how do I know when it’s time to give up on a promotion?

A reader writes:

I work as an analyst in a highly technical field and have been at my place of employment for six years, with three different internal jobs that have been escalating in terms of responsibility, technical difficulty, and pay.

Last year, there was an opening for a team lead that has responsibility for technical oversight of our work on my team. Hiring takes forever at my company, so simultaneously I worked with my manager to prepare and improve my skills, and she strongly insinuated that I would at least be strongly considered for the role (dropping hints to me like “when it’s your team,” etc). I interviewed well, I thought, and all of my performance reviews and feedback from colleagues is stellar, with pretty minor things identified for improvement that I have been actively working on and shown improvement in.

I’ve been taking on more and more leadership opportunities over the past year. I am genuinely passionate about leading people and helping them achieve their goals and develop, and help train new analysts regularly. I used to teach, and that was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done — I find a lot of fulfillment in being able to be in that role.

Long story short, I didn’t get the job. They hired someone from outside the company with very little technical experience in our field (but lots of management experience, which I don’t have as much of — I am trying to grow into a management role). This is the third team lead role I’ve been turned down for this year.

How do you know when it’s time to give up on the chance of moving up at your current job, and when to leave? I don’t really want to leave, because I like the work and my colleagues, and it’s generally a good environment. But I feel pretty stuck and am now wondering if this is ever going to happen for me in this company.

It might be time to explore what other options are out there. Not because it’s necessarily time to leave, but because it’ll help you figure out what you want to do.

But first, what kind of conversations did you have with your manager and/or the hiring manager for the internal job you didn’t get? How about with the other two team lead jobs you applied for this year?

Ideally, when they turned you down (any of the times, but especially the third time), they would have had a conversation with you about what to work on to be a stronger candidate next time, and even what that timeline might look like.

Even if it just came down to “we think you’re great, but we had an outside candidate who was just a stronger fit” and “there’s nothing you need to work on; keep doing what you’re doing,” there’s still a conversation to be had here about how realistic it is that you’ll truly be competitive in the future when they’ll presumably always have outside candidates with management experience that you don’t have.

There’s also a conversation to be had with your manager about whether she’s willing to help you get some management experience (even light forms of it) so that you’re more strongly positioned next time. For example, would she be willing to let you manage interns, or be the lead on a complicated project with lots of people involved, or help manage some specific part of your team’s work?

So if you haven’t had those conversations yet, have them.

Those should give you a better sense of (a) how much they’re willing to help you build the skills you need for your next step and (b) how likely it is that the next internal role you apply for will be different.

Also, take a look at the people they hired for those three team lead roles you applied for. Are they all people with management experience? Were they all external hires? What did they bring that you weren’t as strong on? There will be clues there about what your employer values and where you might need to focus (or whether an external candidate will always be likely to win out).

Meanwhile, though, you have nothing to lose by applying to jobs outside the company. Applying and interviewing doesn’t obligate you to accept another job, but it’ll give you a better sense of what you get serious consideration for outside of your company. From that, you might realize that you’re going to run into the management experience conundrum outside your company too (and so therefore you might be better off staying and trying to build it up where you are in the ways I discussed above). Or you might find that outside companies are more eager to hire you. (Sometimes the bar is higher for internal promotions — either because they know your specific combination of strengths and weaknesses in a way an outside company never will, or just because they have a bias toward outside candidates.) Or you might find that when you weigh the external jobs you can get against the one you have now, you prefer to stay where you are.

But regardless of what you find, doing this will give you a lot more data to work with.

{ 124 comments… read them below }

  1. Jeffrey Lebowski*

    A follow up question: would be inappropriate/weird to ask for time with the candidate they DID hire to get a sense of their background and how they got to that role?

    1. rock on*

      Yeah that would be weird to ask flat out. But if their roles intersect, they can always get to know that person and learn more about their background and previous jobs, which is a normal way of getting to know someone.

    2. Psyche*

      The only time that might be appropriate would be if they were hired to be your manager and you asked for advice about career advancement when already discussing career goals/opportunities for growth.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Correct. If the OP asks the new team lead this it’s going to look like OP’s questioning her qualifications which is 100% not her place to do – OP’s manager presumably did that. It will also look like sour grapes. I’d steer clear of asking this outright.

      2. Lizzy May*

        I think even with a superior who isn’t your manager, it’s a question you can ask as long as you frame it as asking about advice for your own career advancement and you ask politely for their time and are respectful if they don’t want to answer/can’t answer.

