Part of becoming a top candidate for internal promotions is understanding how to position yourself to be considered for promotions or other lateral roles that offer responsibilities of interest to you. You are the one accountable for your career. It doesn’t mean you manage all aspects of your career on your own. Certainly, the support and advocacy you receive from leaders and mentors help to create opportunities. And, there are some essential steps you can take to better position yourself to be a top candidate.
Step 1: Know expectations of the role you desire and begin exhibiting those skills.
One of the first steps you can do is to understand expectations about the role you want to move into. Organizations like to see that you are exhibiting some of the skills of the new role. The main reason is that your performance can be a strong indicator of your future success. Developing your understanding of a new role goes beyond just reading the job description. Talk to individuals who are in your desired role.
For example, when I work with individuals who are completing their Executive MBA, they are looking for new, senior-level leadership roles. We discuss the skills and behaviors that senior-level leaders exhibit and the expectations organizations place on the level. Senior leaders have expertise in a certain area. They have managed groups of teams and may have some geographical experience (managing more than one geography). They have managed cross-functional efforts on key organizational initiatives. They have PNL responsibilities. They communicate results, challenges, and recommendations to executive teams, boards, clients, and media. Look at leaders in your organization and external network. Select a couple that you respect and talk to them about their path. This will give you ideas about how to create opportunities to develop some of the next-level skills while in your existing role. Some questions you can ask are:
What are the top 3 skills you use the most in your role?
What do you most enjoy about the role? What is most challenging about the role?
What skills would be important for me to gain at this stage of my career to help me grow into this role?
If you aren’t clear about what role you want, but you know you want a larger role. You can do a couple of things – start looking at positions available in your organization, start talking to people who are in a role that you are interested in but don’t know too much about. I find when people consult others, it helps them to make an informed decision about their level of interest, and what steps they may need to take to eventually land in a different role.
Step 2: Build your network
Truly, your network is important because organizations change their structure very frequently and this typically causes leadership to change. If your only strong advocate in the organization is your existing leader and that leader goes to another internal role, where else is your advocacy?
Oftentimes, people get stuck on where to begin building their network. Think about who you have worked within other organizations, people you know in your industry or met at past conferences, people you know in your functional or technical specialty, and think about your prior backgrounds such as military and affinity groups like alumni from your university – all of these are potential avenues of creating a broader bandwidth of your network.
As you continue to increase in level, the advocates you have in your leaders and peers are very important. Do they understand the quality of your work? Do they understand how you think and approach complicated clients, pressure, and ambiguity? How do you work and lead teams? All of this is important because as your level increases so does your responsibility and impact on the organization’s success and profitability. Senior leaders want to understand how you will handle a new opportunity and who will want to work with you.
For example, I was working with one senior manager who was starting to put his business case together for being considered at the partnership level. Then, the organization reorganized and his team and leadership were split into two different teams. He was aligned with a group of new leaders with who he had little previous interaction. He had to start again with building his advocacy and promotion case. He eventually was promoted but it took an extra 1 ½ years because the new leadership wanted time to work with him, understand his impact, and be more clear about his potential partnership role in the new team.
Building and maintaining your network is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your career. Your network can be invaluable with knowing opportunities, giving you advice, and being a sounding board for you.
Step 3: Know your reputation
It’s important to understand how you are perceived by leaders as you pursue the next level. Leaders speak with leaders when individuals are being considered for new internal roles. You may have to initiate a conversation with your leader about being considered for a promotion or new opportunity. A sample conversation could include points such as:
I am interested in being considered for future promotion opportunities. I’d like to understand a few items that can help me be deliberate in my effort to be considered for upcoming opportunities.
Please share with me what you believe are the important criteria for me to understand about the next level?
What kinds of milestones do you suggest that I need to hit to better demonstrate my readiness?
What skills gaps do you believe I have and need to focus on?
Are there any upcoming projects or special efforts that would help me to demonstrate and develop some of the skills required for the next level?
This type of conversation helps you understand your chances of advancing. If you have a leader you don’t believe is an advocate for you, it’s important to confirm that your assumptions are accurate. For some circumstances, it may be very obvious about your leader’s perception of your performance, and certainly, trust your gut. However, if you aren’t sure, try the conversation prompts and sees how your leader handles the conversation. Unfortunately, many leaders aren’t fabulous about initiating these conversations and don’t know how to have productive career conversations. If you lead the conversation and have good questions, this will help you know if you have an advocate or not. If you don’t have an informative or helpful discussion with your leader, then, that’s a sign you probably need to develop a Plan B and go to your network and start finding opportunities with another leader.
One way of owning your career means taking actions that allow your leaders and network to know your career interests and to create opportunities to demonstrate the strengths and skills you bring to the table. I hope these tips begin to give you the courage and clarity to declare what is important to you and solicit advocacy to help you on your career path.
Janeen Shaffer is a PCC certified coach helping individuals and leaders with their internal development and external performance. If the article resonated with you, follow me on LinkedIn and check my other articles. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.shaffercoach.com, IG @janeen.shaffer, Pinterest Shaffer Coaching + Consulting.