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If key decision makers don’t know you, you are not likely to wind up on a promotion list. Office Wallflowers can usually be found eating lunch at their desks, working alone at their computers, sitting quietly in meetings, and avoiding all social contact. If this describes you, and you want to be promoted, then you need to get out more! (See Are You an Office Wallflower?)
Just being known is not enough. To get promoted, you must be recognized as a key contributor. If you often find yourself thinking “No one has any idea how much I do around here!”, then you need to find a way to let them know. Managers are not psychic.
Unless you’re the CEO’s cousin, you’re not likely to get promoted unless you are helping management meet their goals. So you need to understand management priorities and determine how your work fits in. If you spend half your time on stuff that only you care about, no one is going to be impressed.
At work, people’s activities are interdependent. When you miss a deadline, someone else’s work is going to suffer. Keep this up, and you will acquire a reputation for being unreliable. Unreliable people don’t get promoted.
Suppose you make a huge mistake and cause your boss a lot of grief. Is your career over? Not if you practice what customer service specialists call “recovery”. The art of recovery simply involves doing whatever it takes to repair the damage or make amends when something goes wrong.
Getting promoted is not just about what you do. It’s also about what kind of employee you are. If the word on the grapevine is that you are cranky, uncooperative, and self-centered, promoting you will seem like a big risk. (See Do You Annoy Your Co-Workers?)
How often are you in your boss’s office complaining about unfair policies, difficult coworkers, or unpleasant working conditions? If the answer is “frequently”, then you are probably viewed as a high maintenance employee. And your boss has probably shared this opinion with other managers.
Most of the time, it will be difficult to get promoted without your manager’s support. So even if your boss is an idiot, it’s a good idea to “manage up” intelligently. People who go to war with their boss usually lose. (See How to Manage Your Boss.)
Higher-level managers usually form their impression of you based on two things: (1) what your boss says about you and (2) what they observe in the small amount of time they spend with you. So any time spent with your boss’s boss is an opportunity for impression management. If you seem ill-prepared, tongue-tied, or oppositional, you may have blown your chances for promotion. (See How to Impress Executives)