        There’s a world of difference between “What’s your professional background?” and “One of my goals is to move into a position like yours. If you have time one day, I’d like to take you to coffee and learn how you gained the experience to move into management?”

          1. GooseTracks*

            Lizzy May’s comment is how I read your initial question, and I agree that it is doable — after 6 months or a year, when the new manager has had time to settle into the role, and you’ve built rapport with them.

    3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      Look up their LinkedIn page.

      Fair warning, if you do this, you might find they really don’t have the qualifications the company claims they do and end up really, really angry at being passed over.

      1. ampersand*

        This is a good point, and if that were the case, I think LW would have their answer about it being time to move on. I think they should move on anyway, because being turned down three times says a lot about the employer’s (un)willingness to promote LW right now.

      2. nonymous*

        As long as OP understands that the LinkedIn profile is not complete. I’m in an industry with a hot buzzword and if I put certain details on my profile I get spammed by every recruiter in the city, but they’re actually looking for people in a specialty that is adjacent to my own. I prefer to use my portfolio + CV to get into details.

        1. TootsNYC*

          and I know people who don’t really put much detail on, or update, their LinkedIn, even if they’re looking for work.

    4. LizardOfOdds*

      As someone who was recently hired into a leadership role in this way, I don’t think it’s weird at all. When I was new to my company, all sorts of people set up intro meetings/coffee with me and they said something like, “I’m really interested in your career path and how you’ve grown to where you are today. How did it happen for you? What were the tactics you used to get to the next level?” The conversation is NOT, “I wanted your job and didn’t get it, tell me why.” That would be awkward. Expressing curiosity and a desire to learn from a new leader’s experience is very reasonable, I think.

      Sometimes it’s hard for people who’ve been at a company for a long time to see how outside experience gives you a different perspective that could be more valuable to the company than the technical skills held by an internal candidate. Looking at someone’s LinkedIn profile doesn’t tell you who they are or how they got there. And there’s no harm in building human connections with other humans at work. I don’t get why there’s such a negative reaction to this idea…

  2. rock on*

    Some places think they want to “shake it up” and bring in new ideas by actually bringing on a new person. That might be good language to listen for when you talk to your manager. Best of luck!

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah my old company really had an ethic of “new blood” that they would openly discuss if they got into the right mood. Basically the bar really was higher for internal candidates (and TBH there is some value to this in our field, so we don’t get too mired in our existing processes). Functionally that meant if you wanted to get above a certain level, you had to leave and then come back. It was confusing to people because they were quite good about internal promotions below a certain career level, and then there was a real cliff. I left, and so far I have not gone back.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        TBH there is some value to this in our field

        I think there’s value to this in a lot of fields. I work for a software company that’s been around for 35 years and has stagnant growth because they stopped really developing new and innovative products and have instead begun buying out smaller companies and selling their stuff. Okay, fine. But they also continue to sell things in the same way they’ve been selling them for nearly two decades not understanding that times have changed and their sales strategy needs to change with it. I’ve essentially come in, pointed out a lot of their flawed thinking, and a lot of high-level people in the company are like, “Yeah…this really doesn’t make sense, does it?”

        This company has an amazing employee retention rate (most of the sales and product people have been with the company for 20 plus years), but man, did they need some new blood in there to say, this doesn’t work anymore. We need to come up with better advancement strategies. The sales folks (for the most part) was just going along to get along and because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yeah I think it should ideally be a mix of old and new. If a company actively DOESN’T want to promote from within into senior leadership, a) it’d be nice if they were explicit about that so people like OP wouldn’t waste time and loyalty that’s not going to be rewarded; and b) I think they’d miss out on a lot of value of loyal and longstanding employees – but then again if they NEVER hire leadership externally, you get the situation you described.

        2. Nerfmobile*

          I am wondering if you are in talking about my company. We do software and have been around that long with a lot of people who have been around for long tenures, and boy does change take time sometimes.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      Definitely. That’s how I got my current job. They made a conscious effort to hire from the outside for my position and specifically told HR and employees that it wasn’t open to internal applications. The reason was that they’d done things the same way for so many years, they wanted someone with a fresh eye and a different perspective within the industry. Now that I’ve been there for a bit, I’m seeing that it has become a company-wide effort to hire from outside for key positions. Not all positions, but some.

  3. Commentor*

    Honestly, I have noticed some places always go with an outside hire- I am not sure what the reasoning is, but basically most places I have worked you have to move out to move up.

