Your company picks up a great new project and is looking for the right person to head it up. Or, your boss announces her departure, and suddenly a plum job is up for grabs. You look around the room and realize that the person best suited for this opportunity just might be you.

Before you start tearing up your old business cards, it’s important to bear in mind that promotions are a tricky business -- often muddied by internal politics. If you want the decision to fall in your favor, avoid these common pitfalls.

Part 1


Not speaking up

A few years back, a write-in candidate running for a school board in Michigan would have won with a single vote. She lost because she didn’t show up to vote for herself. If a person can’t be bothered to support his or her own candidacy, why should anyone else?

If you want something, don’t wait around for somebody else to make it  happen. And never assume you’re out of the running simply because your name didn’t take an early spot on the ballot. Speak up. Let the decisionmakers know that this is something you want -- and then tell them precisely why you’re the person they’ve been looking for.

Do not be that person who speaks up only after the fact to complain about being passed over.


Coming off as an opportunist

There’s a difference between being opportunistic and an opportunist.

The former means always being on the lookout for the smart move and jumping on chances before they disappear. The latter, at least in my mind, means maneuvering behind the scenes and working solely in one’s own interest -- no matter at what cost to fellow employees, clients or the company.

Guess which one I don’t trust.


Letting salary hold you back

In limited circumstances, it may be smart to choose one job over another based on salary alone.

For the most part, though, it’s a mistake to focus on the amount on one’s paystub rather than on one’s total compensation, which may include not just benefits but also skills training, exposure, experiences in new areas of the business, leadership opportunities and more. So, rather than choosing not to apply for an open position because it doesn’t come with a pay hike, consider what else you'd be gaining through such a move and how this position might move you closer to your longer-term goals.


Being too aggressive

There was an interesting story not long ago about a teacher who was offered a job at a small college only to have the offer rescinded once she tried to negotiate a better deal.

My first instinct was to side with the prospective employee -- until I read her list of desires, which made it clear that she was unlikely to be a good fit for the institution in question. It’s often smart to negotiate the parameters of a new position, but only if you do it in a way that causes the employer to be more enthusiastic about your candidacy, not less.


Failing to reinforce the 'team' when pitching yourself

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I prefer to hire people who enjoy working with others and who help to infuse the company with a positive energy.

If your pitch to land a new position within your company focuses on your singular attributes while downplaying, denigrating or dismissing the contributions of others, you’re emitting signals about the kind of leader you’ll be. And that’s not the sort of leader most of us are looking for.


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