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Why You’re Not Being Promoted at Work

February 23, 2020

Why You’re Not Being Promoted at Work

As a senior leader at a large corporation, I've spent a great deal of my time coaching employees, both new and seasoned in their careers.

One of the things I enjoy most at work is having very candid discussions with individuals on their goals, as well as mentoring other leaders on how to manage stressful situations within their respective teams.

I hope to one day use this blog as a platform to provide career coaching advice to both ambitious employees and leaders alike, who are looking for an unbiased opinion on their particular situation.

Why do I feel I'm in an excellent position to provide this type of advice?


With close to 20 years experience coaching hundreds of employees/leaders, as well as exposure to multiple countries, cultures, leadership and communication styles, I feel I'm well equipped to add value in those discussions. I've also been able to leverage my leadership-focused MBA effectively over the years as a bonus.

Not to generalize too much, but I'm also a Gen-X leader, who's been able to effectively bridge the communication gap between the outgoing baby boomer generation and the incoming millennial generation. And I can confirm, the gap is real!

I began my career in 2000 and started at an entry-level job. Over the subsequent years, I was promoted on a relatively regular basis. During that same period, I also managed to increase my income; on average, about 12% per year. It's one of the primary reasons I've been able to accelerate my net worth growth.

To put that in perspective, the S&P 500 was at 1,090 when I started my first full-time job. It currently stands at around 2,370 as of this week. That's a compound annual growth rate of only 4.5% over the same period.

By investing in myself and focusing on the right type of career growth, I beat the stock market by a wide margin.

One of the ingredients of a successful journey to financial independence is income. If you want to accelerate your journey significantly, you'll need to generate more income. If you happen to be working for a corporation, the best way to do that is by getting promoted.

I'm going to spend some time explaining how you can improve your odds, based on my personal experience and knowledge…

How to Get Promoted

I run across individuals all the time who are eager to get promoted. They're always applying for open positions, and still, have their eye on the next role. But for some reason, they never get the job they want. Or if they do, they quickly reach a ceiling and can't break through it.

There's also a certain level of impatience I've witnessed with some of those individuals, who feel that they should be promoted within 3-6 months of taking on a particular role. Ambition is admirable, but it needs to be grounded in demonstrated performance. Don't be that person…

Just like you need a strategy for financial independence, you need a plan for that next promotion.

At the core of your strategy is one fundamental concept: "Proving You're Ready."

What Does it Mean to be Ready

How do you know if you've performed in your current role, and are ready to be promoted? Unless you work for an organization that has clear guidelines for promotions, this can be a tricky question to answer. Both for the employee and manager by the way.

One way to help answer this question is to look at which stage of maturity you're in relative to your role.

Maturity Level 1 – Learning Phase

This is typically when you take on a new role, entry-level, or otherwise. You're spending quite a bit of your time absorbing further information and learning the ropes.

How long you spend in this phase will be mostly dependent on the nature of your role, and your ability to absorb new information.  While in this phase, your productivity is relatively low, and the company is investing quite a bit of energy, helping you gain the necessary experience.

If you're in this phase and thinking about the next promotion, your expectations are a bit out of whack.

Maturity Level 2 – Applying Phase

This phase usually kicks in when an individual has learned a significant portion of what it takes to perform a specific role. They're now taking that new knowledge and applying it in their work to deliver value to the organization. This is when you can technically claim that you've worked the job.

Until someone reaches this level, their productivity is usually below what's needed to be effective. Many people spend the rest of their careers in this stage, which is perfectly fine.

For those that are interested in moving on, this is the phase they usually start thinking about the next promotion. Unfortunately, most people skip over the following two maturity levels and head straight to their boss' office.

Maturity Level 3 – Teaching Phase

If you suddenly find yourself spending a considerable amount of time teaching those around you, and imparting your knowledge, whether voluntarily or not, you've reached the next maturity level of your role.

