(Illustration by Jefferson Miller)

Dilemma of the Month: How Can I Move Up in My Company?

Back Article Apr 6, 2023 By Suzanne Lucas

I just started a new job and have big ambitions. I’m a hard worker and want to advance in my field.
How do I get noticed apart from the veteran workers who have more experience than me and get better assignments?

This story is part of our April 2023 print issue. To subscribe, click here.

My first advice may seem counterintuitive, but hear me out: Set some boundaries. 

Why do I say that? Because hard workers sometimes work themselves into burnout, are rewarded with more work than everyone else, and still don’t get promoted. You also don’t want to be the person that becomes so valuable that your boss won’t let you take a higher-level job internally.

Now that we’ve covered the things not to do, we can work on the things to do. 

Listen to what your boss says

People dismiss information from their bosses because they think it’s not essential. If your boss says, “Ugh, I hate it when people wander into the office anytime they want. Start time is 8:30!” That should be a clear signal that she values people who are there at 8:30.

You can argue that the official company policy is you can set your own hours or that everyone else comes in later, but your boss has given you a big hint about what she thinks is important.

Bosses always throw these kinds of thoughts out, and most people don’t take them seriously. Things like, “I really prefer X” or “It drives me crazy when people do Y” are little hints on what she’s looking for. Follow these hints, and they will help you move ahead.

Befriend your coworkers

So many people see coworkers as their competitors on the corporate ladder. Sure, some out there will throw you under the bus at the first opportunity and steal your ideas as their own, but most people are friendly and want everyone to succeed.

You’re new, and they’re more experienced. They’ll get the best assignments, and that’s great! If you help them succeed, their projects and positions become available. If you can create a supportive environment, it helps everyone.

That said, if someone shows themselves as toxic, run. The newbie on the block doesn’t have much power over toxic people, and it’s not worth dealing with. 

Let your boss know you want to move up — but not today

If you start a new job and immediately start talking about how you want a promotion, people won’t take you seriously. It’s super annoying when you hire someone last Tuesday, and they are already asking what they need to do to move up!

But let your boss know you want to learn everything there is to know. Ask if there are training opportunities to get better at your current job. If there’s a conference, ask to go. Show that you will learn this job inside and out, and that indicates to your boss that you can also learn the next job.

After you’ve been there at least six months to a year, ask your boss what you need to do to move up the ladder. Don’t say “I want a promotion today!” Instead, start with “I need to know what skills I should gain to earn a promotion.” It shows you’re willing to work and learn.

Don’t count on HR to create a career path for you

Good human resources departments think about employee retention and career development, but that doesn’t mean they focus on you. Many HR departments simply don’t have the bandwidth for this — especially for lower-level employees. And don’t count on your boss to do it, either. No one cares about your career as much as you do! 

If you can find a mentor, that would be the best help for moving your career forward. Mentors come in all sorts — maybe it’s a senior person you go to lunch with once a month. Perhaps it’s a career coach who specializes in your field that you pay for coaching. Maybe you just read books and quality LinkedIn posts. You can learn a lot without a formal mentoring program.

You can do it!

Hard work is essential, and you’re willing to do that. Working smart as you approach career growth is critical too. But do keep in mind that change is slow and steady.

Yes, some people move up faster than others, and you can expect to be in that group since you have the drive and dedication. If you see others jumping faster than you are, ask your manager what you need to fix. Ask your mentor. Ask yourself. Take a look at what they do that you don’t do.

But always remember to keep your priorities straight. Don’t sacrifice your health and your family for career progression. You can do it all, but probably not all simultaneously. And that’s okay.–

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