Monday, February 21, 2011

How Not to Get a Promotion at Work

I recently got a promotion at work.  I was going to write an article on how I did it and what you could do at work to get a promotion.  But I thought about it and realized that that would probably be a pretty boring topic so I decided to write about something different.  I am going to write about the things people can do to ensure they will not get promoted.  Perhaps you don't want to get promoted because you are pretty happy doing what you are doing now.  Perhaps you like making less money.  Or perhaps you want to get a promotion but are doing these things and don't even realize it.  Whatever the case may be, I decided to tell you all the things you can do to ensure you stay right where you are.

1.  Don't let anyone know you would like a promotion

Sounds pretty basic huh?  But it is the #1 thing you can do to be sure you never ever get promoted.  I have gotten several promotions in my life . I have asked for every single one.  I know, you want your employer to fall all over themselves and give you the promotion you deserve.  It is so obvious to yourself that you should get a promotion, why isn't it obvious to your boss?  Believe me, it isn't.  Here is one little secret.  Promotions don't often mean you are going to do anything different than what you currently do.  Promotions are give to the stars at work.  If you are a star, you most likely have already picked up the extra work you will have to do when you get a promotion (see #4 below). Why should an employer give you more money and a title bump when you will likely do the same amount of work you have always done?  It may be the "right" thing to do but your job has an incentive to not give you a raise or a promotion.  If they don't know you are unhappy, they won't do anything to fix it.

2.  Let your work suffer because you are not getting a promotion

Your boss wants to give a promotion to someone who does excellent work and who is mature.   Letting your work suffer in some sort of protests because a promotion is not coming or is taking longer than you want is sending the exact wrong message at the most crucial time.  A very common attitude with people who are disgruntled after not getting a promotion is to show them "just how important I really am" by not dong the great work that you think should give you a promotion.  Doing this doesn't prove anything and pretty much will put you in the doghouse with your boss.

3.  Dress provocatively/sloppily

You need to be taken seriously at work.  One of the ways to ensure that will never be taken seriously at work is dressing too provocatively or dressing down.  You want the higher position?  Start looking like you already have it.  It may not seem fair, how you look does not generally affect your work performance, but whoever said life was fair?

4.  Keep doing your job

Here is one of the biggest misconceptions that people have about promotions.  Just because you do your current job great does not mean you should get a promotion.  Do you honestly think that writing great code is at all close to being able to manage people?  Completely different skill set.  So if you want to be sure to never get a promotion, just keep doing your job and never reach beyond that.  Don't show any initiative to take on things that are outside your job description.   Do not volunteer to do extra work.  Just keep kicking butt at whatever it is you are supposed to do and you will stay right there.

5.  Don't tell other people about the work that you do

Nobody is going to be a bigger promoter of you than you.  It is important that you let others know of the good work that you do.  This is not to say that you should constantly sing your own praises; nobody likes a braggart.  But you also should not quietly go about doing your job.  The thing is your boss, even if she works with you closely, does not know the full extent of everything that you do.   Your promotion is going to have to be justified by more than just your boss.  It makes your boss' job much easier if he and others can easily recite your accomplishments.  If you are not interested in a promotion, then just keep your accomplishments to yourself.

6.  Do what you are told

Huh?  How the heck can doing what you are told be a bad thing?  The problem is if you ONLY do the things that are being asked of you.  Part of being in management is dealing with ambiguity.  You can't be told what to do in certain circumstances because there is no plan to get there.  If there was a ready-made road map for the business to follow everybody would follow it and there wouldn't be any winners.  So one of the things you are going to have to deal with is not being given explicit instructions on what to do.  If you have never shown the ability or inclination to reach beyond the instructions of your boss, your boss won't be able to trust you with the things that are the most important; these are the things that she can't describe in exacting detail.  So if you want to stay at your current level, juts keep doing what you are told.  Better yet, when given an assignment that you can't figure out, just complain about it.   I guarantee you, you will look like you can't get to the next level.


  1. Great article. I am in management and cannot tell anyone how true this article is. My wife is trying for a promotion and I told her yesterday that she needs to be more tight lipped regarding her career endeavors. She got really upset when her boss told her she needs to stop putting in for promotions-a week after he told her how good she is.

    It is not a management position she is after, but a personal banker position. She can sell ice cubes to an eskimo with just her personality, but the bank is afraid to lose her to someone else.

    Do you have any suggestions I can give her? She has been in sales for years and has always been very successful. She just wants to move to something to where it will be worth putting kids in day care and something she will thrive at and help the company grow.

    I appreciate any feedback.

    Glenn Pickett

  2. Glen,

    Glad you are giving your wife some good advice. I agree with you. You need to ask for a promotion, but you need to not be a nag. To constantly ask for one is counterproductive. It actually makes your boss want to give you a promotion less.

    I don’t know your wife’s exact situation but here is what I would tell someone at my work in similar situations.

