1 simple secret to getting promoted

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How to Get a Promotion

I talk to a lot of high-performing, ambitious people who, like I was before I started my own business, are frustrated at work. That frustration centers around a disconnect between the job they want and the job they have. A lot of times, they view their immediate supervisors (however beloved) and those one level above them as directly to blame.

Because blaming others makes us powerless to change our own circumstances, it's not particularly
helpful--regardless of how right you might be about being wrongly passed over.
Instead, here's what is more constructive.

Throughout the last eight years of my corporate job (described here), I was missing the key that would have unlocked the promotion I desperately wanted. And the funny thing is that it's not like my leadership was intentionally keeping it a secret. It's this:

Taking myself out of the promotion mindset and instead focusing all my efforts and initiative on just doing the job at the next level would have 1) sparked the (preliminary) results, 2) demonstrated precisely the kind of entrepreneurial leadership they were looking for, and 3) been a hell of a lot more fun.

Related: 10 things new grads can do to get a job right now.
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1 simple secret to getting promoted

Don't graduate without using this important resource. These professionals can help you identify the careers you want to pursue, connect with industry professionals, create impressive application materials, practice for interviews and more. Stop by your career services office, or make an appointment to meet with a counselor. Help them help you.

You may not be as much of a newbie as you think. Students often undermine their extracurricular and work experience, Schmidt says. To get a sense of what you can offer an employer, he suggests writing out all your professional experiences – from working in the library to campaigning for student government – and then fleshing out which you can leverage for the types of jobs you're pursuing.

For example …

Say two students worked in the dining hall for a few years. Schmidt point outs that while one may say she just schlepped food part time, the other could take the time to build a list: trained five new employees, promoted to assistant line cook, awarded employee of the month and so on. The latter student is the one who will have strong, evidence-backed experience on hand for interviews, networking, résumés and cover letters. And that student will have the edge when job searching.

Reference your list of experiences when creating your résumé, which is helpful to have ready to go when opportunities arise. Here's what an entry-level résumé should look like, according to Robin Reshwan, U.S. News blogger and founder of the consulting and staffing firm Collegial Services.

If you don't have a LinkedIn profile yet, get to it – like, now. This professional networking tool is what enables employers and professional contacts to find you and connect, and it gives you the opportunity to show off what you offer as a job candidate. Visit students.linkedin.com to get LinkedIn advice targeted toward internship hopefuls and entry-level candidates.

Use LinkedIn to network, too. Schmidt advises starting with "warm" contacts, like fellow alumni. From the LinkedIn homepage, under the "Connections" tab, click "Find Alumni." Use the filters to identify alumni based on location, employer, industry, education and skills. When you see someone you want to contact, send a message. Steer clear of the "I-need-a-job" plea, and either share something of interest or simply tell this person you're in the early stages of job searching and would like to connect, Schmidt says.

You know what would contradict the professionalism you're showing on that new LinkedIn profile? Facebook photos of you bonging a beer (or something else) and Instagram photos of your sexy selfies. Employers will Google your name if you apply, so be sure no Ghosts of Frat Parties Past will haunt you. Up your privacy settings on social media accounts, and ​create new Web pages to push down any incriminating Google search results. Speaking of which...

Along with a LinkedIn profile, a personal website provides one more way for employers and professional contacts to find you online and learn about what you can offer. To learn more, social media consultant and U.S. News blogger Miriam Salpeter shares why job seekers should have a personal website and how to build one.

Schmidt points out that simply reading through common interview questions and thinking about your answers doesn't cut it. You need to actually practice the interviews with a career counselor, friend or family member. "It's like anything else when you're exercising or practicing for a sport, you need muscle memory," he says. "You need to be able to do it without even thinking about it."

Take a video of your mock interviews.

Record mock interviews with your phone, so you can observe (and then improve) your answers, energy and body language. Schmidt observes that in these situations, students are often quick to see weak points – why am I rambling on so much? – but often overlook what they're doing well. "Sometimes we're our own worst critic," he says. "And we may miss some of our positives." Cut yourself some slack.

Seriously, Ctrl + Alt + Delete. Building your online brand and fine-tuning your résumé is important, but so is interacting with real-life humans. Grab coffee with your mom's friend who's in your target industry, or shadow her for a day. Search online for meetups of young professionals in your area, and attend. Volunteer. These activities provide networking opportunities and show potential employers you're more ambitious than the other entry-level candidates you're competing with, who are just staring at job boards.

Schmidt says those who actively commit to the job-search process – by following these tips, for example – fare better than those who passively go through the motions. "You have to be in charge of this search," he says. "It takes work and commitment, but there's a great payoff at the other side of it, which is finding a fantastic job that builds on your strengths and is very rewarding for you."


Companies don't tell would-be promotees this little secret for a number of reasons (and none of them are sinister or sneaky). Corporate leaders have much more simple reasons for staying mum.

First, they worry that if they advise ambitious staff to tear down the lane lines and swim wherever and however they want, chaos will ensue. They worry that the corporate structure will shake, the culture will quiver, big deals will get screwed up, and people will bump into each other. There will be bruising and a lot of Band-Aids. In other words, things will be out of control. And, if there is anything that corporate leadership hates--it's a loss of control.

Second--and perhaps an even more a prevalent reason is--a lot of managers don't realize that they're looking for someone already performing at the next level when they say, "I'm looking for that X factor" or "It's tough to put into words but I know it when I see it" about the prospects for a certain promotion candidate. What they really mean is that, "I'll believe someone has the capabilities and wherewithal to perform at the next level when they start acting more like me."

And, who is this "me"?

Corporate executives are, of course, as varied as a bag of Skittles, but they share a couple common beliefs about themselves and how to lead.
  • They believe they're talented--after all, they've been told that over and over again for years. They believe they have superior business acumen. This belief is derived from each person's unique combination of three things: schooling, professional experience, and track record for tuning into their "gut feelings."
  • They believe everything in the business would be better if they just had the time personally to get involved with the details. Alas, they don't, so they are forced to rely on others--their staff. The staff who take the greatest burden off of them, instill the greatest confidence that decisions are being made that most closely match their own--if they were there to make them--win. That's the simple truth of it.
  • They believe that the competencies are important. Companies--especially big ones--have worked hard to establish and document skills and capabilities for each level. And these are important to know and master. However, if you think they're going to get you promoted by checking the boxes, don't waste your time. You're not going anywhere because... executives also believe that the corporate competencies are limited. Any advanced management or leadership role requires business intuition and acumen--two things that are tough to articulate, difficult to be trained on, and impossible to proactively measure.

Taking yourself out of the promotion mindset doesn't mean that you ignore that drive to achieve more. Instead, you embrace it in a way that is ultimately more empowering. You study the behaviors and actions of those most successful in that role today. Add your unique perspective and strengths to the mix and begin conducting yourself as if you have the job you want. No big announcements are needed- just a change in how you carry yourself and contribute to each big challenge that arises.

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