Exactly Why You’re Not Being Promoted at Work (and What to Do About It)

Saving money and cutting back on expenses will only get you so far. You’ll need to earn more income to get out of a financial rut or reach financial freedom.

But how can you increase your income when you only have so much energy and time in your day? One of the best ways to do that is by getting promoted.

A promotion will not only come with a pay raise, but it can also offer new opportunities to learn new skills and grow professionally.

But what do you do if you’re not being promoted?

Why You Haven’t Been Promoted Yet

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I run across individuals all the time who are eager to get promoted. They have their eye on the next role and are always applying for open positions. But for some reason, they never get the job they want. Or if they do, they quickly reach a ceiling and can’t break through it.

I’ve also witnessed impatience with some who feel that companies should promote them within 3-6 months of taking on a particular role. Ambition is admirable, but it needs to be grounded in demonstrated performance. Don’t be that person… You need a plan for that next promotion.

One fundamental concept at the core of your strategy is proving you’re ready.

What Does it Mean to be Ready?

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How do you know if you’ve performed well in your current role and are ready to be promoted? This can be a tricky question to answer unless you work for an organization with clear promotion guidelines. Both for the employee and manager, by the way.

One way to help answer this question is to look at which stage of maturity you’re in relative to your role. Remember that maturity isn’t about age; it’s about professionally handling challenges, communicating with others, and taking responsibility.

Maturity Level 1 – Learning Phase

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The learning phase is typically when you take on a new role, entry-level or otherwise. You’re spending most of your time absorbing information and learning the ropes.

How long you spend in this phase depends mainly on your role’s nature and ability to absorb new information. While in this phase, your productivity is relatively low, and the company is investing a lot of energy into helping you gain the necessary experience.

Your expectations are off if you’re in this phase and thinking about your next promotion. For now, you need to show them you can do this job before considering moving on to another.

Maturity Level 2 – Applying Phase

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The applying phase usually kicks in when you have learned a significant portion of what it takes to perform the role. You’re now applying that new knowledge in your work to deliver value to the organization.

Until someone reaches this level, their productivity is usually below what’s needed to be effective. Many people spend the rest of their careers in this stage, which is perfectly fine.

But if you are interested in moving up, this is the phase you usually start thinking about your next promotion.

Unfortunately, most people skip over the following two maturity levels and head straight to their boss’ office. This is likely why you’re not advancing in your career.

Maturity Level 3 – Teaching Phase

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If you suddenly find yourself spending considerable time teaching those around you and imparting your knowledge, whether voluntarily or not, you’ve reached the next maturity level of your role – the teaching phase.

You, of course, still have a job to do, but you’ve become so good at it that you can now use the extra productivity you’ve freed up for activities that benefit others. There is no better way to pressure test your knowledge than to teach it to someone else. Not only are you helping them out, but you’re also fine-tuning your skills.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be “the boss” or manager to build up other people. If you take a proactive approach and volunteer to help bring on new people, it helps your boss out and builds your credibility as a budding leader.

Maturity Level 4 – Improving Phase

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The final, improving phase is an elusive maturity level for many but potent if you want to increase your chances of getting promoted. At this point in your role, you’re somewhat established and have demonstrated your expertise.

In this phase, you look for opportunities to leverage that knowledge and experience beyond your contribution. This can include creating a solution for a problem that others can use to improve productivity or leading a project that benefits the organization as a whole.

Endless examples depend on your specific role and company; the key is to show you can solve problems and improve processes.

What Phase Are You In?

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Evaluate your situation, and ask yourself what maturity stage you’re currently in relative to your role. If you’re serious about that next promotion, you need to make sure you transition through all the phases.

Even if you’re not seeking a promotion, going through all those phases is common for your career development and is a great way not to get bored in your current role.

Focus on mindfully transitioning through these various phases—don’t just check the box. You’ll have a high probability of convincing your boss and organization that you’re ready for the next promotion. If you have a good manager, you might not even have to ask for a promotion; they may encourage you to apply for one or flat-out offer it to you.

But just in case they don’t.

The Hidden Factors Holding You Back from Getting Promoted

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It’s possible you applied yourself and went through all the abovementioned phases over several years, but you’re still not getting promoted. Here are a few more things to consider that might be holding you back from getting a promotion.

