There’s no algorithm or checklist for advancing your career. But across industries and companies, there are some simple things you can do to set yourself up for success. Last week I had the honor of sharing my tips with viewers of the TODAY Show, and wanted to share them with you, too!
1 – Get feedback all the time.
You know who knows what it takes to get promoted? The person who has the power to give you that promotion. Ask your boss what you would need to demonstrate to get promoted. Ask her advice on how to get there. Then do exactly that and circle back.
But don’t be a pest. Make it a natural part of working together by sprinkling these questions onto your regular interactions. When you come out of a meeting, ask, “How did that go? What should I do differently?” Every six months or so ask, “What skills should I be developing? What evidence do you need to see that I’m growing and having impact?”
Checking in let’s you know where you stand … and if you don’t get promoted, you can point out that “I did everything you said was required.” That’s not a fun conversation for you or the manager, but sometimes it’s the only way to uncover why it’s been five year since your last promotion. (And see #5 below for more on that!)
Ask your co-workers for feedback as well. Use them as your personal career coaching panel. When you’re coming out of a meeting or wrapping up a project, ask, “what worked well?” “What could have gone better?” Those are two very simple questions, but you’ll be surprised at how powerful the feedback can be when you ask for it and express a willingness to work on it.
2 – Solve your boss’ problems.
Figure out the biggest problems your boss has and solve them. Seems obvious, but are you today working on your boss’ biggest problem?
I went into my first one-on-one meeting with Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, with grandiose ideas about the kinds of programs we could develop to better manage careers and help senior leaders develop. Eric wasn’t particularly interested in my strategic vision. He had more pressing concerns.
Google had almost doubled from about three thousand people in 2004 to 5,700 people in 2005. Over the next year, Eric knew, we were going to do it again, ballooning to almost 10,700 people. We needed to go from hiring fifty people each week to almost a hundred, without compromising quality. This was the biggest people challenge we had.
I’d made an amateur mistake. Before Eric would entertain any esoteric ideas, my People Operations team had to deliver on Google’s most important issue. I learned that to have the privilege of working on the cool, futuristic stuff—like making sure everyone had an awesome manager—you had to earn the confidence of the organization.
3 – Think three moves ahead.
None of us know what jobs we’ll have in 5, 10 or 20 years. So you want to build skills that will make you more marketable for not just this promotion, but the next jobs after that. Use your time at your current job as training for the next one. Especially if you feel stuck.
Put another way, every day you should be creating future opportunities for yourself. Most of us are going to be working for at least 40 years and every move doesn’t have to be straight up. Take the time to go sideways and invest in yourself.
Plus, when it comes time to compete for that next job, having a different profile will make you stand out. If you’re a waiter (as I once was) but someday hope to run a restaurant, make sure to spend some time behind the bar, as a host or hostess, and even in the kitchen.
At Google, we’ve built a different kind of People Operations team by applying an unconventional “three-thirds” hiring model. No more than one-third of our hires in People Operations come from traditional HR backgrounds. One-third of our hires are recruited from consulting, and the final third of hires are deeply analytic, holding at least a master’s degree in analytical fields ranging from organizational psychology to physics. By applying our three-thirds model, we recruit a portfolio of capabilities: HR people teach us about influencing and recognizing patterns in people and organizations; the consultants improve our understanding of the business and the level of our problem solving; the analytic people raise the quality of everything we do.
Don’t be afraid to take a detour from the conventional path. You’ll stand out and have more, better options.
4 – Ask for the promotion.
On average, women wait longer than men to raise their hands for promotion. At Google we let engineers nominate themselves for promotions. Years ago we saw that women were nominating themselves at a lower rate than their male colleagues, but when they did nominate themselves, they more successful. This might sound familiar because the same thing happens in classrooms: In general, boys raise their hands and try to answer any question. Girls tend to wait to be certain, even though they are right as often as boys, if not more often.*
So now we send out reminder emails to nudge women to nominate themselves. And we don’t see the gap in promotion rates any more. As Alan Eustace, our former head of search engineering put it in one of his emails: “Any Googler who is ready for promotion should feel encouraged to self-nominate and managers play an important role in ensuring that they feel empowered to do so….We know that small biases—about ourselves and others—add up over time and overcoming them takes conscious effort.”
Whether promotion decisions at your company are made by your boss or by an impartial committee, be sure to raise your hand.
5 – Have a firm grasp on reality.
If the only way to get promoted is to take your boss’ job, and she’s not going anywhere, you need to move on. If you’re consistently being sabotaged and you can’t fix it or fight it, move on. And if you’re told no three times, even if you know in your heart you deserve a promotion, cut your losses and move on.
Part of success is picking which game you’re playing. In the tech industry we call this pivoting: if your current plan or company isn’t winning, pivot to a new one where you can win. Choose to be somewhere where you’ll be valued.
If you do decide to move on, you’ll find some tips here and here about crafting a resume that will get you through the door!
* Drew H. Bailey, Andrew Littlefield, and David C. Geary, “The Co- development of Skill at and Preference for Use of Retrieval-Based Processes for Solving Addition Problems: Individual and Sex Differences from First to Sixth Grades,” Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 113, no. 1 (2012): 78–92.