Start by understanding the nature of promotions in your company
There are two types of promotions depending on the way your company operates: Prospective and Retroactive.
- Prospective promotions are the ones where the employee would increase their scope, responsibilities, and impact when they will jump a level. To earn this type of promotion, employees should provide hints to their employers that they would be ready for that next step.
- Retroactive promotions are the ones that happen when someone needs to perform at a higher level for a certain amount of time and proof that can consistently and effectively get the job done before getting the recognition. Once the promotion happens, the scope and responsibilities will not change for that employee.
Once you understand how your company operates, is easier to start strategizing how you could achieve the promotion. Prospective promotion models would require you to show that you are comfortable and at ease with your current scope and are considered a domain expert in your role. For retroactive promotion models, you would have to do a bit more work beforehand, take initiative on projects outside of your expertise and proactively learn how to master them and over-deliver.
Have clarity on the responsibilities of your current role and your next career jump
Either if you work in a retroactive or prospective promotion model company, it is important to fully understand the key responsibilities that are expected from you to perform at your level, and how those responsibilities would evolve and increase on the level above. The best person to answer those questions for you is your manager, and you should be able to do recurrent check-ins with him/her discussing how you are meeting the expectations. Sometimes is good to talk with a more senior peer (preferably someone you consider is an expert matter at their level) about their role and your current performance. HR might also have some documentation or insight into the expectations of your role.
Once you get that list, consider keeping it handy in a table and actively work towards building on it. At Microsoft, Promotions are retroactive, so I tend to find projects or opportunities to build the sections of my table and ensure that I am covering all the responsibilities of my role. Something that helps me is to color-code them in green for the things I accomplished or delivered, yellow for the work in progress ones, and red for the wishlist ones I have not started yet. Keeping an eye to that list helps me choose the products or initiatives that will help me work towards my next promotion.
Keep track of your work
If you work in the tech industry, chances are that you will have to go over performance reviews every six months. And by the time one arrives, you will likely have forgotten everything you wrote on your previous one. If you have not been keeping track of your work, you might be lucky to remember the key last projects you have been working on in the last 1–2 months, but you will forget of all the small contributions you made- which often are even more important than the big projects. Similarly, keeping track of your efforts can help bring in promotion conversations with your manager.
Keeping track of your work is essential, and will make your performance review a breeze to put together. It can seem like a lot, but if you devote 10 minutes a week to work on this, you will be investing in your career and being set for success.
- My secret weapon at work: My OneNote
OneNote is the tool I use to keep everything work-related handy. I will probably devote a whole article to my OneNote in the future, but in this one, I want to focus on my career growth section.
Inside of my OneNote (And really, could be any other tool)- I created a page where I keep at the top the questions of my Performance Review (As I tend to forget them from time to time) with different tables based on the areas I consider I am making an impact with my job. Since I am a designer, my areas are: Design system, Product Work, Helping Others, Gaining Visibility.
I have different sections: The status helps me understand the items I have on my plate. The impact column is helpful to copy-paste documents and other assets that support objectively the impact I am making. Some examples are OKRs, Customer Feedback, Press releases, etc. I also like to keep a notes column to add some details that might be helpful for me to include in my Performance review, and likely I will forget by the time those arrive.
- Archiving Email
I wrote a Medium article about my inbox zero approach, and how helpful is been into helping me be productive at work. Here are some of the folders that help me work towards my career growth:
“Praises”: In here I archive all the emails where stakeholders have praised my work or gave me positive feedback. This comes in handy when I am considering who to ask for feedback, and reminds me of the small favors that I have done to people here and there and often are not worth document.
“Design Consults”: This one is specific to my discipline, UX Design. Sometimes aside from my feature work, other product teams reach out to me with quick design consults. I can knock those on an email reply, and for this reason, I do not track and document them. This folder helps me refer to them to add some meat to my performance reviews or to chat with my manager about the breadth of my work.
“Visibility”: I save here the messages where I was able to get visibility outside of my team- some examples: I reached out to an external team for collaboration, I led a Q&A, I spoke on behalf of my team in a leadership meeting, etc.
Write performance reviews for your audience
In Microsoft, one of the core values in the company’s culture is the Growth Mindset. For this reason, when I write performance reviews I try to ensure that they align well with the values of the company, and similarly, I try to explain my work using the same nomenclature as used in the HR reports about my level’s responsibilities. Knowing who are you exactly writing the reviews is essential to stand out.
Having a mentor who has been in your level and is performing at the level you aspire to be is one of the best ways to learn and grow fast. Mentorship can fast-track your career and get you those “Aha” moments that come every once in a while.
Consider making a list with the people that you consider have the skills that you admire and aspire to have- these are your “Personal board of directors”. Then, proactively reach out and ask if they would be willing to connect. Sometimes you might need to pull some common connections for this to happen. You don’t have to label it mentoring, and can simply ask to get a coffee or share lunch. Ask about how they got where they are, their main challenges, advice that they would give to junior levels, etc. And make sure to document your learnings after talking with them.
Let your manager know that you are acting actively towards a promotion
This can be the hardest one to pull, especially if you don’t have a strong relationship of trust with your manager. However, your manager is the person that can help you the most to get promoted, so he/she must be aware of your career goals, efforts, and intentions.
Having an honest conversation about how you want to approach your career and the steps you are taking towards it will help your manager advise you and providing you feedback to know if you are on track. Your manager also has a good birds-eye view of everything happening in your team- and maybe nearby teams. Ask for opportunities to be involved in bigger scope projects, or to improve your soft skills.
Something important here is to be goal-oriented: have a clear set of reasonable, achievable goals for the short term and bigger ones for the long term. Help your manager get you there by tackling the smaller ones.
Put yourself out there, and be collaborative
When you let others know you, you increase your influence. Sometimes our plate is so full that we don’t want to invest extra time in side-projects for visibility, but those end up having an impact in recognition and influence.
I struggle a lot putting myself out there, but I have been volunteering myself to speak in front of others, lead projects, and join morale and culture initiatives. Those efforts have been rewarding me in the long run, as people would consider or recommend me next time something comes up. Collaborating with others outside of your team will also help you establish opportunities to expand your scope and impact.
Take the initiative and lead teams or projects. Consider questioning the current processes that your team has in place and refine them to improve performance. Propose side projects and find people to collaborate. Partner with other teams. Demonstrating leadership showcases to others passion, trustworthiness, decisiveness, and confidence, and often those qualities lead to a promotion. Take ownership when you can and be a role model for others.