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In my career, I’ve been on both sides of the fence regarding promotions. I started as a part-time student developer, and after 4 promotions in 7 years, I ended up as an engineering manager. Along the way, I helped several other people. And as a manager, I am in a position to get people that promotion. But how do you get that promotion? In this post, I will share my perspective on how I got my promotions, and how I see them as a manager.
Even though there are no scientific studies done to prove it, managers cannot read minds. Over the years I have seen several colleagues get demotivated because they did not get their desired promotion. What surprised me in most cases was that they never mentioned to their managers they wanted a promotion. They expected to get a promotion based on years at the company, or because someone else got it.
The first step in getting that promotion is to say it out loud. In your next one-on-one meeting, bring up that you want to go for a promotion. Make it clear this is your goal for the short-mid term. You don’t expect the promotion now, you are willing to do work to make sure you get there.
Important note: Don’t make the mistake to demand a promotion. This is about signaling your goals and making clear to your manager that you want to work towards them.
Create your personal promotion document, and include all the steps in this blog post. This will be your report on your own promotion. I found it effective to do things written instead of verbally.
But what does your promotion look like? A completely different role? Your role but just with added responsibilities? The second step in getting a promotion is getting the requirements clear. In general this can go two ways:
1) The role is well-defined with requirements and competencies.
2) The role is not defined and it is unclear what skills it requires.
If your role is well-defined this is great! This will save you some work. Download the document, and list out every skill, behavior, competence, etc. you see. You will need this for the next step.
Don’t worry if the role is unclear. This creates a great opportunity to do some proactive work. Look up roles online, and see if they have any requirements, skills, competencies, etc. listed. You can create your own requirement document for this role. What does the role look like in your eyes?
If you have gathered enough information, put everything in a document and show it to your manager. This is what role X looks like in my opinion. Do you agree? Do you have some remarks?
Try to not make the mistake to make this about yourself. Sure it’s good to know if you have these skills. But the main goal of this step is to have a clear picture of what the role looks like. And your manager is on the same page.
This might be the most important step of the promotion process. With your requirement document, we are going to take a look at ourselves. Are there some skills/competencies/etc we already have, and some we need to learn?
Be brutally honest with yourself. If you lack a specific skill, this is the time to work on it. Don’t see it as a form of weakness. See it as a way to improve yourself to become a better version.
This is the perfect moment to cooperate with your manager. For example, you want to be a senior engineer, which requires leading projects. You have almost no experience with leading projects. In your next one-on-one, you can ask your manager to help you find smaller projects where you can gain experience with leading.
For every requirement you have the skill level, add examples. In an ideal world, anyone should be able to take a look at your promotion document and judge it. Does the skill require leadership? Include examples of projects where you took the lead. Make it as watertight as you can.
While this step is the most important one. This step can also be the hardest. I’ve known some developers who were great technically but lacked serious soft skills. Every review cycle they grew angrier and angrier for not getting that promotion. But they did not see that in every project they lead, doing all the work yourself and ignoring other developers, is not the way a more senior engineer works. They had trouble self reflecting and realizing they where not the seniors they thought they were.
Life is not always fair. You can do everything right and still lose. You did your work, but you are still not being promoted. That sucks!
If we apply Hanlon’s razor, it can have any good reason. There is no budget, there are no openings, or they have another valid reason to not promote you.
Or it can be that your manager thinks you are unqualified and did not communicate that with you. Which sucks and might be time to look for a new manager in a different company.
If you take the route shared in this blog post, you will at least have a clearer picture of your own skills, what you might need to improve, and what your preferred promotion looks like.
Before you go
My approach to getting a promotion can be defined in 4 steps:
- Tell your manager you want to go for a promotion
- Get clear what requirements your promotion has
- Self-reflect and make a plan to improve your skills
- Either get the promotion or develop some skills along the way.
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