Take on the responsibilities of the next role to show you can do the work first
When I was growing up, my dad gave me a piece of advice that I think is worth passing on. He told me that if I wanted to get a promotion at work, the best way to get it was to take the initiative. He told me: “Play the part; get the job.” What he meant was that the best way to earn my next promotion was to start doing some of the work involved in that next job even as I continued doing my current job. That’s how you get recognized by leadership and prove to them that you’re worthy of the promotion. It comes from an attitude that the company owns the job, but you own your career.
I can tell you that, in my own role as a manager, this works. Whenever I see someone who shows the aptitude and the ambition to take on greater responsibilities while simultaneously holding down their “day job”, I’d often make the call to promote them.
Why? Because they are helping me de-risk their promotion. If I can see that they can tackle the extra work with only a 50% investment of their time, then I have much greater confidence they can do even more if I give them 100% of their time to focus on those responsibilities.
This is also a powerful technique for you to control your own pace of promotion. Rather than waiting for a leader to see your full potential, you don’t have to rely on others to pace your career. Your choice to demonstrate competency and ambition will drive your rate of promotion and advancement.
Of course, there is a downside to earning a promotion this way: You’re doing 1.5 jobs for the same pay. That means you’re investing a lot of extra time and brainpower in tasks you aren’t being compensated for. You need to expect that you’ll be underpaid for a while. This fact trips a lot of people up from taking this approach. They don’t want to be underpaid and they simply don’t want to work that hard.
In fact, over the past 20 years or so, we’ve seen more and more people who aren’t willing to take this approach at all. They want to be promoted whether they’ve shown they can do the job or not. But this is a risky approach for managers to take. It requires a big leap of faith with little guarantee that it will end in success. In fact, from my own anecdotal experience I can say that promoting someone completely unproven generally doesn’t work out.
That’s why when someone comes to me looking for a promotion, I’ll ask them to take on the extra responsibilities of the new job, while continuing their current job. I don’t do this to take advantage of them or to intentionally underpay them. It’s just the best way for both of us to know if the person is up to the job at hand and whether they’re ready for the next level. It’s a trial by fire for everyone involved. If things don’t work out, we revert to the current situation. If they do, we start tracking towards the new position.
As I used to tell the people who worked for me, no one is ever underpaid for long. If you prove yourself more and more valuable over time, your company will be forced to pay you or another firm will recognize your value and pay you instead.
Early in my career I was working to increase sales on a product line. During one update, I shared with my boss that I had increased profits for the company by $400,000 over the nine months and he was paying me $35,000 so he should be happy (and yes, I had tracked it). He stopped, shocked. No one else in the entire department thought about it like that. But for me, there was no other way to think about what I was doing. A few months later, I was promoted and given a solid raise. I am pretty sure it came from that one conversation where I demonstrated a willingness to do the work first and get paid later.
The point is that money takes time to work itself out. You need to look extra work and doing more than your job as an investment you’re making today to land bigger and better paying jobs down the road.
So, if you want to earn a promotion at work, don’t wait for it to land in your lap. Take the first step at engineering your own promotion. If you play the part, you’ll eventually get the job.