It feels like the world is waking up again. Whether you’re planning to go back to the office or continuing to work from home, there’s more energy in the air. The vaccine is here, summer is here, and at work, it feels like people are coming out of their cocoons.
Over the last year, it felt like a lot of people kept a low profile at work. Regardless of how people felt about their jobs, most workers kept their heads down and focused on doing a good job rather than taking risks. This was smart for those who kept their jobs. With the uncertainty of Covid and so many out of work, most people were willing to play it safe and maintain the status quo.
The pandemic also meant that a lot of people ended up taking on extra work because there were fewer people and resources, but they didn’t always get the credit for it. Now feels like the right time to change that. Organizations are coming out of hibernation too; they’re more focused on hiring and training, and budgets are expanding again.
So, how can you get noticed? How do you show that you’re ready for a promotion? And if you’ve already taken on additional work, how can you articulate that it’s time to make it official?
1. Be Excellent
You can’t begin to consider your next step if there are things you have yet to master in your current role. And it will be hard for your manager to consider you for the next step if there are still areas you need to work on. This first step seems obvious, but in our eagerness to reach the next milestone, we can fail to realize that we might still be leaving some of the opportunities for growth in our current role on the table.
One way to ensure you’re up to snuff is to ask your manager how they think you’re doing. Set up a time to get real, direct feedback about what you’re doing well. Show your manager that you aren’t just looking for a pat on the back but want to dig in on what areas you can concentrate on to really shine. Not only will this illuminate what you need to work on, but it also signals to your manager that you are thinking critically about your work outside of the annual review cycle.
2. Look Around
As you look for opportunities to take on more responsibility, try not to (only) think linearly; don’t just look up on the corporate ladder. One way to grow your career is by taking on more instead of moving up. Look at the areas that are directly adjacent to your work and even beyond those. Ask yourself: is there anything else your business (or function) can do to make your company stronger?
When you approach your boss with ways that you can make an impact outside the areas that directly touch your work, you’re showing them that you have a broader perspective on the organization and an innovative mindset – qualities important in top succession candidates.
This can be tougher when organizations are all virtual; it’s harder to literally “see” where else you can make an impact, but it’s not impossible. This is why cultivating an internal network at your company is just as important as maintaining your external network to the health of your long-term career.
3. Just Ask
You have to make it clear that you’re seeking greater responsibility. You may think that it should be obvious that you want a promotion, but it might not be. You may think that everyone wants a promotion, but it turns out that not everyone wants to climb the career ladder. If you don’t make it clear that you want to grow, your manager might look elsewhere when they’re looking to dole out more responsibility; they may look to someone else who has made their ambitions explicit.
The “I-want-more-responsibility” conversation allows you to assess the likelihood that it will happen by checking out your manager’s reaction. Are they enthused by your request? Do they immediately start thinking about new ways that they might be able to use you, or do they seem surprised and find ways to explain the reasons it might be hard for you to get that next promotion?
This step can connect to looking around. When you think broadly about how to make things better at your organization, you can bring this point of view to the conversation. Not only are you saying that you want more responsibility, but you have already taken the initiative to consider what that responsibility could look like. Of course, your manager may have places to slot you, but by thinking objectively about what you have to offer, you are signaling that not only are you seeking opportunities, but you are ready to proactively pursue them.
4. Make Others Better
Ambition at work can be tricky. It can be experienced negatively by others. You might seem arrogant or self-serving. One of the key ways to avoid being thought of as out for yourself is to make lifting others up a central part of your leadership style.
Leadership is about getting great work done through other people, setting them up for success, and helping to make them better. Sometimes when you feel like you aren’t moving up fast enough it’s easy to forget that moving up means more of your job is about supporting a wider group of other people. Starting this early helps diminish the edge that can come with ambition; plus, it’s the right thing to do for your organization. When you show that you are out for more than yourself, you build trust that your (potential) promotion will be good for the whole team.
5. Have a Mentor
Your manager is one of the most important stakeholders in your goal here, but another really important relationship is your mentor. Having a mentor advocate for you in levels of leadership you don’t yet have access to can sometimes be the difference between a promotion now, next year, or never. Nobody has a great career by themselves, and this is one of the most important ways it plays out. Make sure that you are getting input, advice, and support from someone who is influential in the decision-making process at your company.
As you get ready for the next level in your career, killing it in your current job, strengthening important relationships, and looking at the big picture are the places you should start. We often think about promotions strictly from our own perspective; thinking about what we believe is deserved. To show that you’re really ready for the next step, you want to signal that you can simultaneously think about your personal career goals and what’s best for the company, particularly the role that you can play supporting those around you– that’s what great leadership is.
Nora is a co-founder of Happy Spectacular, which she still can't really believe, and she's on a lifelong quest for the world's best cheeseburger (applicants accepted).