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How do I get promoted? Part 2
👋 Hey, it’s Tim! Welcome to this week’s newsletter. Each week I seek to answer common questions I get about corporate life, careers, product, UX, working with others, and anything else that’s stressing you at work. Send me questions you’d like me to write about. Now, on to this week’s post.
Everyone wants to be rewarded and acknowledged for their hard work. Promotions are one of the most rewarding ways this happens. Yet, it can also be tremendous pressure, stress, and an emotional rollercoaster. The anticipation. The disappointment when it doesn't happen. The celebration. Then, the renewed feelings of imposter syndrome to operate successfully after a promotion. Promotions can feel unfair when they don't happen in the time we want them to. We're required to take an honest look at our abilities and gaps, especially when promotions aren't happening when we expect.
In my last post, I shared an overview of the promotion process at large companies like Amazon and to get started with a gap analysis. My next suggestions assume you've created a career development plan, understand expectations of your current role and at the next level, and created a gap analysis. Now, let's discuss other mechanics to consider to get promoted.
Identify your reasons not to promote
For many companies, a lot of the promotion process boils down to understanding the gaps that may prevent success at the next level. Your manager and the promotion deciders don't want to set you up to fail. The worst-case scenario is a top performer is promoted too soon and would be let go because they can't meet the requirements and pressure of that level. That said, everyone has room for growth. It's worth mentioning that while Amazon hires individuals who raise the bar (better than 50% of current employees already in that role), promotions are to an entry-level at the next level. So, while you will still have room to grow when you get promoted, these gaps help acknowledge where you are still working to improve.
When managers at Amazon write why an employee should be promoted, they must also give an honest counterargument of "reasons not to promote." From the promo docs I've read, the format would be to explain expectations at the next level (e.g., "Principals are expected to…"), why it's essential to the role, where the individual isn't meeting the bar, and what they are already doing to address the gap. Here's an example of "reasons not to promote" from my L6 promotion doc:
"Tim is strongly passionate about the customer experience and has genuine conviction of his decisions. He has been known to keep a debate going for longer than necessary or even trying to pull in data to defend a decision in spite of clear direction from leadership. He doesn't see these discussions as "me versus them" but does see it as "this is right and that is wrong." He's working toward understanding how these disagreements come up and to try to find a compromise that's best for the customer. "
As you evaluate your path to promotion, it may be a helpful exercise for you to write your reasons why you shouldn't be promoted. Give an honest assessment and then indicate what you are actively doing to improve in those. You should clearly understand from your manager where your gaps are and what goals should be in your career plan to improve in those. Then, make sure that your current scope and work will help you continue to close those reasons not to promote.
Evaluate your current work and priorities
As I've written before, you need to be mindful of your current scope and responsibilities. If you don't believe your work allows you to demonstrate your ability to operate at the next level, you can look at the other projects you see coming up in your team and ask your manager to be involved or shift your work. This may be one of the more challenging pieces of being promoted for most folks because we can feel powerless to change this situation. If you don't feel in control over your time and what work you are doing, work on owning your time and focus, hopefully with support and guidance from your manager, before investing more time towards promotion.
Not every project will set you up for promotion. First and foremost, a good project gets you excited about the work you are doing and leverages your superpowers while also helping you improve your areas for growth. To get promoted, the project would also give you the runway to operate at the next level and with peers at the next level who could provide feedback towards your promotion. For a Principal-level promotion at Amazon, these projects often require you to work with multiple organizations, and your work would not only have visibility to leadership but require you to influence Directors (or above) to be successful in your position. For comparison, I've seen junior designer promotions more about your ability to work autonomously and less about the project's scope. Discussing your current scope and workload with your manager can be helpful. But also bring project ideas to the table or highlight new projects you've heard of if there isn't someone on your team already assigned.
Who are your peers?
In addition to evaluating your work, consider who your peers are. My old manager, Chris Wenneman (Director of Alexa Auto), shared that one indicator of readiness for promotion is if most of your work goes into influencing people at the next level to be successful in your work. If you find that most of the people you work with are at a higher level and you are successful in working with them, this is great. While this is only one of many indicators, you are stretching yourself and learning from your colleagues by working with this higher-level of peers. Work with your manager to understand:
Who are your key stakeholders?
How can you get more exposure to your skip level leader?
How can you get more exposure and work projects with individuals who are one level up from you?
I appreciate Calvin Nguyen's framing on this: "Working quietly doesn't do you any favors. While you may still get promoted that way, you can increase your chances by actively ensuring your work is visible to the right leaders and people at the next level."
Is your manager supportive?
Your manager plays the most crucial role in your promotion. If you don't have a good relationship with your manager and/or they aren't supportive of you, it's highly implausible you'll get promoted. Your manager advocates for you through the process. At Amazon, they write your promotion document, seek feedback from your peers, and present it to their manager and often a promotion panel of others on the team. You must foster a healthy relationship with your manager and ensure you regularly discuss your accomplishments, misses, needs, and that you ask for feedback as well. If you are struggling to build a relationship with them or this type of communication, consider offering your manager feedback or meeting with your skip-level to ask for guidance.
I ran into this issue when I was working on my promotion to principal at Amazon. After working for my Director for a year, he needed to move me to a new manager to reduce his direct reports. My new work didn't align with the charter or day-to-day my new manager had. My manager was excellent and I learned a lot from him, but we weren't aligned on his expectations of me or the value of the work. As a result, I wrote most of my promotion document that he presented in the promotion panel. Because he lacked involvement in my work, the promotion didn't go through. I assumed if I wrote a compelling enough document, it could happen. I learned a lot through this process, perhaps the most important lesson being managing up and ensuring my manager has visibility on my work and accomplishments. Even quick FYI communications a couple of times a week can help managers stay informed about what you're doing.
I hope that helps. To summarize, my tips for being promoted are:
Evaluate your gaps for promotion. Understand why someone wouldn't promote you and explore opportunities for how you improve.
Explore your current scope of role and projects with your manager to see how they are helping you grow your career and demonstrate you are operating at the next level.
Work on getting exposure from your skip level and work with individuals who are one level up from you.
Your promotion can only happen with the support of your manager. Make sure they have visibility into your work, and you are regularly asking them for feedback.
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. Also, feel free to suggest future topics you’d like me to write about. If you found this email helpful, I’m deeply grateful if you share this post with others.
All my best,