Negative Signals You May Be Sending That Are Keeping You From Getting a Promotion

Negative signals that are keeping you from getting a promotion

You’ve been toiling away in an individual contributor job for what seems like ages and are more than ready for the next step. But, somehow, getting that coveted promotion has proved elusive. What might you be doing wrong? Here we share some input from those who hold the keys to your next promotion for a look at some specific signals that employees may be sending that are keeping them from getting a promotion.

The HR Perspective

Mikaila Turman is VP of people at GoodHire and has more than 13 years of experience in HR, recruiting, operations and benefits administration. Some negative signals that employees may be sending that can hinder their chances of promotion, she says, include:

  • Not going above and beyond in your current role
  • Not expressing interest in projects that are outside the box of your current role
  • Not being attentive or engaged in meetings
  • Showing disapproval or disagreement when others experience successes or are promoted

HR is looking for signs of commitment and positive intent. And, importantly, they want to get the sense that your concerns go beyond your current role to encompass the things that are important to the organization as a whole.

Also read: Why Selling Yourself Doesn’t Get You the Job or Promotion | Promotion and Performance Series

The Corporate Executive Perspective

Sheila Murphy, president and CEO of Focus Forward Consulting has 25 years of experience as a senior corporate executive, a role that involved hiring, developing and mentoring talent. There are some specific things that employees can do that can limit their potential to be considered as a candidate for promotion, she says.

  • Having too much of a me-me-me focus. “If you are self-centered, management will doubt your ability to galvanize others to do their best or develop talent,” Murphy says.
  • Being too tactical. Being a strong technician isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not the type of skills that will signal “promotion material.” Employees interested in moving up need to have strong non-technical skills, says Murphy: “such as communication, budgeting, managing teams, and developing strategy.” She says: “If you’re not perceived as someone who has a vision and can run a team you will not be considered for promotion.”
  • Being a “mole.” Nose to the grindstone may seem like a good way to create a positive impression, but “if you are a person that is shut up in your cubicle or office and do not know how not interact with people and navigate the organization you may be seen as someone who does not know how to get things done or to build coalitions or create consensus,” says Murphy.
  • Being a “yes person.” “If you simply say ‘yes’ to management’s ideas without challenging them in a thoughtful and respectful manner, people will wonder if you can independently think and lead a team,” Murphy says.
  • Not listening. “Good managers understand that they do not have a monopoly on ideas or approaches,’ says Murphy. “In addition, by listening to the concerns of others you understand what is important to them and you may learn how to build consensus.”

The higher you move within an organization, the less you will be focused on tactical, to-do’s, and the more you’ll be focused on big-picture strategy. To get there you need to convey that you have, or have the ability to attain, that kind of focus.

Also read: Don’t Get Stuck: How to Progress When You’re Highly Valued in Your Current Role | Advancing on the Job Series

The Business Owner Perspective

Business owners also have some signals that suggest to them that an employee may not be ready for a promotion.

Matthew Ross is co-owner and COO of The Slumber Yard, a sleep and mattress review website. As a business owner, Ross says, “I will not promote any employee who exhibits the following behaviors.”

  • Taking longer than 24 hours to respond to an email. “I want my managers and the people I promote to be responsive and on top of things,” Ross says. “I think organization and efficiency are two of the most important qualities for upper management to possess.”
  • Not having social boundaries. While Ross says he wants his manager to get along with employees, he believes there is “a certain line that needs to be established.” He doesn’t want his managers and employees “to be too buddy.” And, he says: “I typically try not to promote employees who regularly joke around or partake in horseplay. It’s usually these ‘class-clown’ types who can’t draw a line between personal and business in managerial roles.”
  • Not having the right soft skills. “I’ll only promote employees who I feel represent the company in a positive manner,” says Ross. “That means I won’t promote anyone who regularly uses vulgar language, makes inappropriate jokes or uses slang terminology. I’ve found that it’s these types of people who usually attract lawsuits when put in managerial positions.”

Soft skills are one key area that others also point to as holding back employees who are hoping to be promoted.

The Critical Role of Soft Skills

As Ross points out from a business owner’s perspective, soft skills matter. It’s an important point that others agree with.

Catherine C. Wallace is co-owner of Marvelously Well-Mannered, LLC, and a social skills expert. Along with co-owner Jessica W. Marventano she is the author of The Marvelous Millennial’s Manual to Modern Manners (Morgan James Publishing, 2019). She says: “Not having good social skills can stop your career dead in its tracks. If people don’t want to work with you, they certainly aren’t going to want to work for you.”

Appearances—literally—also matter says Marventano. “Without even realizing it, your body language and your wardrobe may be signaling that you aren’t really all that interested in moving up the corporate ladder,” she says. That doesn’t mean you have to be a “top model or spend oodles of money on your clothes,” she says. It does mean, though, that “if your wardrobe isn’t ‘appropriate’ for your workplace, you’re signaling you really don’t care about work, let alone moving up the food chain. Moreover, when you don’t dress appropriately for your workplace it causes others to question your judgement and abilities in general.”

If you’re yearning for more responsibility and a higher level position within your company, a good first step is to consider the ways in which you might be sending the wrong signals to those who have the power to move you up—or not.

Looking for More Advice on Promotions?

Check out our Leadership-Focused Articles.

About the Author

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance business journalist and content marketer with a wide range of writing credits for various business and trade publications. In addition to freelance writing for trade journals and publications, Grensing-Pophal does content marketing for Fortune 500 companies, small businesses and individuals on a wide range of subjects, from human resource management and employee relations, to marketing, technology, healthcare industry trends and more.