    1. Kiki*

      I think sometimes companies don’t want to have to deal with the shuffling that comes from an internal promotion, even if that makes the most sense. If LW were moved up, they’d either need to find a new person to replace LW or shuffle a bunch of people up. It’s kind of a silly move in the long term because usually the person they failed to promote will seek a new position elsewhere and they’ll have to fill their position anyway.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        This. I always assume the company knows that, though, and has made the calculation to risk it anyway because, ultimately, they don’t want to retain that person bad enough.

    2. Fortitude Jones*

      Yeah, all but one of the places I’ve worked has been this way (I’m too new to my current company to know what promotion opportunities exist for internal candidates). I worked at a major insurance company that loved to promote/hire internally, you just often had to change divisions if you wanted to move up (at least I did). I ended up leaving that company after being passed over for an internal position with another division that was separate from the one I was working in – I was perfect for that role (my then division AVP even expressed shock and surprise that I didn’t get it because the person they hired, who was a coworker in my then division, was way less qualified than I was), and I was just tired of scraping and clawing my way up into positions at a company that seemed determined to keep me where I was.

      OP, I would start job searching if I were you. You will likely find something so much better – I ended up leaving and going to a company that was slightly worse, but that job led to the one I’m in now that’s amazing (and much better than both former employers). Good luck!

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        I guess to be fair, the one company I worked at that did do a lot of internal promotions also had a lot of really senior people who were never, ever going to leave. They had years of vacation saved up, they had sick leave out the wazoo, and they never wanted to make any changes or create any room at the top. It was difficult to push anything through or get into the room where it happened.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Yes! This is a very real problem with a lot of companies – the older workforce just will. not. retire. Lol. More power to them, especially if they work for a company that gives them a good amount of leave time and flexibility to work when and how they want – I wouldn’t want to give that up either. But then that leads to what you’re talking about here, which sucks for the younger workforce who may have also wanted to stay with an otherwise good company, but can’t because there’s nowhere to go.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            Hey, if you’re having fun and getting paid for it too…

            No one is obligated to set themselves on fire to keep another warm, right?

            It does create a problem for jr people though. That said, the jr people have a chance to be mentored by experts so they can really excel when they do get the job.

            The reality is that people are living 20 years longer than they used to so they need to stay in the workforce longer. The current paradigm is broken for the new normal.

            1. Sloan Kittering*

              I feel like the current paradigm is for the younger people to expect a lot more job hopping and receive/contribute a lot less company loyalty, while more senior people may still have the model of staying at a company until they retire. Sometimes both groups can get screwed in different ways TBH.

              1. TootsNYC*

                It’s also that at senior levels, there are not that many places to hop TOO.

                The pyramid narrows. The non-financial costs of moving around are harder to bear.

          2. Sloan Kittering*

            Yeah it’s … okay as long as the company is generous with junior staff and gives lots of chances to demonstrate growth – it suuuckkks when all the senior people are getting 4-5 months off and first dibs for vacation while collecting huge salaries (and sometimes vested pensions, benefits that are no longer available) – while the junior people scramble to keep the lights on. Unfortunately, I think there’s a natural tendency for the senior people to kind of pull up the ladder behind themselves. Look at all the transitions to open office where the senior people got to keep their cushy offices – they don’t see the problem, it all looks great to them!

            1. Engineer Girl*

              I think you’re ignoring the fact that the now senior people were once jr people scrambling to keep the lights on. The apparent wealth you’re seeing is the result of 35+ years of saving.
              That said, vacations and pensions are different than they once were. That’s not the sr peoples fault so much as a changing company paradigm. Those changes were instituted by a small minority of sr leadership and not the sr coworkers (who are just as unhappy with the changes). Much of this is due to the expansion of the global economy which allows for cheaper workers in other countries.
              It’s a mess.

              1. just a small town girl*

                It’s not JUST 35+ years of saving. It’s 35+ years of saving on a salary that at one point in time was on pace with inflation. A dollar in 1980 is not what a dollar in 2019 is and while they’ve had the benefit to move upwards and increase their pay as the average wage goes down, the rest of us young’uns haven’t had that opportunity to go upwards.

                1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

                  Er, 1980 was not a good year for junior workers. And 1990 was a recession, etc. Junior workers now are not going through anything worse than other generations, just different. Plenty of people who have been somewhere for years can’t afford to retire and they’ve earned the vacation. (And many people in the 80s workforce have no pensions either.)

                2. Engineer Girl*

                  Exactly. Unemployment was over 20% when I graduated from university. I had to move 3,000 miles away from home for my first professional job.
                  Things are actually pretty good right now but a lot of people are lacking perspective. Social media isn’t helping because it promotes super-unrealistic expectations.

