You’ve put in the time and followed all the usual advice for securing a promotion. Your visibility in meetings has expanded, you’ve taken on key projects and you have a numbers-backed case for why it’s time you moved up. More than that, you’ve already been vocal about your desire to ascend, and your boss regularly praises your work. Still, a nagging feeling is telling you that this promotion season will see you passed over, again.
If any of the following rings true, your intuition may be right. Here are the signs that, no, you’re not about to get promoted — and what you can do about it.
7 Signs You Aren’t Getting Promoted
1. You’ve been breadcrumbed by this boss before.
If your boss likes to insinuate, in just-vague-enough terms, that future growth opportunities at the company await you — and yet, nothing ever comes of their hints — they could be stringing you along. Bosses who breadcrumb know how to give hope without officially committing to anything, and these pseudo-promises may mean they’re simply interested in keeping you around, not helping you grow.
2. You’ve become an ivory tower.
It happens a lot. In a bid to perform well and get promoted, you’ve gotten too in the habit of putting your head down at work and just, well, working. The next thing you know, your relationship with your coworkers has fizzled. Not only is that keeping you from scoring points in the team-player department, but it doesn’t make you look particularly invested in the company as a whole either.
3. You’re overly agreeable.
You shouldn’t have to display stereotypically masculine-coded traits, like aggression and assertiveness, to have your leadership potential taken seriously. But it is important that you come across as someone who can stand behind their own opinion. If you’re overly swayed by others and willing to agree to just about anything, that won’t help your odds of being promoted into a leadership role.
4. You don’t see yourself at the company for long (and they can tell).
Jobs are inherently transactional. And yet, if this belief is too evident in your work demeanor, that’s a problem. In other words, if it seems like you’re vying for a promotion simply for the added pay and security (and that, if you don’t get promoted, you’ll leave), that’s not going to help you ascend. There’s no need to be dishonest — ”I still see myself here in 10 years” doesn’t exactly read as authentic — but you should make sure people don’t see you as treating the job you’re after like a temporary stepping stone.
5. You’re too in the weeds.
If you’re seeking a promotion, most people will tell you to volunteer for additional work and projects, as you need to show you have the wherewithal to handle more, and harder, responsibilities. But if you’re overworked and overly focused on simply managing the day’s tasks at hand, you’re also less likely to be seen as someone with the capacity to focus on the bigger picture.
6. Your boss relies on you too much.
Ah, yes — the trap of being “too valuable” to be promoted. It’s deeply unfair, but if you’re working for a manager who’s self-interested or perhaps just overwhelmed, they’re probably not eager to see their star player go. If your boss starts making increasingly frequent comments about “not knowing what they’d do without you” and calling you their “right-hand person,” that may not actually bode well for your promotion odds.
7. Your company is in a state of flux.
“It’s just not the right time” may be the oldest letdown line in the book, but it’s also one you’re likely to hear if you’re seeking a promotion amidst company uncertainty. Maybe revenue is down and your manager doesn’t feel they’re in a position to make the argument for a promotion (and therein a raise). Maybe you’ve heard references to an approaching company restructure. At the end of the day, you should have a feeling — especially if you’re gunning for a leadership role — about the state of the company’s financial health.
What To Do About It
1. Get feedback, ASAP.
If you wait until your performance review to have this conversation, it may be too late. Ask for a meeting with your boss to discuss your path for growth at the company. What, if anything, do they feel you should be doing differently in order to set yourself up for a promotion right now? Use the opportunity to restate your desire to be promoted in the first place, too. You may feel it’s obvious, but it’s best to remove all room for doubt.
2. Consider what else you can ask for instead.
If your manager says a promotion is truly impossible at this moment, consider whether there’s anything you want to negotiate for in its place. If waiting a couple more quarters to get promoted means getting to, say, enjoy a flexible schedule in the here and now, consider whether that’s a trade you’re willing to make. This is a moment in which you should have some bargaining power, after all.
3. Re-invest in your network.
Whether the time to start looking for other jobs really is now or you’re going to stick it out with this company a little longer, putting some time into your network can only help. That way, if and when you’re ready to pull the plug, you’ll already be well-positioned for a successful job hunt. Grow your network by messaging folks who’ve made the same leap you’re after, and ask what helped them ascend. No matter what happens, you’ll come out of this with more mentors in your corner.
4. Trust your gut.
Maybe there’s a legitimate reason you’re not up for a promotion this season. Or maybe you’re being strung along with empty promises and excuses. If it feels like your boss and this company isn’t invested in your long-term career growth, listen to that, use this experience as a learning point, and make your contingency plan accordingly.