Yeah I get the concept of hard work, go above and beyond, but that's not what this is about.

I've worked in various organizations where it seems like people never quit. If people never quit how does one get the spots. Here's some examples:

My current gigs is government. There is a tech assigned to each site, two techs that supervise the area, and a manager of the dept. To move up I'm going to have to wait years for one of the two area techs to quit (then hope to get the job yet I'll be competing with people who've been site techs for years...). Then after that you have to hope the manager will eventually quit to move to that. It seems like it will take 30 years to be a manager!

Another gig was corporate. In my dept there were level 1-3 sysadmins (lvl 3 were supervisors) and a manager. People have been level 1 techs for ten years. How am I going to move past all these people?

I get the whole concept of moving to a different department but all of the postings for management require X years of management experience. Plus in certain places (like my govt job) the higher ups NEVER quit. This leads to the chicken and the egg problem.

So what can I do to improve the chances of my being promoted?

  • 2
    In most companies you move up by showing that you can handle more responsibility, by showing that you have more expertise, by being worth more to the company, not by waiting for someone to die or be fired so you can step into their shoes. Government may be different. This may require changing what you do -- sysadmin is often viewed as a grunt job, and to move up you may need to broaden your scope and move into the development end of things. – keshlam Sep 6 '14 at 23:17
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    @helpwithpromos: Or you have to wait until things expand and there are enough new employees to require a manager. Or you have to move to a company where there are enough people that folks do change assignments on a more regular basis. Or you have to settle for non-managerial leadership roles ("team lead") for a while. Or some combination of the above. – keshlam Sep 7 '14 at 5:15
  • Do you discuss career plans with your direct manager? – Sigal Shaharabani Sep 7 '14 at 12:44

So how does one get promoted?

There are many ways to get promoted - not all of which involve someone leaving.

First, you become the best you can be at your position, try to take on some of the attributes and tasks of the positions to which you aspire, and connect professionally with the network of people who can make a promotion happen for you. That involves hard work, a good attitude, and going above and beyond.

As you point out, you could gain a promotion by being ready for when someone leaves and creates a vacancy. Perhaps in your company that seldom happens now. But things can change rapidly in a company. There was a time when IBM never laid anyone off. Those days are gone. Markets and economies can affect individual companies such that the past in not a predictor of the future.

You can also gain a promotion by a new position being created. That can happen when a company grows, enters new markets, acquires another company, etc.

Sad to say, but sometimes people die on the job. While it's morbid to think about it, big companies have succession plans for this contingency. Smaller companies have to scramble in such a situation.

Similarly, people retire. And often someone within is promoted to fill the retiree's position.

Occasionally, vacancies are created when a worker gets fired.

And of course, you can leave and find a higher-level position elsewhere.

When I was in my first full-time professional position, I concluded that there wasn't enough internal growth in my company for me to get a promotion I felt I was ready for. I looked elsewhere and found a great position. When I gave my notice, I was asked if I would stay because earlier that same day my boss gave his notice! I was offered his position if I would stick around.

Since I had already accepted a great position in a new company, I declined the offer. It was the best decision I had made in my career to that point, and helped me grow my professional career rapidly.

Still, it does show that anything can happen unexpectedly within your company. The key is to be ready.

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