          3. anonagain*

            “which sucks for the younger workforce who may have also wanted to stay with an otherwise good company, but can’t because there’s nowhere to go.”

            I don’t really get this. I mean, I guess if you want to zoom out and look at what’s happening for whole age cohorts. But as an individual, it doesn’t really matter if person in the role I’d like is 70 or 35 (besides the fact that I’ll probably retire before the 35 year old). I need to figure out a new plan either way.

            1. Fortitude Jones*

              I’m not talking about age – I’m saying, if someone is sitting in a position above you and has seniority over you and doesn’t plan to leave any time soon, then yeah, you gotta move on.

          4. aunttora*

            Older Workforce here — I would be DELIGHTED to retire and open up advancement opportunities for the juniors in my group, but. Until there’s some clear sign that attacks on the ACA are over, or I’m old enough for Medicare, I’m not leaving my medical benefits. I mean, my job.

            1. Ro*

              Ditto! I’d be thrilled to move on and open up a spot for someone more junior (many people I know would) but being able to afford to pay for healthcare is very, very real the older you get. I can’t jeopordize my future any more than other people. Plus, I now have less “future” ahead of me to recover from any kind of economic or financial set-back.

              And yes, ageism is very real. If I were to quit or lose my job now, the likelihood I’d ever find a job with a similar salary or benefits (due to many factors- ageism, the new global economy, the total imbalance of power between workers and corporations) is slim to none. I’d be a fool to leave my current job in that light. Even though, I would be sooo happy to leave.

            2. TootsNYC*

              plus–you may still need the money!

              Retirement savings is not just about paying the rent while you age.

              If you end up needed assisted living, that’s CRAZY expensive. Or, you’re relying on public assistance, which limits a lot of your options.

              My dad retired with some savings, not a lot, and it will all be gone very shortly. I think he’s got two years, if he sells his house (for not much profit).

    3. BRR*

      From my own work history, we’ve had to go external for one role that would lead an area that was, to put it mildly, a dumpster fire. The fire would only intensify if we went with an internal candidate. All internal candidates loved the way things were done, which was bad, and we needed someone who was familiar with and would promote industry best practices.

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        This is one reason that companies often choose to hire externally. And even if it’s not a dumpster fire per se, companies often want knowledge that is coming from elsewhere in order to remain competitive rather than recycling the same old ways of doing things. The code words used for this are “shake things up” and “new blood”. Those are terribly vague descriptors, but the underlying concern is a real thing.

        Also, sometimes companies want to avoid the very, very, VERY awkward situation that often arises from people having to manage other people that used to be their equals. This so often ends in hurt feelings, undermanagement (unwillingness to discipline), favoratism when the new leader’s work friend now becomes the favorite team member, etc. That would explain why internal promotion at some companies requires that you move to another division to do so.

    4. Moving On OP*

      OP here – that’s definitely not the case at my agency, which is part of what makes this so frustrating. External hires into this kind of role are actually fairly rare.

      1. Artemesia*

        If I were you, I would assume that they are not really interested in promoting you — 3 times? external hires when that is not the norm? They are probably saying that for some reason it isn’t going to be you. May be a prophet in his own land situation. I would be looking for a job where you could move ahead elsewhere. If you don’t find something appealing you don’t move on, but at least you test your desirability in this role in the market. And sometimes the confidence you project when you decide to take life by the reins shows and makes you more competitive at home.

    5. Wintermute*

      in IT it comes from a lack of intermediary positions, and is super common, especially in some subsets. No one wants an entry-level security analyst, they just want to hire a few high-level people and leave the implementation stuff to ops centers and whatnot. The end result is you work in a lower-level job long enough to get some shiny acronyms on your resume, take a few certification tests, and jump ship. Some of them have even come back to the company later, having “bounced back” after three years in an intermediary role. Worked for us as an analyst for two or three years, left for a more specialist role, come back as a designer or architect three years after that. Others spent four or five years as contractors getting a wide skill base by working at a dozen or more other firms for short stints then came back to a five-figure raise and more stability.

      It’s very much a field-specific thing

    6. Tsu*

      At my company, it is much harder to promote internally than to hire externally for roles at or above a certain level. As a result, a person with a given title at my company could be straight out of grad school or could be a seasoned expert in their field. And, “boomeranging” is a oft-advised strategy to move up, meaning you leave the company for a couple of years and then come back in at a higher level.

