What I Failed To Understand For My Whole Career

There are two BIG and detrimental misconceptions I had about career progression:

  1. That you get promoted based on how long you’ve been working
  2. That you automatically get promoted when you’re good enough

For my whole career, I sat around waiting for when my turn to get recognised with a promotion. Or I waited until someone to noticed I was doing a good job. Either way, I handed the keys to my success to other people.

I know I’m not alone in this. If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you care a great deal about your career, yet you’ve never been taught how to actively work towards your next career step.

When I say “actively working towards a promotion”, I don’t just mean working extra hard, working extra long hours or doing extra stuff. In fact, to get a promotion, you don’t have to do ANY of that! How do I know this? Well, that’s where my story comes in.

Why I Quit My First Job

I left my first company purely due to curiosity of how other organisations did things. I often found myself feeling like there was a better way of doing things but realised I couldn’t get the exposure to what they might be unless I changed my environment.

So when I went to work for my next company, I was in a state of wonder and exploration. I wanted to try new things, get into people’s heads and learn how they thought. I was fascinated about how they solved problems and their approach to engineering. And I was right, they did do things differently. Some were better, some were worse! And I was able to share my past experiences from my previous company to help improve things. (This is why diversity of thought is SO important!)

I Accidentally Created the Perfect Conditions for a Promotion

While I wasn’t thinking about getting a promotion at the time, my actions created the perfect conditions for the promotion that I ended up getting. So here’s what happened:

I wanted to honour my desire to explore how other people did things so I asked whether I could attend meetings I thought would be interesting. I ended up going to business development meetings, team strategy discussions and the infamous weekly “Bid or No Bid”. This was where 2 of the most senior directors reviewed all the possible new projects coming into the business and would decide whether they were worth bidding on or not. It was the business equivalent to Ancient Rome’s big thumbs up or down in the gladiator ring.

It was Awkward but I was Curious Enough to do it

Don’t get me wrong, I felt REALLY uncomfortable inviting myself to these meetings. Literally everyone else was at least 10 years more experienced than me for starters, plus I was the new kid. I often wondered what the other attendees thought of me being there. Were they thinking, “who the heck does this new and inexperienced kid think she’s doing in this very important meeting?”. I found out later that they assumed I was especially invited to share my valuable insights. Apparently my inputs and fresh perspective were really helpful!

I learned more about what was important to those directors, how they made decisions and the major problems they were dealing with. It was so interesting to learn about the balance of profits, staff engagement and company values they had to consider for each opportunity that entered the business.

It Didn’t Feel Like Work so I Put My Hand Up

In one meeting, they realised that they hadn’t asked staff members what would motivate them to feel more engaged at work. For example, what types of projects excited them, what they would want to change about the workplace and what stupid boring stuff they felt was getting in the way of their engineering work. (This was important because Engaged Staff = Efficient and Innovative Work = More Profit)

I realised that this was something I could help with. I’d always been really passionate about workplace culture and finding out what made people tick. And so I put my hand up to create a staff engagement study in conjunction with one of the Associate Directors. I collected staff feedback and presented useful parts back to the leadership team.

The Unexpected Outcome from Doing Something Fun

From doing that work I created new relationships with more senior people and proved I could deliver stuff that was important to leadership. All the while, doing what I loved most: getting inside people’s heads and understanding what would motivate them to do better work. (I am 100% sure that’s why I ended up becoming a career coach!)

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I accidentally figured this out by following what interested me

I was asked to be part of that Associate Director’s succession plan and to take his team leadership role when he moved up in 12 months time. I learned about how he planned to step up a level in the next year which helped me to create a similar plan.

It went like this:

  1. Know what role I was aiming for
  2. Think about what skills gaps I needed to fill before I got there
  3. Write out my career objectives
  4. Track my progress through regular feedback from key stakeholders
  5. Collect proof that I was ready for the promotion

Voila! It turned out that the promotion happened before the 12 months due to unforeseen events. But I had already proven that I was on the right track so it was easy for them to award it to me.

You can get the whole step-by-step guide on how you can get a promotion in my eBook, Get Noticed & Promoted: The Playbook.

You Don’t Need to be Smarter or a Hard Worker to Get a Promotion

I got promoted ahead of other people who had a similar amount of experience as me. I also got promoted ahead of people who kept their heads down and worked extra long hours. It wasn’t because I was special or more capable than them. I got promoted because I proved I could add more value to the company AND I made my plans to progress my career visible to those it mattered to.

If I’m honest, I didn’t know back then that I had the right to ask to be considered for a more senior role but that’s how I created my own promotion opportunity. I reverse-engineer this entire process to create promotion opportunities for my coaching clients too.

What You Should Take Away From This

The key things I want you to take from my story are:

  • Follow your curiosity, even if it means taking the risky leap (like changing companies)
  • You don’t need to wait to get invited to do something. Simply ask to get involved.
  • If you follow what interests and excites you, you’ll come across a way to weave that into your work.
  • You don’t need to feel ready for a promotion to start reaching for one.
  • If you’ve never done it before, find someone strategic who can help you create a career plan.

What’s Next?

If you’re interested in hearing more of my career stories, follow me on Twitter and ask me how you can apply these principles to your own life. I’m always happy to help!

Originally published at www.tiffanydawson.co on 12th November 2020.