It’s one of the worst feelings that you can encounter at work – being passed over for promotion. There are surely few things less appealing than having someone measure you up and decide that you’re just not good enough to be given more responsibility and more money. Thanks, but we’ll pass. We’ll go to the prom with someone else.

If you find that you’re not being promoted to the level that you aspire to, you should consider these five things.

Accept that it’s probably your fault. 
This is not always the easiest thing to do, but it is the only place to start. Unless the entire world is engaged in an interwoven conspiracy to screw you out of the level of employment you clearly deserve; unless every person who ever assessed your abilities is incompetent and malicious; unless you are being punished for some sin committed in a former life then you are going to have to accept the strong possibility that you are the reason you’re not moving forward.

Let’s talk about me. This is not something I usually do, but if I’m going to preach self awareness, I can at least demonstrate my own.  I am stubborn – when I think I’m right, I am immovable, even when I am entirely wrong. (And this is a regular occurrence.) I have a short attention span; this causes me to be rude to people when I think I have got their point and they are still explaining. I am over-analytical and often begin long explanatory documents, only to abandon them when I realize they are not the simple, decisive action required to fix the problem in front of me. Finally, I am moody. There are just some days when I should be put in solitary confinement with my laptop and told not to come out until I cheer up. (I can almost hear my team nailing pieces of crooked wood to the outside of my office door as I type.)

All of these things I know. I’m aware of them and I want to change them; at the very least I want to limit the impact they have on my ability to do my job. I do not deny them. I am not offended or upset by them. I don’t beat myself up about them.

If you’re thinking that you really don’t have any significant faults, stop reading now. I can’t help you. Other than to tell you that you are a narcissist. (I’ve been accused of that too, incidentally.)

If you genuinely don’t know what your issues might be, ask the people who know you well. Ask people you’ve worked with. If there’s a consensus, then you have your answer. 

Understand the context 
None of us are working in a vacuum. It may be that promotional opportunities are not available simply because there aren’t any jobs available. Extreme example: If you work for a company that employs 5 people – the young boss who owns the business and four direct reports – you’re not going anywhere. It needn’t be your fault. If you work in a large company where jobs at a higher level open and close regularly, then you will have plenty of opportunities. (The bad news being that the fact you haven’t been given one of these jobs means it’s definitely you.) 

Be prepared to be patient 
No explanation needed here. Sometimes it’s not going to happen as quickly as you want it to. If it did I’d be CEO of GE and I’d own a major sports franchise. It may be that it’s just not time yet. If the people you see being promoted are all older than you, more experienced and with more tenure at the company, accept that these things are significant and that you may need to put in a little more time in the ship’s engine room. This will only add to your credibility later on when you’re stood on the bridge with the binoculars and the Richard Gere outfit on. 

Shyness is nice, sung The Smiths, but shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to. You can take my word for the fact that addressing your issues directly with your boss will do you no harm. Ask for some time with your boss and without complaining, pushing your self or trying to convince them of anything – find out what they think you could do to improve your chances of promotion. There is no harm in saying it with your calm optimistic voice: I’d like to push myself to the next level this year and I wondered what you thought I could work on to make myself a better candidate. 

Target those things that get people promoted 
It is not cynical or manipulative to understand the things that are likely to get you promoted. It goes without saying that being good at what you’re doing now is a prerequisite. Forget any notion that you are being held back because you are so good at what you’re doing now that they don’t want to lose you. If they’ve told you this, they lied. What they meant was – you’re good at what you do, but not good enough to help other people do it better. 

Whatever business you’re in people skills are usually the most important skill for promotability (a red squiggly line suggests I may have invented that word, but I’m going with it.) This is really a byproduct of good communication skills. You need to be able to be clear, concise, reasonable and accountable under all circumstances. Do you argue with people over e-mail? Do you find yourself trying to prove something isn’t your fault? Do you often find other people annoying? These are all reflective issues. I.e. in each of these circumstances I guarantee the person you’re engaging with is thinking the same things about you that you’re thinking about them. 

If you are not getting on well with the people you work with, it doesn’t matter if you are right 100% of the time – you’re missing the main point. All anyone will see is that your approach is flawed.  A well organized people person with good communication skills has been passed over for promotion precisely no times in the history of history. 

When all is said and done, your move up may come as a result of something you could not have seen coming. But there is no harm in preparing yourself for promotion. This is not a game you engage in once a year when opportunities come up. It’s a process of self evaluation and self improvement. If you really want to move your career forward, starting that process today would be a good idea.


Richard Spragg

Richard Spragg is the CEO of Hireband. He has spent 17 years in Staffing, HR and Marketing in the US, UK & Canada. E-mail or call Richard on (713) 876 6045