How do I get promoted? (Part 1)
The most common mentoring question I got at Amazon was, “How do I get promoted?” The conversation usually goes something like: “I’m feeling bored and stuck in my career. I want to grow but don’t know how to get to the next level. I’ve been trying for years but am not sure if I have my manager’s support and am not sure what to do next.”
First, let me address a common misunderstanding. Growth and promotion aren’t synonyms. Growth is developing yourself and your skillset. Promotions come as a result of growth and experience, bringing higher expectations, increased scope, more pay, and often more respect. Growth is something you can constantly focus on while promotions happen less frequently, especially as you get further in your career.
It’s worth emphasizing: there is no magic formula. I believe there are some things you can do to set yourself up for success, but being promoted does take time, effort, and thoughtfulness in your approach to work. You’ll need to build partners along the way who will support you in your work and then provide feedback to help your promotion. Because of the amount of effort involved, you should consider your motivation for promotion. Also, there are many ways to advance in your career and work that are not getting promoted.
Within my internal blog at Amazon, I wrote about both promotion and growth. My two-part blog posts on promotions were my most popular posts, totaling over 13,000 views. Today’s post and part two coming next week are an update to describe the promotion process at larger companies and my experience with being promoted. This week, I’ll start by explaining how to evaluate your readiness for promotion. Next week, I’ll cover mechanics to consider as you work with your manager on your promotion.
Promotion process at Amazon
Before we jump in, let me share an overview of how promotion works at Amazon. Amazon’s promotion philosophy is to promote when the employee’s role is scoped at the next level and the employee has consistently demonstrated next-level performance. Consistency. This is key to show you are capable of operating at the level you’d be promoted to. Your actions that demonstrate this are what are described in the promotion document. About a year before each of my promotions at Amazon, I remember thinking about how I was ready to be promoted and worried why it wasn’t happening as quickly as I thought. That’s because I had a few examples of next-level work, but it wasn’t happening consistently. By the time I was promoted, I could sense the difference in demonstrating this consistently. I share this as a point of don’t over-believe your readiness for promotion in only a couple examples of demonstration.
At Amazon, managers write a promotion document. The document covers the scope of the employee’s responsibilities at the next level and includes examples of how they operate at the next level. The goal is to paint a story of how they will succeed at the next level. Managers seek feedback from individuals at the level (or higher) to which the employee is being promoted. The input includes both reasons to promote the individual and reasons to consider not promoting them. Some managers will collaborate with the employee on the document, and others don’t. If your manager suggests you be involved in crafting the document, do it. I found it immensely helpful to reflect on how to tell my favorite career stories and why that meant I was ready to be promoted. The experience ultimately helped me be better about talking about my work.
The process will look slightly differently at each company and even within different organizations at the same company. Over my eight years at Amazon, I watched the process improve significantly to create more consistency across the company and improve the structure for how promotions happen. Yet, each group still had flexibility to define what worked best for them. Ask your manager about how promotions work on your team and for your role.
Understand what is expected of you
At Amazon, most roles have leveling guidelines that set expectations for employees at each level. To get promoted, you need to create stories that demonstrate how you are already meeting those higher-level expectations. If your company doesn’t have guidelines for your level or the next, you can ask your manager, “What are your (or the company’s) expectations in my current role? How will that look when I reach the next level?” These expectations should span many areas of your role, including team leadership, influence, impact, developing others, communication, and technical proficiency.
Be patient – it’s not worth being promoted too soon
You may feel like your company is slower to promote. Promotions are one-way doors. Once promoted, you are immediately expected to meet the higher expectations. I’ve worked with people that were promoted too soon and didn’t get the support they needed to succeed after the promotion. They were quickly put onto a development plan and later let go from the company. If you’re feeling impatient, I share this to heed the urgency of getting promoted. It would help if you had an honest introspective on whether you’re ready and will be able to meet the company’s higher expectations of you.
Own your career development
In my experience, I have seen promo discussions include some level of review of:
You can start by improving these (or other areas from the leveling expectations) by creating a career plan. Spend time reflecting on what you’ve already achieved in your role and what you’re hoping to do next. One exercise I find helpful is to think about myself a year from now. If I’m writing my annual summary of what I did, what do I hope I’ll write about? What will I have achieved? Then, how do I go about doing that? Focus on developing your career, and the promotion will come. It won’t work the other way around.
I’m about to start a new role (more on that soon) at a new company. For me, this next year is settling into a new company culture, establishing new connections and partners, and better understanding how to operate effectively. While I hope to achieve this sooner, I’m also trying to set realistic expectations that it’ll take me a year to fully ramp up.
Create a gap analysis
Before discussing a promotion with your manager, create a gap analysis. A gap analysis helps you map examples from your experience to the expectations at the next level. The goal is to look for gaps where you haven’t demonstrated that you are operating at the next level. To create a gap analysis, write out your stories for each requirement. Include as much detail as you can here. When you keep it short (1-2 sentences), this often doesn’t allow you to include the nuance needed to know if you are fully demonstrating the next level. I suggest writing a gap analysis in a Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) format. Write out the situation of the project including the problem that needed to be solved, what behavior you took to resolve the issue, and then the impact of your involvement.
For companies like Amazon that require a detailed promotion document, a gap analysis can be the initial input to writing the document. Perhaps more importantly, it will help your manager have visibility into work you may have done before reporting to them. A gap analysis helps you understand where you exceed expectations of the next level, meet them, or lack enough data to demonstrate it.
Use this as a starting conversation with your manager to assess your fitness for promotion and a timeline you could aim for. The gap analysis should hopefully show where you are meeting or raising the bar and areas for growth. The expectation isn’t that you meet 100% of the expectations for the next level, as each of us have room for growth. Discuss with your manager strategies of filling the areas where you don’t have enough data or leaning into your superpowers to better demonstrate areas you already have some examples of. Consider what type of development you are looking for. This is also an excellent time to discuss whether your current role gives you the opportunities to build those stories that you don’t have examples for. If it doesn’t, it’s a good time to discuss what role or team could. Internal transfers can be a helpful way to expand your knowledge of the company and acquire new skills.
Hopefully this helps. To summarize, my tips on evaluating your readiness for promotion are:
Promotions can happen when you are consistently demonstrating operating at the next level. Don’t mistake a couple of examples as operating consistently.
You own your career plan and development. Think about where you want to be in a year (or five), and then create a plan with your manager on how you’ll get there.
Create a gap analysis to assess where you’re meeting the bar and where you have room for growth. Readiness has to do with whether or not you demonstrate the role guidelines.
Look for opportunities in your current role to address the gaps or what type of role could help you expand the skillsets you need.
That’s all I have for today. Thanks for taking the time to read. I’d love to hear from you: What is your advice for being promoted? You can comment publicly or reply directly to this email. If you found this email helpful, I’m deeply grateful if you share this post with others.
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