Marshall works in Human Resources with extensive practical experience in hiring, promotions, and personal career development.
Foundations of Career Advancement
Getting promoted is rarely a clear cut process. You probably will not get a checklist to complete with a guaranteed return on your efforts. The truth is, there are so many factors involved in the decision that it would be impossible to make such a list.
In order to succeed, you have to clear the barriers of not only job performance, but the equally critical interpersonal actions that can be very hard to measure. If you want to impress your manager, you have to be good at what you do, and people also have to be able to stand being around you, especially if you expect to be in a leadership position.
Getting ahead in the workplace is often associated with shady dealings, backstabbing coworkers, or personal favoritism. In reality, while those methods may prove successful in the short term, these poor behaviors will eventually come to light and eventually bog you down with so much baggage that you stall out, as people will be afraid that the methods you used to get where you are could just as easily be used against them. Once you lose trust, your career trajectory instantly becomes much lower.
Making Your Boss's Job Easy
When the conversation happens about who to pick for the next opening, your strongest support will come from your manager personally recommending you. By making their workday easier, you help push yourself into their memory in case one of these conversation arises off the cuff. The time to prepare for a promotion is not after the opening is announced, you interview for it every single day you show up to work, whether you know it or not.
Sucking up to your boss is not what this means. Utilizing your relevant skills in a manner that helps not only your boss, but the entire business must be your strong point if you want to make a lasting impression. Here are 5 ways to impress your boss and develop your skills that make your manager's life easier.
1. Run Interference on the Small Things
Every single task, no matter how small, involves some dedication of resources. Time is one that a manager is always short on. If there is something that has to be done that you can take off your boss's plate, then you should jump at the chance.
In an office setting you can offer to grab the stack of papers from the printer, volunteer to take notes at a meeting, or create a quick sign in sheet. For those not in an office, the same principles apply, just think of tasks related to your duty. If you work in maintenance, you can prepare tools or paperwork for projects, or in a factory you can replenish materials before you leave the shift. This advice is universal!
2. Don't Overextend Yourself
Be careful not to overload yourself with long term promises you can't keep and stick to knocking out small things to build great credit with only a little personal investment. In fact, these small things tend to give more bang for your buck because they are not about the difficulty, but about the fact that you care enough to help.
If you take on too much, you will make it harder to do your regular work, which could make you look worse. Stick to "one off" tasks instead of committing do do something on a regular basis, at least until you know how well you could handle that.
The goal is not to stack more work into your job description, only to ease the load on others here and there.
3. Empower Yourself to Act Independantly
As you learn your manager's habits and personality, you can start to understand when you need to ask permission and when you can act without instruction.
If you aren't sure, just ask! Taking two minutes for a quick conversation that might save your boss a few minutes a week is always a positive. Part of becoming a reliable team member is being trusted to do your work without always having to "check with the boss". Good discretion is a must, you will know what your limits are, and buying a box of pens for the office is much different than buying a new computer - make sure that your independent actions are still within the scope of your role and authority within the business.
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4. Avoid Limiting Yourself Based on Rank
When someone says "I don't get paid to do that" they are instantly damaging the perception other people have of their work ethic. This goes for both tasks above your level AND below them.
Putting yourself above certain tasks because of your position will make you look bad to your peers and managers. Sometimes taking immediate action is better than waiting for the appropriate person to show up. Tightening up a loose machine guard is an easy example. When nobody from maintenance is around that would normally take care of it, and you have a wrench right in your toolbox, why not just handle it? If your boss has to spend all morning filling out an accident report because someone got injured at work when you could have prevented it, then the whole company suffers because you felt something wasn't "your job". Now you have medical expenses, OSHA recordables, and labor costs that all chip away at the bottom line of the company.
On the other hand, when everything at and below your level seems to be going smoothly, perhaps you want to start looking up. If you feel like you are pretty good at your job, you should start looking at the work tasks one level above you. Are there any you can do, or would like to learn? This is a perfect time to have a career conversation with your supervisor. Their investment in this time would save them time in the future, as well as benefit the whole group. If your manager is out for some reason, you may be able to step in and at least reduce the workload they have when they return.
When the discussion arises about who can be the next manager, the obvious choice is the person who has already started learning some of it.
5. Don't Limit Your Helpfulness to "the Boss"
A key mistake is thinking that the person you need to impress is only your direct manager. Extend these actions to coworkers too. Their good comments about you will carry a lot of weight with your manager. Being the boss can be very stressful because a lot of the time may be spent resolving interpersonal conflicts. By avoiding the drama and being generally helpful, you not only have a more pleasant workday, but you establish your credibility from the ground up.
In the same vein, you want to make sure you are regularly complimenting your coworkers when they do well too. Elevating others is a great way to build the team up, and anyone who is investing in the team as a whole is displaying leadership potential.
At the end of the day, you succeed or fail together.
Take charge of your career, and start thinking of yourself as a driver in your team more than just an individual.
Managers who spend a lot of time diffusing petty drama or fixing mistakes you made are going to think you can't manage yourself, much less manage to perform a higher position. There is no "perfect employee" in the real world, but these concepts help make you a great employee, without having to step on other people's toes and burn any bridges. Developing into a leader or advanced position require self awareness and effort, both of which are highlighted by performing so well that your boss's day is easier.
Marshall (author) on April 04, 2020:
I really appreciate your comment! Its something very personal to me because I see coworkers struggling sometimes when I know they are fully capable people. It sometimes leads to an "us vs. them" with management, and that only sets them back further.
When a "favorite" is picked, its less likely that they are the boss's personal buddy, and more likely that they cause the boss the least amount of stress daily!
Prateek Jain from Madhya Pradesh, India on April 03, 2020:
Wonderful article Marshall sir. You have explained the concept very well. You did justice with this particular topic. I strongly recommend every professional to read it once and note down the pro tips from this article. This article is worth reading. Thank you for sharing this valuable information.
Chris Martine on April 03, 2020:
Way to go Marshall! Personally experienced the 5 ways you mentioned and they really work.