The "Unofficial" Promotion

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Posted by Alexandra Levit on June 19, 2011
The "Unofficial" Promotion

Last year my boss increased the scope of my responsibilities without officially promoting me. My new job required me to interface with clients a lot, so my old title didn't really fit. One customer even said that my business card confused him. I was fed up, so I took the plunge and changed my title in my e-mail signature and on my business cards. My boss eventually got the hint and promoted me.
-  Henry, 27, Virginia

It happens all the time. You're one of the top performers in your department, but for one reason or another, your boss doesn't promote you. Here are some suggestions for handling some of the more mystifying scenarios:

1.  Your boss keeps giving you new responsibilities, and everyone recognizes that you are operating at a higher level. Maybe your boss doesn't have the authority to promote you, or maybe she is at the next rung on the ladder so there's nowhere for you to go. It's also possible that your boss doesn't feel a sense of urgency when it comes to your career growth. Talk to your boss frankly about a promotion or compensation appropriate for your new level of responsibility. If that doesn't work, use the visibility tactics described in Chapter 4 to alert the higher-ups to how well you're doing. Really stuck? You may have to roll the political dice and go above your boss by asking for a meeting with your department head. Just make sure that you frame the conversation in terms of your career development rather than the promotion you want, and that you also keep your boss informed.

2.  You have mastered all of the responsibilities in your job description. A job well done in the corporate world is not like a great standardized test score-it doesn't necessarily predict future success. To get promoted these days, you have to master the skills associated with your current position and, to a great extent, the responsibilities of the next level. In other words, you have to prove that you can add value to a higher-level job before your company will pay you for doing it. If you don't know what's involved in taking your skills and responsibilities up a notch, ask someone in your desired position to act as your mentor and allow you to shadow him for a bit. Don't just observe, though. You'll learn more quickly by actively participating and trying things on your own. As you grow more confident, start acting as though you've already been promoted. If you play your cards right, official recognition will be a natural conclusion.

3.  You are so good at your job that you're the only person who can do it justice.
It's easy for an ambitious twenty-something to get stuck in this trap. If you make yourself irreplaceable, how can the company afford to lose you to a new role? Get out of this one by handpicking a junior member of your team to take your place, either officially or unofficially. Training someone else to do your job as well as you serves two purposes: 1) you'll convince your boss that your job will be left in good hands, and 2) you'll also show her that you're management material.

4.  Over the last few review cycles, you've been promoted like clockwork. Maybe you've been lucky so far and were appropriately rewarded for stellar performance. Remember that each time you take on a new position, you start from scratch. Just because you were promoted last year and have a great reputation does not mean you have the right combination of skill, visibility, and opportunity to succeed at the next level. Harry Chambers reminds us that we are not entitled to anything, and also that dues are never paid in full. Rather, we must campaign for reelection through tangible achievement every day.

Be Careful What You Wish For
If you're reading this, chances are you are the type of person who can't get promoted soon enough. You probably think you're ready for the next level right now, and you might be frustrated with your management for failing to recognize this fact. The truth is, though, if people were promoted every time they thought they deserved it, everyone would be a VP by the age of 30. We all have to learn that the world doesn't work that way, and the sooner we do, the happier we'll be with the way our careers are progressing.

A high school teacher of mine once said, "You don't know what you don't know." In your 20s, you don't realize that, smart as you are and quickly as you catch on, you don't have the wisdom or experience to handle the more complicated responsibilities of middle managers in the corporate world. It took me time to learn this, but bosses who make you wait a year or two to get to the next level are usually doing you a favor. When it comes to promotion, you have to be careful what you wish for. I've seen young employees move up and up until they are in way over their heads. The same "lucky" individuals who make you so jealous often fail outright or self-destruct from the stress of avoiding failure.


Alexandra Levit is the author of four books and a writer for several business and career publications, including the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. Her career advice has been featured in more than 800 media outlets, including the New York Times and National Public Radio.  Levit regularly speaks nationwide on work issues facing young employees.

This article was excerpted from They Don't Teach Corporate in College by Alexandra Levit.  To buy the book, click here.

Reprinted, with permission of the publisher, from THEY DON'T TEACH CORPORATE IN COLLEGE, REVISED EDITION © 2009 Alexandra Levit.  Published by Career Press, Franklin Lakes, NJ.  800-227-3371.  All rights reserved.

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