Only you can answer the question: “How do I get promoted?”

Is Professional Development a Skill or an Art Form?

Have you ever gone to your boss, or to HR and asked them, “How do I get promoted?” or “How can I get a job in a different field?”  Did you get the answer you wanted to hear?  We have all heard it…continue to work hard; when an opportunity comes up we will consider you along with others…or something along those lines.  Maybe you have a professional development program at work that supports training for the next steps in your career?  No matter what others offer as an answer, the real answer lies in you, and only you.

Over my career I have had the privilege to mentor several high quality employees.  Reflecting on this issue I remember countless uncomfortable experiences having to answer this type of question.  For the most part my response was simple.  I would ask them a question…“What do you think the responsibilities of that position are and why do they interest you?”  It was surprising how little they really knew about the responsibilities of a promotion or what transitioning to a different department really meant.  I would follow-up saying a typical response… “You need to grow into a position, we don’t just give out leadership roles.”  As a manager, this is a very hard discussion because you want to motivate people, but you also don’t want to set false expectations.

It got me thinking about the individuals that I have promoted over the years, as well as the ones I pulled out of their jobs to give them different, exciting opportunities.  What made these people stand out, and why weren’t those decisions uncomfortable for me to make?  More so, why were those decisions so easy?

I remember all of them vividly, and how good it made me feel to give them more responsibility.  I remember knowing they would succeed in the new role and being excited as I watched each of them take their own fresh approach to what needed to be accomplished once they took it on.

I surmised that these standouts all had something in common.  They took on their own professional development over the years to customize their own skill set.  They learned new concepts and sought out training while applying that training to their current jobs.  They excelled at communication, working with others outside of their own silos and utilized new skills that proved they had the experience before any promotion was even available.  These individuals had similar stories:

1)   They went on to further their education on their own.  In some cases company reimbursement programs supported them.  However, the desire and decisions were theirs whether the company chipped in or not.

2)   They sought out numerous books, seminars and the like outside of their current responsibilities so that they could define exactly what their interests were and build up their knowledge base.

3)   They made conscious efforts to engage with others outside of their work-group and establish improved working relationships and programs to improve the company’s overall workflow.

4)   Ultimately, they each took professional development and crafted it for themselves.

So what was it that they all had in common?  They could answer my question…the one I never needed to ask them…“ What do you think the responsibilities of that position are and why do they interest you?”

You can’t wait for someone to tell you how to get there; you have to put a plan in place and work towards it.  The first step along this path is to immerse yourself in information.  If you want to transition to sales, for example, read everything you can get your hands on.  You may find out your not interested in that field after all, but you will be knowledgeable on the subject.  As you continue to surround yourself with literature about leadership, sales, finance, etc.… your understanding of those subjects will continue to grow and so will your skills no matter what path you take.

Promotions, career changes, etc.… start with you.  Nobody can promise a specific time-frame for change, but if you focus, educate yourself and utilize new skills in your current job, your work will pay dividends…  perhaps in ways you didn’t anticipate.


Written by Lisa Woods, President Lisa Woods Consulting & Founder of


Lisa is a successful entrepreneur, world-class marketing strategist, and dynamic business leader with more than 20 years experience leading, managing and driving growth. Throughout her career, Lisa has been influential in integration techniques, organizational and cultural overhauls, financial turnarounds and developing employees into exceptional leaders, results driven managers and passionate team contributors.

Strategic Consulting ǀ Management Consulting: Strategy Realized

      Contact Lisa

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