  4. Close Bracket*

    “we think you’re great, but we had an outside candidate who was just a stronger fit” and “there’s nothing you need to work on; keep doing what you’re doing,”

    If they say that, they are being disingenuous. Clearly, you do need to work on *something* so you can be a better fit than the other people they are hiring.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      On the other hand, OP has been promoted three times in six years, that’s actually quite impressive and it doesn’t surprise me that they wouldn’t be able to maintain that track record forever. I find the higher up you go, the slower the promotions, just due to the pyramid shape of a typical office.

      1. Dan*

        That’s where I am at. Also, the higher up one goes, the longer it takes to rack up accomplishments that can be leveraged for more promotions.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Exactly.

        It’s pretty fast to go from say an assistant to a specialist role and then to a senior specialist. But then to get into management, you need to stay-put in that senior role for a few years to really gain the right traction and experience that management requires.

        I went fast through the first few steps in my career as well but it took me a solid ten years of experience before anyone would give me a sniff for true management.

  5. the_scientist*

    Hang in there, OP! I could have written this same letter a year and a half ago. I got turned down for two internal team lead promotions….in one case because I didn’t already have management experience, and in another, because they found an external hire who was a better fit (and having met this external hire, I think they made the right decision!)

    A few things that I think may be helpful for you: can your manager give you “project lead” or “technical lead” experience? It’s still not quite the same as management experience, but being able to show that you’ve lead a project from start to finish, delegated work, monitored work quality, had experience with strategic thinking/decision-making, are all very valuable. What about management experience outside of work? I had extensive management/leadership experience in a volunteer capacity and I was able to use that in interviews to highlight conflict resolution and performance management skills. Your teaching experience could be of great value here!

    Finally, I feel like a lot of it does come down to luck and being in the right place at the right time. My old team lead returned from mat leave, and then left the company, and I got the job. Then I got promoted to an acting manager role within a few months to backfill a maternity leave! So, in my case patience definitely paid off. However, I do think you need to be realistic — if your company only hires externally for management positions, you are unlikely to be the exception to that rule.

    1. RC Rascal*

      Gaining management/leadership experience outside of work is a great idea. This may be a situation where until you get the opportunity to lead, you can’t prove you can lead successfully. A volunteer organization can help you establish proof of your ability.

    2. Moving On OP*

      OP here. Thank you for this. I am going to email Alison a longer update, but I did actually get a “project lead”/team lead position out of all of this, which I think is exactly the right experience for me to get right now to prove to people I can do this.

  6. RC Rascal*

    Some organizations are really poor at developing internal talent. Frequently they will talk a lot about helping people grow and develop. In reality, they don’t do enough to help folks gain skills in place so they are promotable, or they will tell people what skills they need to gain to move forward, but then not hire them for the roles that will allow them to gain the skill. Another variance is when a person has topped out in their existing business unit/department, but the company won’t help them transfer to one where they can grow more, even when the current manager recognizes and supports the need for the move. Unfortunately, there isn’t much solution to the problem other than to move on.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Another variance is when a person has topped out in their existing business unit/department, but the company won’t help them transfer to one where they can grow more, even when the current manager recognizes and supports the need for the move. Unfortunately, there isn’t much solution to the problem other than to move on.

      This happened to me, and that’s exactly what I did.

    2. Blue Horizon*

      If the company prefers to hire from outside, this is very often the reason why. Because the company does a poor job of developing talent, people that stay for a long time have a tendency to stagnate or fall behind on their skills, since they receive no support in advancing them. This leads to a general perception among management that the internal staff are subpar or not up to the job, and they need to hire from outside to get somebody really good (and somehow the problem never seems to get fixed, even when they do that over a long period of time).

      Some questions for the OP:
      – What is the training program like at the company? Does it exist? To what extent are people encouraged to take advantage? Is it part of a guided career advancement track, or ad hoc?
      – How common are internal promotions, as opposed to hiring from outside?
      – If management were asked to rate the quality of their internal staff compared to their competitors, what do you think they would say?
      – Looking at vision/mission statements, strategy, company culture etc., how much emphasis is placed on the people? Are they considered a strategic asset worthy of investment?

    3. I hate coming up with usernames*

      If OP has been promoted three times in six years, it seems quite unlikely that this is a problem at their company.

    4. Moving On OP*

      OP here – unfortunately, I think this is exactly what is going on. There’s a lot of talk about career development, but almost no weight behind the words. I’ve waited a long time for people in my company to show me and not just tell me, and that’s just not happening.

      1. AMPG*

        I had something similar happen in an old job – they would talk about promoting internally, but there was no management training available, so managers were often hired from outside (or else were promoted and didn’t do well due to the lack of training).

