Let’s talk about the most important part of your career, doing your job. I’m definitely not going to tell you how to do your job, but I will give you some tips on the soft skills and how to stay motivated to do your job when you’re feeling discouraged. Essentially, let me teach you how to get the job done.
Something to keep in mind if you’re an ambitious person is that you’re not necessarily guaranteed promotions on a set schedule (Note 1). Also, a lot of times, you’ll have to be your own advocate for a promotion and make sure that your boss knows your value.
Getting to Know Your Role
What do you do for your company? If you can’t answer that, it may be time to revisit your job description and gain a better understanding of your role and how you are under- or outperforming. You may not have a job description you can refer to, in which case you should ask for clarity in what you should be doing in your role. If you don’t want to make it seem like you don’t know what the heck you’re doing, you can ask your manager to set clear expectations for your role, so you know how to meet and exceed those expectations.
As far as the soft skills are concerned, here are some things to consider:
- Are you arriving at work early, on-time, or late?
- Have you been completing your work with ease or struggling through a lot of it?
- Are you meeting your deadlines?
- Do you often feel overwhelmed or anxious about work even when you’re not at work?
- How is your relationship with your direct manager?
Nope, no need to tell me. Just think about it yourself for a moment. Are you content with your answers? Then, you’re okay, and take the following advice with a grain of salt. If you have pause with any of the questions or your answers, it might be time to start reevaluating your work style, product, and/or environment.
With a supportive team, if you’re overwhelmed, you should be able to ask for help or how to prioritize your tasks. If you’re a junior-level employee, you don’t have to manage your own schedule and can leverage your manager(s). When someone asks you to do more work, you can let them know that you’re already doing X task for Y person and have to check in with them first before taking on anything else. If the task is urgent, this usually deters that person from adding the work to your plate. If not, you may have additional tasks once you finish your current project.
Similarly, suppose you are consistently overwhelmed or burnt out by your workload. In that case, you should feel empowered to have a strategic discussion with your manager or team about how to alleviate the amount of work you have. If it’s not a high-stress, quick turnaround time for a project, you can mention that you want to do your best work and find the quality of your work valuable. That said, the workload does not allow for the efficient, great-quality work you’re known for. It could help to ask what your priorities should be, see if it would be possible to transition some of your work to another team member, or even an opportunity for you to have some ingenuity and figure out a way to automate a workflow or two.
Excelling in Your Role
Once you’ve gotten to know your role and have spent some time improving on the aspects you struggled with, you can focus on shining in that role. Now is the time to start getting honest feedback from others if you haven’t yet and understand where others see you can improve. Take note of this.
All feedback may not be good feedback, and that’s okay. If you don’t have any critical or constructive feedback, you may want to widen your feedback pool. Look to your team members who are senior to you and peers with whom you work with directly. They’ll be able to give you the most relevant and experienced feedback. Some questions you can ask are:
- What am I doing well? or How do you think I am doing in X project?
- In what areas do you think I can improve?
- (If senior to you) How did you get to your role, and do you have any advice for me to excel in my position?
- What are some things I can do to work better with you?
After you round up your feedback, see if you notice any recurring comments or patterns. These are the highest priority and should be addressed first unless your direct supervisor has noted something more critical. If you don’t know how or where to start working on these things, it’s okay to follow up with the person(s) who gave you that feedback. You can say something along the lines of, “I was thinking about our discussion and the feedback you gave me, and I just have a few follow up questions so that I’m clear on the next steps.” This lets that person know that you value their feedback and have taken the time to make it actionable. This can take 6 months to a couple of years, so don’t be discouraged but keep working on yourself diligently, personally and professionally. As you continue to work on these things, you may see some improvement in your work product and/or in your working relationships, which can put you on track to work toward the next level…
When it comes to getting a promotion, my first and most important tip is to document. Keep a separate document that only you have access to and note your wins and overall strengths. Your wins can include you streamlining a process and making it more efficient, teaching your peers a new skill, planning a company or a team event, giving a well-received presentation, or simply doing your job well with little to no rework. Keeping this information documented and readily available gives you evidence to justify your ask for a promotion. It’s essential to keep a written log of this information because, over time, you can forget. When you have a performance review with your manager, you can pull up the list and ask if that’s enough for a promotion.
If your manager says no or rejects your promotion, don’t be upset, but be prepared for some honest feedback. Ask them why that is not enough for a promotion and what you can do better to be better positioned for a promotion in the next review cycle or the following year. If you have a proactive manager, this should prompt them to help you get a promotion plan together. Assuming you don’t have this kind of manager, you’re going to have to do a bit more legwork. You have every right to ask your manager what hard and soft skills are needed for you to move to the next level. Let’s say your manager doesn’t have the answers. In that case, you can go to your Human Resources (HR) department and ask curiously, not accusatorially, if there’s a competency matrix, feedback rubric, or other sources to refer to when evaluating yourself at each level (Note 2). The next time you meet with your manager, you can state that you found a rating resource from HR or your company’s intranet if you don’t want to mention you spoke to someone in HR, and ask if they’re accurate and applicable to you. At this point, it’s a yes or no answer, and if yes, work toward that and document!
If the answer is no, ask what does align or where that manager sees you heading in the next year or whatever your personal promotion timeline is, but don’t reveal that to them. If you feel you’re not getting a fair and honest answer on how you can move up and have had similar feelings throughout your time at that company, it may be time to talk to HR or someone outside of your team. If that’s the case, and I consider this a last resort because it could create feelings of hostility and resentment within a team, understand how your company and teamwork. If there have been other complaints about similar issues from your peers, go to HR. If you feel that there are managers who are biased toward others, and fail to see your team contribution, go to HR. If you have evidence (screenshots, recordings, emails, etc.) of intolerable behavior, go to HR. The only time I would be cautious in any of these cases about going to HR is if you work for a messy company. Retaliation is real and can happen, so you have to be strategic in not only who you talk to, but how you frame the conversation.
Always go into HR with a clear, level-head, and start off with the fact that you’re assuming best intent unless the -ism is so egregious that it can’t be hidden or ignored. This shows that you’re using logic and won’t necessarily come off as the angry black person unless you work with a bunch of racists. Starting with outrage rarely works in a corporate setting, so play your cards right. Speaking with HR can lead you to feel many ways. Ultimately, you know what’s best for you. If you think that the toxicity of that work environment is holding you back from a well-deserved promotion, start looking elsewhere. Keep that documentation of all of the things you do, feedback you received and acted on, and projects and changes you’ve made to workflows. This will help you in your new job search. Don’t be afraid to leave one toxic place to get the level, money, and peace of mind that you deserve. I know it can be scary moving into the unknown. Honestly, you could be stepping into something worse, but you could also be stepping into something great, and you just never know until you make the leap.
I hope this gave you the information you needed to thrive in your current role, get your job done, and what to do to move on to the next position. If you have any questions, points you’d like to add, or just want to chat, head to the comments section 😉
Until next post!
Note 1 – If you’re in a field like public accounting, you may be guaranteed promotions on a set schedule depending on your ratings, CPA standing, and work ethic. Usually, the track is something along the lines of Staff/Associate for 2-3 years, Senior Associate for 2-4 years, Manager for 3-5 years, and so on.
Note 2 – Larger companies should have something like this. If you’re working for a smaller company or a startup, this may not exist yet. Where something doesn’t exist, don’t think of it as a barrier but an opportunity. Take the time to work with your manager, HR, or whomever you have a good rapport to get one implemented. Closed mouths don’t get fed. There is opportunity all around you; just remember to use that ingenuity.