There was a time, in the only somewhat distant past, that you could sit at a job until retirement — climbing the corporate ladder was not only NOT necessary, but the raises and salary were enough to put away a nice retirement nest egg for oneself plus spouse/partner and/or kids. The option to sit around forever in one role, however, doesn’t really exist anymore.
To ensure career security and a cozy retirement in the modern working world, one has to periodically look around and identify where to go next when climbing the career ladder. Once you settle into a growth mindset and zero in on the next step for yourself and your career, what should you do prepare for a promotion?
Even if you’ve identified a potential promotion, it takes more to “stick the landing” than just knowing where you want to go. And you may ultimately need to look outside the circle of your immediate employment. It’s not always straightforward to know where to look as you continue your climb.
Is a promotion right for you?
If you’re not one of the lucky few individuals who landed in your dream job, or are at the top of the ladder already, it’s okay. Really, it is. Some people find their perfect job right out of college or secondary school, and for others there is much more trial and error involved. A slow ascent.
In the ever-changing tech landscape, nailing down exactly what you want, and what you’re good at can be even harder. If your search for the perfect tech job is proving to be a little more difficult, don’t worry. There are some easy steps you can take and areas to focus on.
First, understand what your goals are and focus on those. Understanding your goals is huge because that determines what promotions you should look for. Do you really want a VP spot, or are you happy in a different role and need to find fulfilment in other ways? Make a list of your top priorities and deepest needs and compare those to the positions you’re focused on.
Are you looking to move up quickly, or wear many hats? Do you want to land a company with great continued education offerings and strong skills development prospects? Maybe you value long-term professional friendships, but lifelong learning isn’t really your thing. As Dirty Harry once said, “A man has to know his limitations.”
Really examine the job profile, considering your goals to make sure it aligns with them before applying or even thinking about applying. Also, it’s a good idea to ask a mentor what technical skills are needed before applying for a position to make the process more efficient for yourself and your company.
Most companies are paying attention to a range of “soft” skills like problem-solving ability, work ethic, communication skills, creative thinking, and professionalism. I always promote soft skills. Technology can be learned; soft skills are much harder to learn and teach.
Skill up through certification
What is the best way to prepare for a promotion? Many readers could probably guess my number one recommendation: certifications. The right credentials can go a long way toward moving your tech career forward. Adding a certification to your resume helps you focus your career path and demonstrates your willingness to continue your education to your employer.
Do your research before getting a certification to make sure that it will benefit your desired career path. (Read a few of my other articles — it couldn’t hurt.) Part of getting the right certifications for your job relies on having a clear visual of your career path. A lot of people out there say you don’t need a five-year plan, but I disagree
Planning with short-term goals in mind helps you understand what you want to accomplish. You can adjustments and course corrections as needed, of course, but having the goal in mind will keep you on track. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses as well as your likes and dislikes will help you identify potential roles you want to go for within your company, and can help you focus on building the right skill set and résumé to get there.
It's also possible that the right role doesn’t exist where you currently work. You could always make a pitch a “created” role to your company. If your job doesn’t have great potential growth, oftentimes companies will be open to creating a new position in order to retain valuable talent. Try to think of a role that you think is missing in your department and propose the new role to your boss.
Your most important skills
I spoke earlier about soft skills, and I still think they are the highest rated, consciously, or unconsciously, by every employer. The best skill an IT employee can have to set themselves apart from others vying for a promotion is being personable. IT is filled with candidates who have exceptional skills and knowledge, but those can be trained.
A great personality, by contrast, keeps customers engaged with your company and looking forward to speaking with the IT department. Anyone can work in IT, but not everyone will go out of his or her way to be personable. It takes a conscious and continuous effort to shape and maintain soft skills. Lock in the right attitudes and it will always benefit your career. Skills will get you a job, but personality will get you a promotion.
It’s also important to consider your relationship with your coworkers and boss. The higher up want to get in your career, the more likely you will be managing other employees and working closely with key decision makers in your company. Therefore, it is generally in the best interest of your boss to promote someone they wouldn’t mind working with. I can’t emphasize this enough: Be that person.
Leap before you look?
What if doesn’t work? Sometimes, the easiest way to get a promotion, or a raise, is to change jobs. This is especially true if you feel as though you are stuck in a rut at your company and haven’t received any positive feedback on the possibility of growth within your career.
Job-hopping is slowly becoming more common, especially among recent grads who have entered a more uncertain workforce. Not only is there no going back to the bygone era (referenced above) of whiling away your career in a single job, but most people will ultimately work for multiple different employers.
Job-hopping for a promotion or a raise is becoming so common, in fact, that Fast Company reports it’s losing its stigma in the business world. You should take care, however, that your résumé isn’t riddled with multiple short six or eight-month stints at companies.
What is the one thing that you can do to ask for the promotion and then actually land it? Once you have an idea of what sort of promotion you should be aiming for, it’s time to make the case for why you’re the person who deserves it.
This is the part of the process that most people feel uncomfortable with because they’re uncomfortable with bragging about themselves. You need to kick that way of thinking to the curb. Put it out of your mind. You deserve what you ask for — just don’t ask too often, don’t make off-hand remarks, and don’t act like you deserve it.
This is the time to be your own biggest fan. Show that you have value and then ask. You haven’t made it this far in your career without doing anything worth bragging about! Take an afternoon out of your day and create a list of your biggest career accomplishments over the past year. Be generous with your list but only include things you can back up with data.
The most persuasive case you can make to your boss is to show them the dollar value behind what you bring to the company. How have you impacted the bottom line? How much would be losing you to a competitor hurt the company? These are sort of things you'll need to consider.
To get what you want; you need to explicitly explain just how valuable you are. Ask a coworker, or someone you know who is a fan of your work habits and/or accomplishments to help. It may surprise you what they say.
No matter what, if you follow a sound plan for gaining ground in your career and position, you will never miss out. I wish you a long and lasting career, no matter where it takes you.