There are lots of self-styled experts who write about how to get a promotion, like Penelope Trunk (See “How to get promoted” posted April 4, 2011), but many of these tend towards either “Kissing up” to your boss, or blatant self-promotion to all the others that matter in the decision process. If you do work for a company where these are the decision criteria for promotion, it may be time to change your employer. I believe that promotions should be earned, rather than bought, so herewith my top-10 hints for actually earning a promotion.

1. Look to the future but keep focussed on doing the best job possible in your current role.

It is great to have an eye on the future, but to be seen as promotable you have to show that you can do your current job extremely well. This doesn’t mean that you should not ask for more responsibilities, but only after you have shown that you can perform at the current role to the highest standards. Offering to mentor more junior staff members will position you well, and acting as a mentor will also be a good learning experience for you if looking for a future role in management.

2. Find a good mentor for yourself.

Recent studies have shown that the majority of promotions are given to those that have a mentor higher up in the company. Not only is this helpful in getting the right career advice and direction, but it also helps to have someone higher up the ladder, who has confidence in you, singing your praises and supporting your growth as an individual.

3. Learn to network, not just to get connected, but to find out what is going on in different parts of the company and what challenges they are facing.

One of the critical skills shortages in most companies is “general management” capabilities and knowledge, as most people tend to rarely step out of their bounded vertical silos of work. The more knowledge you have of what is happening across the business the more valuable you will be.

By User:Wykis; via Wikimedia Commons

4. Establish a strong relationship with your boss in a business context not as friends.

Being openly friends with your boss can actually count against you when promotions are being decided as s/he will try to prove that s/he is making a solid business decision rather than just “promoting a pal”, and may therefore judge you more harshly than other contenders. You should try and build a relationship with your boss that is one of openness and trust and that shows you are someone that can be relied on to do whatever it takes for the benefit of the company and your team, particularly in tough times.

5. Understand what got you to where you are today.

Can you leverage on the skills that got you here and are these the skills that can help to get you to the next level? You also need to understand the weaknesses that you may exhibit and that would get in the way of a promotion. Your boss can help with this, as it is part of their job to do so for all direct reports. Develop a plan to hone the strengths and overcome the weaknesses through training, development and/or assignments that would strengthen your position in competing for a promotion. Discuss and agree the plan with your boss to get his buy-in and then work the plan with regular reviews with your boss to discuss and agree progress.

6. Show passion, energy and commitment to the company, division and team.

I do not mean just “toe the company line”, but a true enthusiasm for what is happening and what needs to be done. Be prepared to volunteer for assignments that are needed to solve business problems, as this is one critical skill in successful managers, or that look at building future direction, as this is another.

7. Be a serious team player, and where appropriate take a leadership role in the team.

I have rarely promoted my top salesman to the role of a sales manager, as I have seen too many instances where this resulted in losing the best revenue generator and gaining a bad manager. Instead I have looked for a successful salesman that has gained the respect of those around him (including customers), and who has the ability to pull together a team to, for example, go after and win a major deal. The question I always ask is “Would people follow this person if they didn’t have the title”. Being an “untitled” team leader is a great indication of having at least some of the basic elements for promotion.

Teamwork, a sculpture by David Wynne, 1958; Photographed by Oosoom on 19 September 2006; via Wikimedia Commons

8. Learn skills that are critical for the organisation’s success, and which are in short supply.

I have always believed that it is critical that you are able to update your CV every year. (See “Third secret of success” posted October 21, 2010). You need to be able to ask yourself “What can I do today that I couldn’t do a year ago, or what do I know today that I didn’t know a year ago?”, and if you can’t answer positively to this question, you have probably set back your prospects of promotion. Your boss and your mentor should both be able to help you with identifying where to best direct your efforts. Always remember that learning is a journey not a destination, no matter how senior you become.

9. Don’t be a clock watcher.

Those who complain about work-life balance rarely get promoted. When there is a job to be done, you need to show that you are someone that can be relied on to get it done, particularly when under time pressure or when times are tough. Base your work hours on those of your boss if he is someone you respect and admire. If he is lazy, work harder than he does. Believe me that it will be noticed.

By Jorge Barrios (own work); via Wikimedia Commons

10. Always act professionally in everything you do.

Dress like the job you want more than the job you are doing, disregarding idiosyncrasies such as dress-down days. Do not indulge in inappropriate humour in the workplace and treat all people with respect, irrespective of their position in the company. Keep out of office politics and rumour mills as these never benefit anyone, and are the refuge of the incompetent. Work to become a thought leader with actions like accepting speaking engagements, involvement in work groups and the writing of white-papers.

Promotions are not a given in anyone’s career and in good companies need to be planned for, fought for and earned.

As Henry L. Doherty (American businessman 1870-1939) said “Plenty of men can do good work for a spurt and with immediate promotion in mind, but for promotion you want a man in whom good work has become a habit”.



  1. Ramki says:

    Thanks for the advice, Les 🙂
    I observed that I follow most of the points except point 2. Looking around and analyzing, I observed that this seems to be the most important one also.


  2. Robert says:

    100% with you.
    I would had “show leadership”.
    That is what senior leaders look formost for promotions.
    -Leadership is not a position, but an attitude that exists throughout organizations.
    -Leaders embrace their corporate/Group vision and strategies and are a catalyst in their everyday work to see that future become increasingly possible.
    -Leaders are passionate, work hard on today, with a keen focused on the future.
    -Leaders listen, and generate actions by walking the talk and enabling others to grow.
    -Leadrers are focused on tjheir organizations, their team, their customers, not themselves.


    • leshayman says:

      Robert … I do agree about leadership and that’s what I meant by point 7.
      I believe that leadership can be exhibited even when someone is in an individual contributer role and not yet in management. Leadership is based on followers not on titles.

  3. Winnie says:

    Les ,

    I still remember the day you told us back in the old Chai Chee office to ‘update your resume every year’. Since then, I have been doing that on a bi-annual basis as it helps me keep track of my own progress(have I achieved what i set out to do/learn/aim for the year? Am I there or have I veered off-track?) I advocate this to all my team members and good interns i mentor. Must say the bosses are always impressed when I whip out a most updated resume whenever they ask for it… 🙂 ..

  4. leshayman says:

    Hi Winnie…. good on you !
    Those days in Chai Chee seem just like yesterday though I realise it was about 15 years ago. The lessons havent changed though and I still believe that learning new skills and knowledge (and using them) is one of the great joys in life.

  5. Adriana says:

    Mr. Hayman,

    I’ve been waiting to read these rules, (written by someone who actually knows real business) my whole career. Thank you for them! I’ll print this post to “memorize” it. Even sometimes I felt awkward being “different” as so many were following Penelope’s rules, I had this feeling inside me that it should be a “right” way too. And I found it.

    Now I just have to find it again… I really thank you! Your blog is my mentor these days…


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