    5. gsa*

      “Some organizations ‘really suck-ass’ at developing internal talent.“

      I made a minor change to your post.

      I’ve seen it happen more than twice in my life. Last time it happened to me, I gave the new manager team a year to make their promises of rainbows and hurricane laden unicorn and then hauled ass to a different job.

      If I change my handle to the hurricane laden unicorns it will still be me!

  7. Not All*

    One thing other thing to do some introspection on…what are your relationships like with coworkers? Not so much as in “do I get along with everyone” but as in “is there anything that would cause them concern about my ability to be impartial”? By the nature of my work, I’m generally in offices where there is clear competition and/or outright hostility between divisions (makes sense when one division is charged under law with protecting a resource and another division is charged under different law with selling that resource). Internal promotions to management can be very fraught since there’s always not only the question of whether the individual can put aside their previous perspectives, but can/will the teams the individual would be managing give them a chance in the new role? An outsider is often the safer choice.

  8. Darla Morgendorffer*

    Getting a promotion is just one way of moving up. Moving to another company to do it is another. Neither option is superior to the other. If you feel ready, then you should explore all options. It is worth remembering in reality few people get that first management job on their first try (or even their fourth or fifth). It is because “doer” jobs require vastly different skills from “manager” jobs. It took me about a year of multiple applications and Interviews at different places. To add to the advice above, I would also recommend researching areas where you are struggling to get experience (ie dealing with performance issues or change management) so that you can demonstrate in interviews that you know hypothetically what should be done.

  9. Tin Cormorant*

    My fifth year was when I left. My boss had been helping me build up my skills in one specialist role that I really enjoyed, that was what I’d wanted to do since I was young, and kept telling me at every one-on-one that he was working hard on creating a position where I could focus on that full-time, rather than just doing it some of the time as part of my more general duties. This went on for way too long, with him always telling me the budget wouldn’t allow it right now but he was really fighting for me, etc.

    Long story short, my boss got promoted, one of my coworkers (a personal friend I spent time with outside of work) was promoted to be my new boss, and on our first one-on-one he admitted to me that there was never any intention of creating such a position, and in fact they’d need me to focus on a totally different skill set that I really disliked and was trying to move away from. I thanked him for telling me the truth and got out of that job in a hurry.

  10. snack_attack*

    I am kind of baffled on the time horizon of promotions. In my industry, it is not unusual for someone to spend around 2-5 years in a single role before being promoted to a higher role, with about 10 years work experience needed before being promoted to a manager role. Maybe LW industry or company is vastly different from what I am used to, but I still find it impressive that they are being promoted about every two years. That sounds awesome, and LW can reflect on this accomplishment as a positive of their work experience, because they totally should! Kudos!

    With that in mind, in addition to Alison’s great suggestions, do some homework about what is common for your industry as far as advancement timelines. If your industry tends to have employees with your experience and skills at higher managerial roles, it’s likely a good sign to move on to a different company. If not, it might be worth adjusting your advancement expectations, but keep developing your skills and adding to years of experience in your current role in the meantime.

    1. TechWorker*

      LW company may also not be that different to yours but just instead have more ‘rungs’? If someone stays in a role for 5 years I would expect (hope?) that they do a better job in year 5 than they do in year 1. And that they ideally earn more ;) – at some places you might split that 5 years into 2 or 3 levels where the job responsibilities are broadly the same but there’s something in the title indicating the slightly higher level of experience.

      1. snack_attack*

        That’s a possibility! And from what I have seen, you’re right about even though my industry has fewer notable steps, people in corporate roles at the bottom definitely still build their skill, experience, and compensation over the years, and upon reflection there is often “tea pot maker I/II/II” at larger organizations. But the notable step up in responsibilities and compensation is closer to “senior teapot maker”. After that, I rarely come across someone with a managerial role in my industry unless they have had closer to 10 years professional experience, and the youngest people in those roles that I have encountered are around 32-35 years old. But you are totally right, definitely not a “apples to apples” comparison, their industry/company could have a much quicker progression or more rungs!

  11. NW Mossy*

    Oh, OP, I feel so seen by your letter – what you’re describing is extremely similar to the position I was in about 6 years ago. Here’s what ended up breaking the deadlock for me. I’m still in the same company, and now on my third manager gig there:

    * Moving laterally to another department within the same division. I don’t know that I entirely appreciated the wisdom of this at the time, but it turned out to be just the thing for two inter-related reasons. First, it got me out from under my then-grandboss, who had a hiring bias for everything I wasn’t (already a manager, male, supporter of status quo). Second, it started making me visible to a whole different group of directors and senior leaders who saw more value in what I could bring.

