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Passed over for a job promotion? Here are 10 ways to get out of your own way

By Laurie Davies

If a rung breaks every time you try to climb the career ladder, maybe … it’s you.


Didn’t see that coming, did you? The truth is, we all have blind spots, and yours might be unintentionally sabotaging your career goals.

Here’s the good news: You can enhance your job promotion prospects even if your pattern is one of being passed over. Steven Starks, senior manager for career advising programs and operations at University of Phoenix, offers 10 ways to get out of your own way.

1. Think bigger

We know, we know. All you’ve been thinking about is that big promotion, but maybe it’s time to think much bigger. How does your workplace contribution fit into broader business objectives? How do you fit into your team? Maybe it’s time to ditch the worker-bee mentality and see your performance through a bigger lens.

Get started: Find a small block of time each week to reflect on the work you’re performing and how or whether it’s making a difference for your organization.

2. Perform high-value work

Maybe you’re working hard — just not on projects management perceives as high value. Ensure your workload and priorities reflect those of the organization. Visibility matters.

Get started: Try to land high-value work. “There’s risk. It’s scary to be on a visible project. But if you don’t have stretch goals, you may be too comfortable,” Starks says.

3. Discard old ideas about advancement

Some employees still think that experience equals performance. It doesn’t.

“Just because you’ve been doing something for a long time doesn’t mean you’re a top performer,” Starks says. Today’s workplaces are about efficiency. The idea that tenure should lead to promotion is an outdated way of thinking.

Get started: Focus less on how long you’ve been in the organization and more on how others experience you. Do you collaborate well with others? Are you seen as a leader?

4. Document your wins

Keep a running list of your successes. Starks says: “Sometimes clients will say, ‘I had my annual review, and this is how they tell me I’m doing.’ They are disconnected from their job performance.” Instead, Starks recommends taking charge. It’s OK to rely on feedback to some extent, but other times it pays to be your own advocate.

Get started: Write down your professional successes and review the list regularly so that you’ll be able to articulate it if needed. “Lean into your strengths more,” Starks advises.

5. Make your boss's job easier

Not every boss will have an amazing personality. “But if you want to position yourself for career growth, your relationship with your boss had better be good,” Starks says.

One way to improve that relationship is to make your boss’s job easier by adding value wherever possible.

Get started: Try to ask questions like: What can I take off your plate? How can I make your job easier? How can I help you succeed? Anticipate your boss’s needs.

6. Play well with others

You want to get ahead, and that’s understandable. But sometimes the way to get noticed isn’t by standing on your tippy-toes and saying, “Look at me!” Employees who build teamwork and collaboration foster trust, and when it comes to a job promotion, these soft skills make a difference.

Get started: Are co-workers reaching out to you? Is there mutual respect with your boss? Can you talk about business challenges? If not, it’s time to focus on team. A good first step is simply recognizing others’ achievements.

7. Upskill or 'reskill'

Today’s workplaces are constantly responding to market changes. Taking time to upskill or reskill shows you’re committed to keeping your edge. (This also makes you marketable if you resign or you’re laid off.)

Get started: Set aside time each week for career development. Read a book, explore webinars or take professional development courses. Maybe it’s time to start or finish a certificate or degree. Pick one thing to jump-start your career goals and go for it!

8. Pay attention to those who get promoted

Some of you are thinking: All I’ve been doing is obsessing over Craig from down the hall who got promoted. What about trying a new way of thinking about Craig from down the hall? Study how he advanced.

“Success leaves clues,” Starks says. “Anyone who has been promoted in your organization is leaving breadcrumbs that you can follow.”

Get started: Schedule a “career research” conversation with someone who has advanced in your organization to see how they did it. Or, seek help from a career coach to brainstorm job-promotion strategies. (University of Phoenix alumni can schedule a no-cost, one-on-one appointment with a career advisor.)

Read how UOPX alumni Shammai Terry credits a UOPX career advisor with helping her talk more effectively with executive personnel.

9. Request feedback

Brace yourself on this one. When you request feedback, you have to be open to whatever comes. Starks suggests inviting feedback with curiosity. “If there are things that sting a little, you might be better able to say, ‘Oh, that’s interesting,’ instead of taking it personally,” he says.

Get started: Invite specific feedback on why you were passed over for a job promotion. Ask questions, such as: What does that mean? Could you help me understand? How can I address that? Be genuinely open.

10. Eliminate entitlement

You’re human. It’s hard to be passed up for a promotion and not feel a tinge (or a tidal wave) of resentment.

“But if you’re caught up in feelings of resentment or feeling underappreciated, awareness of this is key. It doesn’t mean it’s not valid, but it may be influencing others’ perception of you,” Starks says. If you’re not careful, entitlement can creep in.

Get started: Check yourself. Be honest. If you’ve slipped into an entitlement mindset, try to double down on your focus at work. Bringing your A game can go a long way toward influencing how decision-makers look at you.

In the end, Starks says, it’s not too difficult to tell if you’re the problem at work. “If you’re not a go-to person, if office conversations aren’t easy, and if you think it’s all about you, these are clues,” he says.

While Starks advises people to not try to be someone they’re not, it is possible — and advisable — to create a smoother path by changing behaviors that sabotage career goals.

It’s also important to pay attention to your organization’s culture, environment and politics. “Office politics are real. I never heard anybody say that they like them. At the end of the day, though, you need to be skilled at communication and relationship-building. This involves being honest with yourself and asking: Do I want to navigate that here with this team and this organization? If the answer is no, maybe it’s time for a change.”

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