How to climb the career ladder

If you’re out to gain a promotion, working hard and achieving targets may not be enough
by Brian Gorman


Most people feel they have the potential to rise through the ranks in their career, but may not have a clear strategy in place for gaining that all-important promotion.

The obvious factors such as being smart, working hard and meeting your targets are only likely to take you so far, says executive coach Michael Wenderoth, in an article in Harvard Business Review.

“There’s an additional set of skills, ones we don’t often discuss, that can get you promoted, increase your compensation, and open you up to more job opportunities,” says Wenderoth. These include being politically savvy and networking strategically, having ‘executive presence’ and building ‘brokerage and social capital’.

Wenderoth says you will see a pattern in the people who are promoted, adding that they are “often highly visible to key stakeholders” and “benefit from high-level sponsors”. They have the confidence to speak up and “know who to approach to make things happen”.

You need three things, he writes:

  • Reliable information about other people who have been promoted. Find out about their backgrounds, what jobs they did, and how and with whom they spent their time.

  • A map to get to your goal. You need to decide where you want to get to and who can help you get there. Think about who you want to impress and who you need to get on your side.

  • Make yourself visible to these key stakeholders. Meet with them one-on-one and ask questions to gain insight into how you can contribute. Use this insight to speak up and be heard in meetings. 

Make your boss look good

“If you want your boss to promote you, make sure you do everything you can to help them achieve success in their role,” writes Kerry Siggins, chief executive of manufacturing company StoneAge, in a Forbes article. “My best performers make my job easier and drive company success, which puts them at the top of my mind for growth within the company.”

This is Siggins’ top tip out of five for gaining a promotion. Her second tip highlights the importance of performing well in your current role. She cites the case of someone who wanted a promotion but had underperformed. “How could I promote him into a new role when he let down the company and his teammates? I couldn’t.”

Her third tip is to ask for feedback, as this and the ability to act on it is essential for success. “When you get feedback, handle it with grace and gratitude. Ask questions, don’t get defensive, and take action. People who can take feedback well and do something with it are highly promotable.”

Her fourth tip is to be helpful and solve problems. Siggins was made CEO of StoneAge at 30 and says this was largely because she was always finding ways to solve problems and help her colleagues. “If a teammate was struggling, I’d talk through the situation and help them brainstorm solutions,” she said.

Siggins’ final tip is to advocate for yourself, adding that this must be done professionally and tactfully. “Well-executed self-promotion and self-advocation are subtle, tactful and highly useful,” she says.

Indeed’s tips

Job site Indeed also offers a comprehensive list of tips on how to gain a promotion. Some of the advice overlaps with the above but also includes the following:

  • Give more value
    You can increase your value to your employer by involving yourself in a broader range of company activities, which will boost your knowledge, skills and experience and help you find new opportunities for career growth.

  • Demonstrate your leadership skills
    Become a role model for others in the team and “gain their respect through your work performance”. Identify leadership opportunities to demonstrate to your supervisor that you are ready to lead.

  • Become a positive presence in your workplace
    Indeed says that the ability to remain calm and positive under pressure is a key attribute of a strong leader. This will also help your team members be positive, “resulting in a more conducive work environment for everyone”.

  • Motivate yourself constantly
    The article stresses the importance of consistently demonstrating a strong work ethic. To stay on track, keep reminding yourself of your goal, asking yourself why you want, and why you should get, a promotion.

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Published: 18 Nov 2022
  • Training, Competence and Culture
  • Soft Skills
  • workplace culture
  • career development

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