles.
If you find yourself stuck - confused as to how to advance to that next level job or frustrated at trying for some time to no avail - you are not alone and you’ve come to the right place! Unfortunately, personalized and actionable feedback to promotion seekers is often difficult to come by. While there are many different facets to landing a promotion, this blog focusses on the things I feel candidates have the most control over. More specifically, it summarizes 4 areas that I consistently see demonstrated by people who get promoted and continue to grow, lead and achieve in those higher-level roles.
1. They have a strong “why” for wanting to get promoted.
When people approach me about wanting to be promoted, my first question is often “Why?”. Many people pause at this point, wondering if I’ve lost my mind. Of course, a promotion offers many benefits and opportunities to learn and grow in new ways, to make more money, and to expand your influence and impact. But it may not always be the right path or the right time for you. Do you know and like your reasons for wanting a promotion? What emotions does the opportunity to advance generate for you? Those are the emotions that you will carry into the job application, interview, and the job itself, if you get it. A strong why generates emotions that you WANT to experience – like commitment, excitement, purpose, curiosity and yes, a dash of fear will be along for the ride too.
For those of you not interested in being promoted right now, I suggest you ask yourself “Why not?”. Then double check to make sure you also like your reasons. (Note: “I don’t know” isn’t a great reason!) I’ve asked this of many highly capable leaders who often get so heads down in their current roles, they miss or delay opportunities for personal and professional growth.
2. They consistently deliver on all three I’s: Impact, Initiative and Influence.
Demonstrating strong results in all 3 areas is table stakes for advancement and is also a key differentiator in performance assessments at any level. Having a strong impact requires a clear understanding of your organization’s goals and priorities. It also requires you to directly connect your mandate and contributions to those goals and priorities, and to pivot quickly when things change.
Taking initiative involves asking questions, finding answers, leaning into issues and connecting people proactively, especially when ownership is unclear. Don’t panic!
This doesn’t mean you have to DO everything, but it does mean – when it matters - you choose to be the one to ensure opportunities aren’t lost, loose ends are tied up, and dropped balls are picked up.
This leads me to the third I – Influence. How effectively are you able to inspire others to listen and share, to help move things forward and to collaborate towards a common goal – inside and outside of your organization? To what extent are you contributing to a positive work environment that fosters growth and is resilient to challenges and change?
I encourage you to demonstrate these three I’s while always keeping the needs of your customers and your colleagues at the centre of what you do. I’ve found that the best organizations, and the ones I choose to work with, will not only recognize this but demand it.
3. They tell their story in a powerful way – and have others who will back it up.
Telling your story of experience and strengths that you uniquely bring to the table deserves its own blog post (stay tuned – it’s coming!). It is a critical skill that requires practice and many of us need as much help as we can get. I will summarize here by saying that the best way to tell your story – is to demonstrate it. Here is a simple example of this that I come across often. I read many resumes where a candidate states they are “detail oriented” and “concise”. I then can’t help but notice that same resume has spelling mistakes, inconsistent formatting and is 5 pages long. It is much more powerful to show me you are detail oriented and concise by the way you put your resume together and how succinctly you share your experience.
You also demonstrate your abilities with the people you interact with everyday. However, working hard and hoping someone will notice isn’t a great strategy.
Please tell the leaders around you, inside and outside of your organization, that you are interested in advancement! This is important. Ask them if they would promote you if given the chance. Would they put a word in for you with a hiring manager? Their feedback is an indicator of how they perceive you based on how you are demonstrating your capabilities with them. The discussion is an opportunity for you to practice telling your story, beyond what they perceive. Oh and bonus – you may gain an influential sponsor while doing so.
4. They have Leadership or Executive “Presence”.
For any of you that have received feedback regarding your leadership presence and were left thinking “WTF does that even mean?”, I got you. Well, I can at least share what it means to me – and it has everything to do with your mindset.
Are you evaluating problems and opportunities based on your current role and mandate? Or are you doing so as if you ALREADY have the promotion – the new title and the new mandate? Ask yourself, if I was already at the next level, what would I need to be thinking in order to succeed right now? What would I be accountable to do, decide or report on?
When you promote your mindset first, your actions - how you show up, your presence - will start to reflect that of a promotable leader.
You will start to look at opportunities and risks differently. You will ask more strategic questions and hold yourself accountable to provide your opinion on the way forward much more often. (As an aside, I can’t tell you how often people assume I have the right answer or approach when the reality is that I’m figuring stuff out all the time! It is such a gift when someone proactively offers me an idea or a starting point.)
If you don’t make this mindset shift, even if you are a top contributor at your current level, you may never get promoted or you may struggle to succeed if you do get promoted.
Your leadership or executive presence is driven by the thoughts rattling around in your brain – choose them wisely.
If you need help cultivating a leadership mindset and landing your next promotion, be sure to check out my Get Unstuck coaching program here.