Want to Get Promoted? Here are 8 Things You Must Know

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By Christine

A main reason many candidates take up the CFA exams is due to career reasons. The CFA program offers a great educational program in finance, and while it’s not an automatic career upgrade, there’s no denying that it is indeed great for a financial career.

Keeping our career-focused readers in mind, we recently ran a very popular series on job-hunting, covering CV-writing, networking and interviewing. And for the CFA candidates, we also ran a guide on how to make the most out of your current CFA candidate status on your CV and LinkedIn.

However, if you’re happy at your current role, but you wanted to get promoted, what are the things you should be doing?

Let’s find out.

Your Boss Has to Like You

Arguments for the existence of management consultants aside, McKinsey & Company has an excellent, excellent graduate program. Some of the advice you get on this program are some very bald, simple, dummy-proof statements that even the thickest graduate can follow.

In client situations, consultants often have conflicting parties jostling for resources or power. In order to think clearly, graduates are often told a very simple rule of thumb for what they should be doing at all times: 

Help your boss. Make your direct supervisor look as good as possible.

This is a very useful statement to have. Not to follow completely in the literary sense, but to understand why it is such a successful rule of thumb. Nothing really matters if your boss is pissed off at you.

I know, I know. Promotion should be about merit, performance, and how awesome you are. You are right – that’s what makes a strong firm.

But at the same time, a firm is not like being in school. A strong firm also can only work if all team members can tolerate each other and work well together. A teacher has no right to lower your exam scores just because he/she dislikes you, but at work, it would definitely help your promotion process if your boss already knows they are very happy to work with you.

Can you really imagine a boss that’s happy to promote someone that they regard as a pain in the neck? Help them with that decision when the time comes. Get along with your boss. If you fundamentally can’t? You may have bigger issues with your job than being promoted…

You Need to be Known as Competent

Note that there are two components in this header: being competent, and spreading that information. You have to be good at your job, but also at taking credit where it’s due. The one that decides whether you’re promoted is not you, even if you know you’re awesome, it’s not good enough. 

In order to get promoted, you need to make others know that you’re awesome too.

Know the Rules of the Game

A friend of mine was in a great role at a very successful company. This guy was really good at his job, and his manager agreed too. However, he missed out on promotions time and again. He was competent, socialized a lot, and his manager thinks he walks on water. So what was the matter?

His company had a very structured process of promotion. Every quarter, each employee was required to complete a progress report, outlining in detail his or her achievements and progress in the company. This was akin to writing a CV or a cover letter, and generally a massive pain in the ass – you’d have to take a day or two to properly finish it. However it was important to complete it – this was the main reference for progress of any employee when it comes to making any kind of decision.

Including promotions.

And guess what? My friend didn’t really bother much with this report at all. So no prizes for guessing why he had so much trouble getting promoted.

Every company has a process of determining who should get promoted – be it official or unofficial. Learning and knowing the rules is usually easy, however many people ignore them, or simply believe that their brilliantness will ‘shine through’ and they will get promoted regardless. 

Do not do this. Know what you should be doing according to the firm’s system, and make sure you’re excelling at this.

Play to Where the Hockey Puck Will Be

Wayne Gretzsky was a legendary ice hockey player and considered by most to be the greatest being to ever pick up a hockey stick. He was fond of saying “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.

If you want to be promoted, you not only have to convince your boss that you’re great at your job, but also whether you’ll be great at the job you want to be promoted to. This is especially important as you move higher in seniority, where the role responsibilities may differ significantly after you get promoted. 

Your manager needs to know that you’ll be good at the role you’re pitching for – essentially it’s another job interview!

Be Prepared to Call Their Bluff

A great way to validate your merit and ensure a reward is to try and get an offer from another company – one that is a distinct improvement from your current role.

If you do get a tempting offer, approach your current manager and explain the situation. Explain that although you’re very happy at your role, the increase in salary or responsibility offered by the other job offer is making a decision to stay very difficult. Enquire if there is anything he/she can do.

Note that this isn’t the same as kicking up a fuss or threatening your company (i.e. pay me this much, or else I’ll leave), but actually taking the initiative to find something better. If you can get an offer that includes a raise or a promotion, then it validates your opinion that you’re due one anyway. If your firm still refuses to offer you that, then you should take the better offer.

Socialization Will Be Necessary

A promotion process is very similar to a popularity contest. So it’s difficult to angle for promotion if you’re rarely seen outside of work, and no one really knows you on a more personal level.

I’m not saying you need to be Captain Schmooze that shows up early to every office party and be the last to leave. That may actually not help either, by the way. But don’t pass up chance after chance to socialize with your colleagues and superiors. Make sure they know you, and get to know you. This will not only help with your performance reviews, but also with your day-to-day responsibilities!

Get to know your colleagues, and make sure your colleagues know you.

Politics vs Performance

By now you should have gathered that the answer to the ‘politics or performance’ question is that it’s often a blend of both. If you were to promote one of your team members, you’d promote someone who is good…but also someone you can work with.

Compare Notes

Don’t be afraid to ask friends or even colleagues for advice on your specific case. They would be most familiar with you and your situation – it’s always worth listening to those closest to you that you trust.

Share your promotion success stories or any questions you have with us in the comments below – we might be able to help out!


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