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How to get promoted to a top HR role

Think about ‘how to get promoted’ as an essential leadership skill and develop a game plan

In today’s highly competitive jobs market talented HR executives need to be more strategic on how they vie for the coveted top spots. In the race to get to the C-suite you might think it very important to somehow cut down or knock out the competition. In reality you are much better off focusing entirely on what you can do to improve your chances of promotion.

Think about ‘how to get promoted’ as an essential leadership skill

Thinking about how to get promoted as an essential leadership skill is a useful way to consider something that is very often viewed as a company process. By thinking about ‘getting promoted’ in this way you view it as something you can learn, and need to learn.

Be prepared to do the hard work

When I say ‘the hard work' I mean more than your on-the-job performance. Naturally you will need to deliver good results in your day job to prove you can get to the next level. But what I really mean by ‘the work’ is the total sum of energy and effort that it takes to get the promotion. You need to be focused on differentiating yourself by adding value over and above your role objectives.

Set out a vision for your career

Discovering (or rediscovering) your purpose at work can be the catalyst for getting promoted. Rather than taking a job simply because it comes with a pay rise and a prestigious title, try to step back and think strategically about what you want from your whole career. Think about your overall career vision and how your next role could be set in that context.

Develop a game plan

With your end goal in mind it’s important to think strategically about how you are going to get promoted. Identify the next three to five roles you need on your CV in order to land your dream job. If you are already in a senior role think about the next one to two roles. Once you have decided on your next promotion goal, or a desired opportunity has presented itself to you, you need to position yourself accordingly for success.

Communicate your value proposition

As well as appreciating your strengths, what is your unique ‘spike' (i.e. a specific talent that you are particularly skilled at). For example, you might have a spike on the ability to build senior client relationships very fast. Try to understand and catalogue your strengths and spike, and communicate these to decision makers as the reason you stand out from the crowd.

Figure out who really makes the decision and connect with them

Try to figure out who really makes the decision, and how the decision is arrived at. Learn how to read your organisation and understand the politics of your promotion. Your line manager and the board will likely play some role in any decision about your promotion, but there will also be a number of other decision makers and formal processes to go through. Take the time to identify all of your stakeholders and list the decision makers in order of priority. Connect with the decision makers and warm up the relationships. If they don’t know who you are introduce yourself. If there are any conflicts, now is the time to extend an olive branch.

Just ask!

A lot of people think it is too pushy to ask for a promotion. In the world of business not asking for promotion is definitely taking the idea of politeness a step too far. You need to articulate what you want. The worst thing that can happen is that the answer will be ‘no’. Even if this is the case you have the opportunity to ask ‘what do I need to do to get promoted?’ This will help you understand what to do and what your options are, and it will let your boss know that you want a promotion.

Don’t fall at the first hurdle

You are developing your ‘how to get promoted’ leadership skill. If you don’t get your promotion right away remember that it is a first step in your approach. Learn from any setbacks and use the experience to succeed at your next promotion attempt. Getting promoted takes time and is best set in the context of your entire career.

Niamh O’ Keeffe is author of FT Pearson’s First 100 Days series which includes Your Next Role: How to Get Ahead and Get Promoted, Your First 100 Days: How to Make Maximum Impact in Your New Leadership Role and Lead Your Team in your First 100 Days

Watch this space for part two from O’ Keeffe on: your first 100 days as chief HR officer