    1. Just because you want a job doesn’t mean there is a job for you to have. Promotions can only happen when there is a need at a company. Imagine if everyone just got promotions all the time for doing their job. You would end up with a 1000 VPs. I only need so many Senior Developers. Either the organization has to grow, or someone has to leave. That’s the sad truth. What I always tell my employees is that if the organization can’t support their need for promotions, I will always help them look elsewhere. In most cases, I tell people to wait until the company is about to post an open position in a job you want, and then apply for it. That way you know the company has a need.

    2. The best way to get a promotion if you are really sure you deserve one? Go outside the company. Find your market value. If it is that obvious you deserve a promotion, you can make a 3rd party give you one easier than your current employer. Bring that new offer to your employer, and if they want to keep you, they will. You, as an employee, need to come with some leverage. If you have none, than why should your employer give you a promotion?

  3. There is a very simple thing to help you to get that promotion at work and it is your attendance at work. People think that there boss does not notice when they stroll into work a couple minutes late each day. Some people think that it is ok since they live so far away.

  4. 4. Keep doing your job

    This can be a bit of a double-edged sword too - I'll tell you about my experience with this one. I thought the best way to prove yourself worthy of a promotion was performing at the new job description. I have been doing work way above my grade for over a year now, I have definitely taken my job to that higher level. I was denied a promotion because . . . my work would not change.

    What do you think about that?

  5. For all of the comments, there is some true data. But there is also data that is untrue. There are some things that none of you know what the hell your talking about. For instance, promotions are a fantasy. There nothing but a dream and not real. You may get a break for once in your life to advance. But that is only because favoritism, office politics or something. The truth is that you didn't receive a promotion because of hard work or attendance. That was only true in the past. How do I know? Try over 10 years busting my butt. Try over 10 experience. Yet, even with the experience, attendance and work, do I get a break for once in my life? Of course not. Oh but sure its always some kid or even teenager that gets the break just because. Yet I know more and can do more. But do I get the break? No. For those in management, you have no idea. At least you were given a break for once in life. You don't know what it is like to work your life and not once ever receive a break. For Adrian, oh boo hoo crybaby. Its only been a year. Try over 10 years and you don't get a break. Everybody that thinks these aspects will get you a promotion has no idea what their talking about. I have had all these aspects all my life. Yet, I don't get a break not once even though I am more qualified. Try being in my position. Then see what it is like. Life is a war. You have to fight for everything. Either you get a break or not. If you get a break then great. But you can do a better job and not get one.

  6. I feel for Brad, above. It seems more and more often, I see people put into positions at my place of employment who are significantly under qualified. Meanwhile, people who have been busting their humps for years continue to be under employed and under paid. It is totally political. The latest person who was promoted is so incompetent that everyone is running behind her cleaning up the mess. Constant complaints about her keep coming in. Her assistants and underlings are leaving the company and swearing they'd rather be out of work than endure working for her again. Guess what? She's just been given the new plum assignment! She happens to be close friends with a top person at the company. Coincidence? No.

    It blows my mind that people believe promotions and pay raises are earned. That doing a good job, an exemplary job even, guarantees acknowledgment in pay and position. Being a reasonably good looking youngish white male with the kind of social skills that made one popular in High School is much more important than competence. At least that is the case at my company.

    I can tell Brad this: if you are very good at your job and people perceive you as resenting the injustice of things, they will continue to treat you like garbage. Why? I don't know why. I've just seen it happen over and over. I think they feel threatened. Like you can see past their bs. You need to find an ass to kiss and then pucker up. Continue doing the job and being a great employee, but somebody somewhere has to feel that it will benefit THEM to promote YOU. Otherwise they won't take the time or trouble.

    I got fed up with working for lazy idiots, too. And the above worked for me.

  7. Sad to say, it is political. I have worked for a Fortune 50 company for over 10 years. When I moved into management, I was introduced to "the way things really work." I was told, basically, it's all political. You can have 10 identical employees making widgets. Each employee makes every widget the same way, in the same time, to the same quality. Everything about these 10 employees is completely identical in every way. According to the rules of the game here, corporate performance goals from the top down have to be met in order to fit into the overall business strategies. The mandate is handed down to me whereby I must rank the team according to performance and assign raises, bonuses, awards, etc. I can only have 1 "exceeds expectations", 7 "meets" and 2 "does not meet". How do you do something like that? How can you say that one is better than the other? Sometimes you are told who to assign a particular ranking. I'll never forget that conversation with my manager because it was then that my eyes were opened and I remembered that even at my level, I was (and still am) only 1 of 10 making widgets.

    Cynical? Yea... probably.
    Realistic? Absolutely.
    Bitter? No way! I have a family to support so I thank God I have a job.

    The only thing that has changed is that my expectation level has been adjusted.

  8. Brad, I totally agree with you. I have a bachelor's degree in Computer Information Systems, pursuing Master Degree in MIS Database Design and Development. I go through this same mess just about everyday on my job. I designed a database andhave knowledge using SQL Server, and other programming applications Set up and worked as liasion to bring over 350 agencies on with our computer system. Have experience report writing with sql, business objects, crystal reports,,etc along with technical support experience. Ever Since I've started working with this company I've been treated like a bad step child because I don't play the game (I guess).

