If You’re Not Up, Should You Get Out? When to Leave if You’re Not Being Promoted


When we’re young, we’re taught by our parents, teachers, coaches, and others that “winners never quit.” A lovely sentiment that helps foster innovation, dedication, and feats by some of our best athletes, titans of industry, and performers.


Yet, the reality of the working world is that there are times when you will most likely have to make the call whether to stay at a job where you might not be promoted, or look elsewhere.


Academia has long had a history of what they call the “up or out” track: You either are promoted, or you need to start looking. It’s unspoken, but prevalent. Still, everyone knows someone who is a serial job hopper, a skill which used to be vilified, but in today’s job market is seen as increasingly the way to “get what you want” out of a job.


How can you be sure whether to stay at your job if you’re unsure whether a promotion will ever come?


Know the Basics


Many companies fear appearing as though they are playing favorites. Be aware that 18 months-2 years is usually the minimum amount of time to wait for a promotion, unless you have had a discussion about that timeline being shortened before you were even hired.


Look at Comparable Moves


Within your company, are there other, similarly qualified people who have the same amount of experience as you who have made an upward move recently? Are there people who do your same job at similarly-sized companies who have been promoted faster than you? This is a good benchmark. Resist the temptation to make it the basis of an argument for your own promotion, however, should you broach the topic with your boss.


Take an Unflinching Inventory of Your Contributions


Are you someone who routinely helps projects get over the finish line, or makes material contributions to projects that enable their success? Are you someone who is just a medium player on a winning team? It’s important to acknowledge whether your actual contributions would be recognized by peers or your boss. This exercise serves a dual purpose: If you have been a great worker, you now have a list of your accomplishments to work into a salary discussion with your boss. If you feel you may be lacking upon closer inspection, you have a chance to redouble your efforts


If You Decide To Wait It Out, at Least Have the Talk


No one enjoys engaging their boss in a salary or promotion discussion, but nearly everyone who has been promoted or gotten a higher salary has had to do it, so approach it as the fee of entry, and get your talking points down. Know what you’ve done. Keep your plea short, and unemotional, and ask your boss for feedback. This conversation will put a finer point on whether you will be promoted in future. If you feel like you weren’t listened to, or you got platitudes, it’s probably time to set a deadline after which if you’re not “up,” you’ll see yourself out.


Set a Deadline, and Do Your Best


Set a sensible deadline (2 weeks after your chat is too short. 8 months is probably too long.) During this time, get your resume up to snuff, and start doing research for your next move. Quietly tell people you trust you might be making a move, so they can help you.


During this time, you should still be giving it your all at work, and making sure your contributions get noticed.


Know That It’s Not Always Personal


“As you move up the ladder, there are fewer roles, and you might be great, but you might not be what the next step requires” says Sarah Paul, Director of Human Resources at Govan Brown Construction Managers. It’s not usually personal in that situation, it’s just a matter of the easiest solution for the employer. As long as you’ve done a good job, you can leave with your head high.”


One of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do in your career is decide when to get out if you’re not getting what you want. Being honest with yourself, candid with your boss, and knowing what you’re worth in the marketplace can go a long way towards making the decision easier.

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