1. Your Boss is Not a Mind Reader

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Unless you advertise your desire to take on another challenge, your boss may assume you’re perfectly happy doing such a great job in your current role. There’s nothing more annoying to a manager (a good one, at least) than a dissatisfied employee who won’t voice their concerns directly, so let your boss know that you are interested in taking on more responsibilities.

2. Don’t Be Too Bashful

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Have you spent a lot of time working on the last 2 phases? Does anyone other than you know about all that effort?

Don’t be shy about sharing your successes at work with others, especially your boss. Performance reviews are an excellent opportunity to highlight those achievements. Your boss is busy and may only see a fraction of your contributions, so make it easy for them to see it all.

3. Don’t Outsource Your Career

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I see too many examples of people assuming their development and next promotion are their boss’s sole responsibility. No one will care about your career as much as you. Take ownership of it!

4. Have an Exit Strategy

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A significant barrier to getting promoted is the problem you create for your boss if you move to another department. This is especially true if you’re a very competent employee and your manager has invested a lot of energy and time in you. They don’t want to lose you!

If you’re chasing that next promotion, create a backup plan for your boss. Sure, it’s their job to deal with it, but taking that approach will help make them your advocate instead of an exit barrier.

5. Build Relationships

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Some of the best career moves I made were due to connections I had made earlier in my career. Don’t limit yourself to just your group or department. Find opportunities to meet leaders in other areas and keep in touch with them to build the relationship. You never know what problem they need to solve; you could be their next solution.

6. Invest in Your Development

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Take extra courses in the evenings, read personal development books, and participate in training opportunities at work. Do whatever it takes to learn what’s needed to advance. It may be tough, but you will differentiate yourself in the workplace.

7. Be Patient

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Promotions won’t happen overnight,  so be patient and but persistent. Keep working hard and demonstrating your value to the company. When the right opportunity becomes available, you’ll be ready.

8. There is No Position to Be Promoted Into

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It seems obvious but many people overlook the simple fact that you won’t get promoted if there is no position to be promoted to. Smaller companies and departments only have so many roles. If they are all filled with someone capable, there is nowhere for you to move to, no matter how skilled you are.

Unlock Your Potential

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Improving your earning potential isn’t easy. You may work long hours, face stressful deadlines, have horrible bosses, and endure endless bureaucracy. The key is persevering, investing heavily in your development, and pushing through the BS.

You also have to keep pressure on your organization and nudge them along. I’ve witnessed what a proactive approach to a career looks like vs. the alternative. It’s a night and day difference.

And finally, don’t underestimate the challenges of landing a top job at a company. There are some significant disadvantages that you need to keep in mind, especially if you’re not ready to take on the added responsibilities.

How to Ask for a Promotion at Work

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Do you know how to ask for a promotion at work? Better yet, do you know how to successfully ask to be promoted?

Whether you’re unsure how to ask for a promotion or are anxious about asking your manager for one, the first step is to understand that it’s natural to feel this way. It’s a big deal! You’ll be asking for more responsibilities and more money while attempting to prove why you deserve it.

Thankfully, there are steps you can follow when asking for a promotion that will help you successfully get one.

Amanda Kay, the founder of My Life, I Guess, provides valuable career advice and support for anyone striving to make a living and, more importantly, make a life. Whether it's navigating job searches, learning new skills, overcoming unemployment, or dealing with debt, My Life, I Guess has been a go-to resource for career guidance and financial stability since 2013. Amanda's expertise and relatable approach have been featured in trusted publications such as MSN, Credit.com, Yahoo! Finance, the Ladders and Fairygodboss.

1 thought on “Exactly Why You’re Not Being Promoted at Work (and What to Do About It)”

  1. Good advice, it’s important to be intentional about your career. I started work as a summer intern and was running the billion dollar company by the time I was in my forties. I used each of the strategies you mentioned. There is one thing extra maybe, or maybe I missed reading it. And that is selecting a job that plays to your natural abilities. You’ll only be treated as a world class employee if you produce world class results and you’ll only produce world class results if you both enjoy what you are doing and have natural talent to achieve mastery. If you are a square peg and your job is a round hole then there are no strategies to fix that. You need to have the self knowledge to understand how your brain and your personality can fit into a job that let’s you soar above your competition. I think that’s where most people mess up. I think almost all of us have potential genius in us, but it’s very specific to each of us and finding the job that rewards our individual genius is so very important when it comes to promotions and compensation increases.


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