Talent Perspectives

How to Get a Promotion

(and a Raise)

Ross Statham, Editor, Talent Perspectives

September 5, 2019


    I've been in the business world most of my life-- even when I was on active duty in the Army in the 1970's and while in college using the GI bill, I was working a part time or full-time job. Years ago I used to wonder how one goes about getting a promotion and raise. So as I sit here on a Thursday afternoon in September 2019 and contemplate the subject at hand, I'll give you my own 40 years of observations and personal experience as both an employee and employer.

    First, bosses don't promote people for what they think they can do-- they promote them for what they already see them doing. If you think you're going to get a promotion on raise by just doing your job and doing what you've been told to do, you're only kidding yourself. Look for things that need to be done, and do them without asking-- and without blowing your own horn, either. Do the work, and do it well.

    Second, make yourself invaluable. You need to be the most indispensable people on the team-- the person that "gets it done" without fanfare and without drama. Be willing to work extra hours when needed, and to fix problems when they arise-- instead of whining about them along with everyone else. If you're working around customers this is even more important.

    Third, be a great team mate. Do things for other members of your team, and have an attitude of service towards your team and your team lead. Be a good listener to other on your team, unless people gossip, bellyache or whine.  Don't get sucked in.  But do be known as someone who can keep a confidence, and who others can turn to for help when needed. Again-- make yourself invaluable.

    Fourth, keep a positive outlook, no matter what. I highly recommend great little books like "The Happiness Advantage" ($10 on Amazon) which have firmly proven that a positive attitude not only makes us healthier, it makes us far more productive. Sure you're going to have problems-- both personally and professionally. That's life. But curling up in the corner and sucking your thumb aren't going to make things any better. Suck it up, buttercup, stick a smile on your face, focus on the positive and move on.

    Fifth, improve yourself. Many of the most successful people have finished college later, have gotten an advanced degree, have worked on an advanced certification or have spent some of their free time improving their lives through reading self-help books. I happen to be one of those people. I finished my bachelors of science twenty years after high school, and I continue to read, study and learn even today. It's hugely broadened my outlook, given me many more insights on how to be more effective, and in short-- help make me invaluable.

    Sixth, take care of your boss. You don't have to love your boss. But assume the best, not the worst, and realize that your boss is making decisions based on more information than they can probably share with you. Be a member of the team your boss know they can rely.

    Seventh, if you've got a problem with someone, go work it out with them. Rather than pout, or whine, or even worse, tell others about your disagreement with others, go and work it out with them. It's painful to do-- but you'll get a reputation as a fence mender, the problem will generally go away, and who knows? You may even make an ally.


Getting a Raise

    People seem to think you can go in and ask for a raise based on seniority, or that you've been doing your job for "X" number of years. But the truth of the matter is that raises come from bosses who want to give their more valuable employees more money because they don't want to lose them.  Raises and promotions FOLLOW successful, "above average" performance. Let that statement sink in. It doesn't matter if you're an engineer, a commercial real estate agent, an accountant or a technology geek, you will only get promoted after you've proven you can do the work-- and do it well.

    The same thing applies, if carefully done, by taking these same skills to a new employer. Generally speaking I believe in getting your promotions and raises by staying with those who brought you to the dance, but sometimes your best option is to let others know about your track record, hard work and achievements, and to "move up" by moving on to a new employer. But don't get a reputation as a job hopper-- and step carefully. The grass is rarely greener on the other side of the fence.


This applies in all fields

    This is just as true in public sector jobs as it is in business. As a young soldier in the US Army in the 1970's I decided not to just "do my job" and to stay a junior enlisted man.  So once I got to my first posting (in the Third Infantry Regiment, "The Old Guard"), I looked for things that needed to be done in my unit, and did them without fanfare, and without being asked to do them. I didn't blow my own horn, and I went out of my way to help others on my team. I read, and I took a few military correspondence courses, too. Over a two year period I moved up from E3 to E5 and then E6.  (Life is easier when you're an NCO, too.)


Major Career Changes

    If your career choice itself is the problem-- in other words, the kind of work that you do isn't going to get you where you need to be-- then consider making a major career change- but step carefully.  Don't just think you'll be able to start applying for jobs in a new field, with a cover letter describing and detailing past successes in our previous endeavors; employers are looking to see that you already know their space and have been successful doing what it is you're wanting to do. Instead, you need to 1) find out how to move to that new field, then 2) start to take the steps to move in that direction and 3) network, network, network.

    Let me give you an example.  My best friend spent his early years as a US Army sergeant in Vietnam and then as a trooper in the Florida Highway Patrol. But he wanted to be a pilot for a living.  It was a great deal of work, but he was able to make the transition, eventually paying for his own flight lessons while in the Highway Patrol.  He retired just a few years ago as a corporate pilot for one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world, having flown their multi-million dollar jets, building over 15,000 flight hours and reaching his life-long dream. He put a great deal of thought, networking, additional training and hard work into getting where he wanted to be. It wasn't easy- but to him, it was well worth it.


In Closing

    If you were hoping to find a few magic bullets, sorry. There's no magic bullets, and I have been given to understand by others that there may not be a Santa Claus, either. (Still investigating that one.)

    Good luck in your career, and if you found this article to be helpful, please let me know- and share it with others. All the best!......Ross Statham, Editor


Talent Perspectives: Insights for Busy Professions is a series of brief articles that help build winning teams, provide insight on talent and provide organizational development ideas.  The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and are (C) Dogwood Services Inc.

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