Moving On Up

By Tom Roebuck

May 7, 2010 5 min read

One of the things that many workers look for in a job -- right up there with salary, commute and job description -- is the opportunity for advancement. Without including the possibility of your moving to a better position with a higher salary, any job runs the risk of becoming an endless treadmill. However, the competition for promotions is often fierce, requiring you to have a long-term plan in order to rise above the others.

Though it takes some time to build a reputation within a company, within the first 90 days you should know who the influential players are and make sure that you are available to them. Making a good impression with the right people is a crucial step on the corporate ladder.

"You will see pretty quickly who the power players are, whose opinion really matters," says Joel Garfinkle, a career coach and author of "Executive Presence: Practical Strategies to Stand Out, Be Noticed and Get Ahead." "Turn those people into people who see you as a viable commodity inside the organization that can be good for the company."

In a perfect working world, advancement would be determined by past performance and the ability to do the job better than the competition. Sadly, that is rarely the case. It takes some self-promotion to get noticed by busy bosses, who otherwise may overlook a candidate worthy of consideration. Self-promotion comes easily to some, but others feel uncomfortable boasting about themselves. But getting your name known can be done with a little confidence and a willingness to take on any task that would get you noticed.

"Another way to promote yourself is to increase your visibility. You want to seek out higher-profile projects," Garfinkle says, "especially projects that will include your talents and skills so that other people will take note and say, 'Wow, this person is an impact player.' You have to put yourself out there more to be seen."

Completing high-profile projects will not only add to your accomplishments but also make your name known in different parts of the company that can help you learn of growth opportunities outside your division.

"You're showing a perception within the whole organization of someone who is providing value," Garfinkle says. "When it comes time for a promotion, you're making a pretty strong case that you've been developing for some time."

Developing a network of advocates within the influential players of the company can make the difference between being a potential candidate and being a successful candidate. If you've made a good impression on someone, let him know that you're interested in advancing and that you would appreciate it if he would put in a good word on your behalf.

Knowing your overall perception in the company is important to determine. Don't be afraid to ask people what they think of you. In a casual but direct manner, ask a variety of people -- your boss, your peers, your boss's boss -- about your standing in the company. You'll get some direct answers that might be hard to hear, but they'll help you know where you need to improve and what accomplishments have had the most impact. And don't be afraid to let them know of your intention to advance and do what it might take to get there.

Once the time comes to meet with management about your promotion possibilities, you should have done most of the heavy lifting already, and the fact that you're looking to advance should not be a surprise. Prepare a document listing your accomplishments, which will show your value to the company and your impact on its success. If your current job includes any responsibilities that your desired job has, emphasize those as you discuss your case. If you can prove that you already have mastered part of the job you want, it can only help your prospects.

"When you actually have to make the presentation, it's not as formal as you'd think it would be," Garfinkle says, "because you've been making it all along."

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