    I provide technical support.I'm and supposedly the team lead. My company hired someone to assist me. Come to find out real soon, the person looked up my salary. This person is constantly late for work and out sick all the time, Stays on the phone talking to people that are not work related. The supervisor ignores and covers up for this person. A part of our job is training our clients on our product. We do face to face and webinars. This individual started a working year ago and still cannot train individuals on the product. As the lead person, I go out on a training for a week and come back and find out after this person has been for employed for 1 month, they want me to back her up. They did it in a sneaky way. They began taking my job duties and telling people to contact the individuals for special questions. They wanted her to ask me the questions and then give it to the whomever was asking. I was totally pissed off. I have never experienced anything like this in my entire career. The person conducted an onsite training with a co-worker a month ago. The other co-worker was there to observe and rate the training skills. Co-worker informed other staff they the person did a terrible job. The co-worker would not tell our supervisor how bad the person did because they are friends. In a team meeting this person was acknowledged in a meeting with applause for completing their first training.

    I am over 40 and work really hard at my job. My performance reviews have all been excellent. They know I'm a hard worker, dependable and all that.. All the workers that are under 35 have terrible work ethics, they sit on facebook all day, buy Christmas presents and birthday presents, a bunch women loud talking about their man problems. However, the boss who believe this bs about younger workers have all these great ideas will not say anything to these individuals because she wants to be their friend. The supervisor will put me will put me on projects with these individuals to do the grunt work and then give them the credit.heading up the project. The manager believes anything they come and say to her even if its not true. I've never done this, but one of the over 40 workers complained to boss and she turned on the person. Doing spiteful things to try to get the person to quit their job. I applied for a antoher job, I knew the system and everything, but I did not know how to write user requirements. So they did not give me the job. Last person in the job did not know how to write user requirements. That person was an under 35 year old who everyone thought was so cute. Stayed in the job 1 year just long enough to take a programming class paid by company and then moved on to get another job making 20,000 per year more. I was thinking about looking for another job. I am hoping things will change. I love what I'm doing, but the office politics irks my nerve. I pray every morning and try to ignore it and focus on my work, but it is hard.

  9. Well, I did all of them (except numer 2) and I didnt get a promotion.
    Learning the things 'the hard way' seems like a motto of my life!

  10. I have been working at the same university for five years now as a non-tenure track Instructor, doing a job that I in my chosen profession is a step below what my training is in, when the position I am more than qualified for and fully trained in became available, naturally I applied for it. Everyone on the hiring committee claims to be my friend, including the chair and dean, however I was not considered for the job because some "younger" person with more "new york" experience (not overall experience) is being considered for the position because I am sooo good at the job I am in and they don't want to lose me, but there is no mention of giving me a raise or promotion to a tenure track. Can you explain that? I go well above and beyond my job description to prove my worth. And I get passed over for someone else, outside the university. These are why people don't want to do anymore than the "description" says.

  11. I know some of where youre coming from alpha, our company/dept just went through outsourcing, basically our whole department left with or with out jobs, our management just wanted to tick people off in a sneaky way so they wouldnt have to lay people off, since all those people left including one of our leads who wasnt even there a year, they have only hired 2 new people, and all of the people in that dept are not Part time-- they called it attrition , they just pulled people over from other departments etc. and hired on few people and the outsource company would grow with us... but i know the story of everyone who left that department, it was all due to management getting upset or trying to push people out somehow because they did nt wanna fire them- or let them go bc of the outsourcing------my company wined and dined everyone for several months, and then youre thrown off the bus

  12. I have just put in for promotion. Was very up about it - feels like, after thirty years the perfect time as my experience, track record and skills, the job opening and the timing are all perfectly aligned - and I thought there was no 'competition'. Only two other 'qualified' candidates, and that is only because they have enough time with the company to be even able to apply. One of them has health problems which actually impinge on his work performance even at the level he is at - other people have to cover his frequent absences and he has barely enough time out of probation to even apply anyway so I figured he would be the 'only competition' because the other guy is a train wreck - rude to customers, abrasive to fellow employees, a couple of written warnings about his job performance and everyone in the Department absolutely hates him...except the boss. They are both 'former Marines' and boy does that count. Even though neither of them ever set foot outside the USA and never saw any 'action' it seems to be a bond that surpasses all else. I have been told unofficially that the 'fix' is in - no chance of me getting the promotion over the 'Marine'. Feeling absolutely sickened that adults behave this way and really having to restrain myself from telling them to go to hell and walking off the job but mouths to feed at home and while I am not a workaholic I take great pride in doing what I do and would miss it and it would be darn hard to start at the bottom again. Want to know what the real kicker is? - I was offered my Boss's position twice in past years but because of a very high-need child at home could not take it and the Brass understood I could not but admitted they were hoping I would at the same time....I guess in the end there is nothing I can do about this except give them fair value in return, in other words just do the bare minimum at the Job and not wear myself out or 'go the limit' anymore and try and just laugh at the whole insanity of their decisions and wait for the whole ship to self destruct.

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