The easiest way to get promoted is to do the following:

1) Choose an employer that’s growing and in constant demand for new people.

2) Master your own job.

3) Develop preliminary competence in the job above you.

4) Volunteer to do the least enjoyable parts of the job above you (before you’re promoted).

Let me explain why each step is important.

1) Choose an employer that’s growing and in constant demand for new people.

If a company is shrinking and laying people off, the last thing they are thinking about doing is promoting people into new roles.

If a company is stagnant, there’s no upward mobility. If your boss isn’t looking to get promoted (thereby creating an open position for you), it becomes harder to have an upwards career trajectory with that employer.

There’s no point in looking for a promotion if you are working on a sinking ship.

2) Master your own job.

It’s absolutely vital that you truly master your current job before looking for the next job. Here’s why.

From the employer’s point of view, we want to make the “safe” hire.

When you show you can develop mastery of your current job, you signal that you can likely do this for the next job too.

Rather than do the bare minimum to avoid being fired, do the maximum such that your employer thinks — geez, this person is being underutilized. We have bigger problems this person can solve for us.

3) Develop basic competence in the job above you. 

All employers would prefer to make the “safe” hire. A safe hire = low-risk hire. The easiest way to become the low-risk hire is to start doing parts of the next job you want before you’re actually promoted.

The promotion decision conversation goes like this…

“Well, Victor’s doing 1/3 of the job already and doing it very well. He’s a known entity. He has a proven track record. So why wouldn’t we just promote him?”

To do parts of the next job, you must observe to see what the next job entails. If you lack those skills now, develop a plan to learn those skills.

Ask to sit in on a meeting where such issues are discussed. The powers that be are more likely to say yes to such a request if you’ve already mastered your current job. If you’re performing poorly in your current job and are looking to be promoted, you will get legitimate resistance to this request.

If “sitting in” to learn isn’t acceptable within your company culture, offer to “take notes” for everyone in the meeting.

Most meetings benefit from note taking.

Many people would prefer not to be responsible for taking “official” notes for a meeting — it’s grunt work that somebody needs to do.

Volunteer to be that person as a way to get into the meeting.

Work on projects that get you exposure to the next job.

Ask questions about what others are doing, why they are doing it, and how they’re doing it. Be inquisitive.

4) Volunteer to do the least enjoyable parts of the job above you (before you’re promoted).

Finally, start doing elements of the next job before you’re promoted.

If your boss needs to create a marketing plan, offer to do the first draft for her.

Offer to make revisions based on her feedback.

This is work that needs to be done, but it’s a pain for your boss. The hardest part of developing a marketing plan is the thinking that goes into it. The most time-consuming part is the actual writing up of the plan.

Offer to do the tedious, boring part of the next job as a way to get exposure to the next job.

Let’s say you are a software developer writing an API (Application Programming Interface — a machine-to-machine interface for your software system) for part of a larger software system. As you write your API, you notice there are no set standards for how the API should be written and how the code should be documented.

As a software developer, it’s your job to write the code to solve the problem you’ve been assigned.

It’s the software development manager’s job to set standards for code and documentation.

In many newer software organizations, this kind of engineering “housekeeping” gets overlooked. It is useful, but it’s also incredibly boring and not glamorous.

Propose a possible standard for consideration. Ask others for their input. Find all the highly respected engineers in the company and ask for feedback.

When there’s nobody left to object, and everybody agrees with your final draft, propose that it become the new company standard.

It’s hard for others to say “no” when you’ve already done the “heavy lifting”… and you hand them a well-done solution on a silver platter.

(I have an acquaintance who did this a month ago at a new job, and it has been very well received.)

For every promotion I ever received, I was already doing parts of the next job in the months prior to a promotion ever being considered.

Here’s the key concept:


When you start to do your current job plus part of the next job, you take a risk that such efforts will not be rewarded with a promotion. Logically, it would make sense to only invest in learning the new job after you get it.

The problem with this approach is that from the employer’s point of view, it makes you a risky new hire.

There are too many unknowns regarding your likely performance on the job.

When you develop skills over and above the minimum necessary for your current job, you’re doing a form of unpaid work.

By learning the next job before you actually get a promotion, you transfer risk from your employer to you.

This makes you the obvious low-risk hire. This is the exact position you want to be in.

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