Identify and plan your promotionFeatured

Do you already know the role you want to be promoted into? If you aren’t sure, spend some time figuring it out by reading about different roles and paths, talking to those already in any role(s) you are considering, and even testing it out. I like to observe those around and above me to see the type of work they do, the influence they have, and the problems they are solving to get an idea of the role, then sit with them to ask more details about the role, how it integrates with their life, and what types of skills and experiences are important. One way that I was able to test out whether I’d enjoy a leadership role was to take on a contractor who worked with me on a project. Helping him in the role and guiding him to success gave me the confidence to state out loud that I wanted to be a leader and would be interested in management roles within my company.

There are several ways that you can understand what’s required for the next level, beyond speaking with those already in the role. You can get access to the job description, either within your current company or by searching for it online. I recommend searching online and finding a few examples to understand the types of things that are required and also what else might be helpful to bring to the role that maybe one particular job posting doesn’t include. You can also speak with your manager, other managers or human resources to get access to the job descriptions for roles along your path or similar roles you might be interested in. If you’re already doing the role, have that job description available, talk with the manager about why you think you’re already doing it, and ask for the promotion immediately!

Once you understand where you want to go, you need to develop a plan to get there.

Develop an Individual Development Plan, including action steps you can take toward achieving your goal. This might include education and additional learning (either formalized or self-directed), experience trying out or developing a new skill, or exposure by making others aware of your skills and experiences as well as your career goals. Think of this as your roadmap from your current state to your future state, with steps along the way where you will learn something about yourself, a role, or a skill that may cause you to alter your path.

Execute your promotion plan

Now that you have your plan in place, you need to prioritize your focus on your career. I do this by blocking time on my calendar for focused planning, where I determine which steps to take each week, month, and year to achieve my goals. Then, I break those down into actionable steps that I can execute. I also make sure to review my progress and experiences periodically and adjust when appropriate.

The key activity that has helped me the most thus far in my career is building a support team around me. I have identified mentors and sponsors both within my current company and externally. Make sure that you understand the difference between a mentor and a sponsor, have at least one of each within your current company and externally, and keep them up-to-date on where you are, where you want to go, and the action steps that you’re taking to get there.

I cannot stress enough the importance of soft skills. It wasn’t until I started to be authentic and vulnerable with those I work with and on social media that I felt truly confident in who I am and what value I bring to a business. Start with empathy. Get to know people, how they think, and what drives them. You might find more commonality than you can imagine! Always be as clear and consistent in any communications as possible – consider the audience, the message, and the format that would be most appropriate. Cultivate a growth mindset and surround yourself with those of a similar mindset, focusing on continuous learning and growth for yourself and others.

As you learn, make sure to periodically review and update your Individual Development Plan. You may find that your goal has changed, or you’ve identified new actions to help you to achieve your goal sooner.

Generate awareness of your plan

Talk to everyone about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what you want next. Network with those you already know and find others who you can relate to that you have yet to meet. I’ve found lunchclub to be a great source of inspiration and connection. Connect with anyone you meet professionally on LinkedIn, and send them a note about your meeting, or something interesting you learned about them or their work – this will also serve as a reminder to you as to how you met them, or a particular point you connected over. Share your achievements, goals, fears, challenges – anything and everything – with your network, mentors, and sponsors. And always remain flexible, because your next opportunity for growth may not be exactly what you’ve planned.

Love it. Any suggestions for finding and engaging mentors and sponsors when they are hard to come by?
If you're looking for someone at your current company. Your manager, peers or others you look up to are good resources for suggestions (or even mentors themselves). Externally you can find someone on LinkedIn, or in a group related to what you're trying to achieve - Women in Product (either the global group or your local chapter) is a wonderful resource for anyone in product management.