    * Watching the career trajectories of others. After my move, I got to know Lucinda, who was in a leadership role and likely to retire in within a few years. At a skip level meeting with Lucinda’s boss about 18 months later, I expressed interest in being considered for the role when it opened and asked for her advice in strengthening my resume. Timing ended up perfect, because Lucinda announced she was retiring shortly thereafter and I got tapped to replace her.

    * Keeping up strong connections. The person who originally hired me for that lateral move ended up moving on herself, and we stayed in touch even though I didn’t report to her any longer. When one of her managers stepped down, she reached out and asked if I’d like to return to the department I’d left and work for her again. I jumped at the chance (she’s a great boss and mentor!), and I’ve been working for her ever since.

    I definitely considering leaving after getting rejected multiple times, but ultimately, I stayed because I could afford (financially and psychologically) to wait for the right sorts of opportunities. I’m continuing to do that today – I definitely want to move up to the director level, but I passed on applying to the most recent opportunity because it wasn’t the direction I wanted. Instead, I’m building up my resume by managing different sorts of teams and taking up stretch assignments so that when the right one comes, I’m as ready as possible.

    TLDR: you don’t have to run the fastest, straightest path to the top to get there. A slower, more scenic progression works too, and sometimes saves you from taking bad roles in your haste.

    1. Massmatt*

      Great post, I would add that a lateral move can help you gain more varied skills as well as get you exposure to other decision makers.

      Careers are increasingly about having skills, if you don’t keep building them you risk getting left behind. Take every opportunity to get experience, education, certifications, etc. Why not become a more qualified employee on your employer’s dime?

      My old employer was mediocre about hiring from within beyond a certain point but they had a very good educational support program and paid for people to get certifications etc. it amazed me that more of my colleagues never took advantage of it.

      After not getting anywhere after a certain point with that employer I went elsewhere and was able to advance. It doesn’t hurt to look.

  12. voyager1*

    Here it is the LW. You got pushed aside because the other person had management experience. Less and less people today want to train a manager. Every manager assumes someone with management experience can manage and that is easier then taking on an unknown which is you.

    When you have your next one and one ask what you need to do to move into that role in the future. If they say management experience you know it ain’t ever gonna happen unless they promote you into a management role which they just did not do.

    It sucks trying to break into a management. You need a cheerleader to basically trust that you can manage people. Or you need management experience which won’t get if nobody will take a chance on you. Catch 22.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      And it’s so hard to judge your own management skills. I think the OP is looking it from the perspective of making a checklist, “I managed a project, took a leadership class, worked in my role 2 years…I’m now manager material.” But being a manager is more than what you did, it’s who you are and how you handle yourself every day.
      Leaders can spot management material in how staff handle themselves. Are you taking responsibility for your work? Meeting all deadlines? Supporting your co-workers whenever possible? Stepping up to challenges? Creating strong work relationships and never gossiping? Communicating clearly and thoughtfully?
      Basically, if a large scale project came up and management was considering who they could trust to handle it from beginning to end, you want them to think of you right away. That is how you wiggle your way into management from front-line staff.
      And here’s the thing…some people don’t got it. Some people will never have the qualities necessary to manage even if they think they do. But many people just need to mature into it with challenges and experience.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        Oh, and many times your manager can’t really articulate what you need to do to become a manager. They just know if they can or can’t trust you. Sometimes it’s more of a feeling than a concrete, identifiable skill.

        1. Dagnabbit!*

          Many managers think they are making decisions based on quantifiable skills, experience, etc but they are really hiring and especially promoting people that are like themselves. This makes it hard to give real feedback because managers won’t want to mention that bias even if they are conscious of it.

          Old job had a couple senior executive guys from a particular college in the area and over the years more and more management were guys from that same college. It wasn’t a big college and it was at least loosely affiliated with a particular church so it was very obvious.

          The upper level people eventually retired but their legacy lived on far longer, their employee directory looked like the yearbook entry for that college’s lacrosse team.

      2. anonagain*

        The OP said they received positive feedback from their supervisor. It seems reasonable to think that they have the potential to succeed as a manager. I don’t think they need to start doubting that assessment at this point.

        1. voyager1*

          I think you misunderstood what I wrote. The LW needs to ask what they need to do to become a lead or manager. That is not the same as receiving or asking for feedback about their current analyst role to be a better analyst. The former is so the LW can see what areas they need to improve or get experience in to move up. Also it lets management know the LW has ambitions. The later is about doing your current job better.