You, of course, still have a job to do, but you've become so good at it, that the extra productivity you've freed up can now be used for activities that benefit others. There is no better way to pressure test your knowledge than to spend time teaching someone else. Not only are you helping them out, but you're also fine-tuning your skills.

Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to be "the boss" or manager to develop other people. If you take a proactive approach and volunteer to help bring on new people, it not only helps your boss out, but it builds your credibility as a budding leader.

_ Maturity Level 4 – Improving Phase_

This is an elusive maturity level for many, but a potent one if you want to increase your chances of getting promoted. At this point in your role, you're somewhat established, and you've demonstrated your expertise.

In this phase, you look for opportunities to leverage that knowledge and experience beyond your contribution. This can include creating a solution for a particular problem that others can use to improve their productivity. It can be leading a project that benefits the organization as a whole.

Endless examples are depending on your specific role and company; the key is to show you're able to solve a problem and improve a particular situation that benefits others.

Look in the Mirror

Evaluate your situation, and ask yourself what maturity stage you're currently in relative to your role. If you're serious about that next promotion, you need to make sure you transition through all the phases.

Even if you're not seeking a promotion, going through all those phases is a proper development for your career, and a great way to gain fulfillment in your current role.

If you focus on transitioning through these various phases in a mindful way (i.e., don't just check the box), you'll have a high probability of convincing your boss and organization that you're ready for the next promotion.

I'm willing to bet they'll be actively trying to get you the next challenge.

But just in case they don't…

Bonus Tips for Getting Promoted

It's possible you applied yourself and went through all the phases described above over several years. But that promotion is still out of reach. Here are a few more things to consider…

  • Your Boss is Not a Mind Reader – Unless you advertise your desire to take on another challenge, your boss may assume you're perfectly happy doing such a great job in your current role. There's nothing more annoying to a manager (a good one at least) than a dissatisfied employee who won't voice their concerns directly.

  • Don't be too bashful – Have you been spending a lot of time working on the last 2 phases? Does anyone other than you know about all that effort? Don't be shy about sharing your successes at work with others, especially your boss. Performance reviews are an excellent opportunity to highlight those achievements. Your boss is a pretty busy individual, and may only see a fraction of your contributions.

  • Don't outsource your career – I see too many examples of individuals assuming that their development and next promotion is the sole responsibility of their boss or others. No one will care about your career as much as you, take ownership of it, and develop yourself despite a lack of interest from others.

  • Make sure you have an exit strategy – One of the most significant barriers to getting promoted, especially if you're a very competent individual, is the problem you create for your boss if you get promoted into another department primarily if they've invested a lot of energy and time getting you to a high maturity level. If you're chasing that next promotion, make sure you've put together an excellent back-up plan for your boss. Sure it's their job to deal with it, but taking that approach will help make them your advocate instead of an exit barrier.

  • Build relationships – Some of the best career moves I made were due to connections I had made earlier in my journey as a professional. Don't limit yourself to just your group or department, find opportunities to meet leaders in other areas, and keep in touch with them. You never know what problem they need to be solved, and you could be their next solution. If you do this, make sure to let your boss know of your intentions and career desires ahead of time.

  • Invest in your development – Take extra courses in the evenings, read personal development books, and participate in training opportunities at work. I spent two hellish years early in my career getting an MBA while working overtime at a job, and taking courses in the evenings and weekends. It was tough, but it helped differentiate me in the workplace as a result.

Parting Thoughts

Everything I've mentioned up to this point is something I've personally done throughout my career to improving my earning potential. It's not theoretical or a podium speech, just a practical viewpoint on how to take charge of your career.

It also wasn't easy. There were many long hours at work, stressful deadlines, shitty bosses, and endless bureaucracy. That's the nature of a corporate career. The key is to persevere, invest heavily in your development, and push through the BS.

You also have to keep constant pressure on your organization and nudge them along. I've witnessed what a proactive approach to a career looks like vs. the alternative. It's a night and day difference.

And finally, don't underestimate the challenges with landing a top job at a company, there are some significant disadvantages that you need to keep in mind.

Written by Max for Your Money Geek and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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