By guest writer Nelson Sebati, Entrepreneur and Non-Executive Chairman at Murason Business Services. He has 10 years’ experience in recruitment, talent acquisition, career transitioning & on-boarding, with a specific focus on IT and Executive skills. He is a certified Career Strategist and Job Search Coach. He studied Entrepreneurship at Wits Business School, Law at UNISA, BBBEE at the Graduate School of Business Leadership among other numerous qualifications & is currently a member of the YBSA, BMF, REC-UK, APSO, CSSA, ASA, and IoDSA.

Pursuing a promotion can be one of the most hectic experiences in your career, especially in today’s uncertain economy. “Why”? Because you know you are placing yourself at some level of risk. The often genuine fears of appearing too ambitious or not being focused enough on doing your best work can trigger unnecessary blunders. However, if you are strategic about your pursuit you can change the frustrating dynamic of feeling undervalued.

In many companies getting promoted is not a meek task. In comparison to only a few decades ago, today’s average employee has a greater workload and more (and better) competition to contend with. Add to this the highly evolved social and political networks one needs to master and you have one tough road to travel. Given this challenging environment, to progress from employment offer to promotion without a single misstep is improbable.

A promotion, by definition, is a form of advancement or movement into new territory. This means learning new information and trying new things, which, by their very nature promote errors in some way, shape or form. The key lies not so much in evading errors, but more so in keeping the errors as small as possible and effectively cleaning up after them.

Here are 10 common errors workers make when pursuing a promotion:

  1. Asking for too much at once. Many workers ask for a promotion, raise, new privileges and more all at once. This will likely frustrate your superior. To avoid this you must know your priorities and work down the list as concisely as possible.
  2. Believing that promotions are based on merit alone: “That’s not the case in many companies where politics and other factors come into play,” says Thabile Wonci, Managing Director, Kogae Rainbow Investments (Pty) Ltd.  “If you’re career-minded and want to climb the ladder it’s important that you analyse your corporate culture to determine what you need to focus on besides a job well done,” he adds.
  3. Trying too hard: If you are an office ‘brown-noser’ whose sole purpose appears to be sucking up to the boss; know that most managers do not like this behaviour and it can have a negative effect on upward mobility. If you focus on doing your job well and being aligned with the company culture, you will go much further than simply trying to cater to your boss’ every whim. Embarking on a “flattery gets you everywhere” campaign will get you nowhere. It is one thing to dole out occasional compliments to your boss, but if you transparently brown-nose and then ask for that promotion, you will shoot yourself in the foot.
  4. Overextending your reach: Any mature workplace has an established hierarchy and everyone should know their place within it. Trying to impress your manager by handling their responsibilities, rather than just doing yours, can be interpreted as offensive or even threatening to the hierarchical status quo. From a sheer “duties stand point,” your focus should be on completing your assignments, superbly and ahead of schedule and then do just a little bit more to keep you ahead of your competition. This may come in the form of starting your next project early, helping one of your peer-level colleagues or even just asking your manager if there is any other way to contribute.
  5. Not making it a win-win: There has got to be something in it for your boss. Your new position and responsibilities should be proposed in such a way that allows your boss to see the personal benefits for him or her, such as advancement of a particular initiative that requires more of your untapped skills.
  6. Asking for a promotion simply based on length of time employed: Alan Gibson, a Management Consultant, says this is a common mistake made by employees today and I agree. “A common misperception in corporate South Africa is that longevity equals a promotion. That’s simply not the case in our modern work nation,” Gibson says. Just because you have had XX months or years in your role, doesn’t mean you’re automatically qualified for or entitled to a promotion. Your contributions need to create value and you should be perceived as the most logical choice for the new role. You can sometimes accomplish this by consulting with a mentor in the company or even the Human Resources department so you can make sure you are focusing on the right goals, projects and activities.
  7. Not having a recent noteworthy accomplishment that supports your application: Give your boss a reason to promote you for excellent results versus asking for a promotion out of the blue.
  8. Acting improperly: Complaining, for instance, that outsiders are being interviewed for the position is a big no-no. Whining about others detracts from your own professionalism and credibility. Similarly, comparing your worth to others in the firm who already have achieved the level you seek is counter-productive. Keep it positive, focused and do not put anything negative in writing. Avoid subtle threats about you and the marketplace. Threatening that your responsibilities match up with higher level positions elsewhere, either internally or outside the company, is unlikely to help you land that dream title. Take the logical, relatable approach or risk alienating your boss. Further to, refrain from using examples of anecdotes from people who have said “you deserve it” as this has also proven to be career-limiting in most cases.
  9. Lack of perseverance. Workers sometimes back off too quickly. Your boss should witness your complete presentation and rationale. If you quickly shy away at the first furrowed eyebrows, you could lose a golden opportunity. Measured tenacity gauged by the flow of the conversation can be your best guide on next steps and it should not stop there. You will also want to follow up (Many workers do not). Avoid fading out of the picture or giving up. Your boss may take the path of least resistance and do nothing, meaning you have lost ground. Make sure that before you leave the conversation, you mention next steps and have the same expectations.
  10. Jumping ship prematurely. A big mistake workers make is that they start a new job search due to fear of asking for an internal promotion. You could go from the proverbial frying pan into the fire if you just avoid approaching your boss and search elsewhere as a safer option. Or you might just be wasting your time if you leave the company (due to this unnecessary fear) and you could lose invaluable history with a solid employer. You might end up being at a new company, where your lack of tenure puts you more easily on the chopping block, all for the sake of a more impressive title.

Like ringing a bell, some mistakes cannot be undone, but, as long as they are (at least) somewhat inconsequential, they will usually drift into the background noise, if handled correctly.

So if you fall prey to mistakes or miscalculated responses, do not lose heart because in most instances, if you remain professional in your approach, your boss will admire your confidence in at least trying. Just remember to stay focused on your job and avoid badgering your boss. If you are not getting an answer after legitimate follow up and an extended period of time, you already have your answer.

If you have been passed over for a promotion that you think you deserved, try to get to the bottom of it. If you approach your manager in a non-confrontational manner and ask candidly why a co-worker was tapped over you, you should learn what to focus on moving forward so you are at the top of the list for the next opening. The key to this conversation is to remain neutral and not let your emotions get the best of you.

All the best and in the words of the great Zig Ziglar “See you at the top”.