          1. TechWorker*

            Have to agree with voyager1 – there are people who are absolutely brilliant in their individual contributor roles but would not be considered ‘management material’. You’d hope that’s not the case here as if they’d explicitly ruled OP out for this type of role it would be really unfair to have given positive feedback at the point they applied internally, but it’s certainly generally a possibility.

      3. Moving On OP*

        OP here – I am excellent at my job, and handle myself extremely professionally. I have been told by multiple people that I am one of the best performers on my team, and I always support everyone I can, offer assistance unsolicited, and do the hardest, most complicated work in our purview. I’m a very direct communicator and I’m very kind and sensitive, and I’m not just saying it — other people have said these things about me too. So it’s really not that, I don’t think.

        1. Oh So Anon*

          So, all the things you are describing are great, but they’re descriptors of what an excellent senior analyst should bring to the table. It sounds like you’re a fantastic individual contributor who shines as a resource to peers and junior team members. I wonder, though, if what your employer is looking for in a manager is more about working cross-organizationally and with levels of leadership above you. I’m thinking of things like:

          -Project management skills
          -The ability to present your ideas effectively to leadership, with persuasion and influence
          -Seeing the big picture, the ability to think strategically rather than just tactically

          I’m in a similar role to you, I’ve seen the sorts of people who get promoted to managerial positions from these roles, and those are the types of skills that differentiate a really good individual contributor from a potential manager who has the skills to organize their department and advocate for it across the organization.

  13. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    Am I right to infer that the new “team lead” position is sort of being inserted on the org chart between you and your current manager, so that currently you are reporting directly to her, but now a “team lead” oversees a group of people and that team lead now reports to the manager. But your manager talked in terms of “when” rather than “if” you became team lead.

    If so it seems that there are only 3 possibilities here, 1) your manager is stringing you along with what you want to hear false promises to get you to stay (a really short-term strategy, but possible); 2) your manager advocated for you to be made team lead but was overruled, didn’t fight for it and as such doesn’t have any real influence with higher-ups about your future; 3) your manager genuinely thought you were a shoo-in but was wrong, and as such has little insight over how things work in your company or the politics of how these decisions get made.

    In any of these 3 situations… I would be thinking about moving on, not as an “emergency” (as in, not taking a position that was inferior because I needed to maintain a paycheck etc) but definitely in the medium term.

    1. Moving On OP*

      OP here – your inference is exactly right, and I think #1 is what happened, because the hiring was her decision.

  14. Darury*

    All I can say is, I feel your pain. I worked for a small company that passed me up for 4 different internal positions. Attempt #1: They offered a smaller step up, so I took it. Attempt #2: Replace person from attempt #1 (now you need X experience that previous person did not have) Attempt #3: Same as attempt #2, other person promoted, suddenly job has new requirements. Attempt #4: Shocker, new requirements that previous person didn’t have. It was small enough company so I knew the other employees and their backgrounds. I finally left after #4 and it’s a good thing I did. I ended up changing careers and making roughly double the salary at the time. Had they promoted me, I’d probably still be there.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Yeah, I feel this so much. I miss the insurance company I used to work for, but had I gotten the job there that I was passed over for in my last year, I’d still be there and probably only making mid-to-high 50s right now – I make 17k more a year now after nearly two years of being gone.

    2. snack_attack*

      Woof, sorry to hear about that, that is abysmal! UGH this is why I am trying to move away from smaller companies in my industry. I am looking for my next role after being laid off from a small company (under 10 employees), and prior to that, I worked for another small company (around 50 employees). I am so over listening to the BS of “put in your time and you’ll advance!” and “as a small company, we can foster you’re development!”; which the reality was the companies didn’t have enough structure, experience, or time in developing internal talent to more senior roles. Which resulted in all of the “advancement and development” coming from taking on assorted operational responsibilities and getting certifications (but only in my own time outside of work). Then, of course, only for them to hire outside talent for managerial/senior roles because they needed help with the growing books and only wanted someone with 15 years experience from a larger institution…but I digress…

      My question is, how did you make the move to a larger organization? Any tips?

  15. This happened to me.*

    When I didn’t get the promotion the third time, I made it clear that I was looking for a new job. This included asking a couple of colleagues whether their organizations had any job openings at a business luncheon that included my boss. Only then did he make a serious effort to live up to his promises. Must admit, at the time I thought it was sexism – I am female, those who got the jobs were male – and I think my boss expected I would just go along with it. Not. Have that conversation with your boss, but polish your resume and start looking. Yes, sometimes an unexpected, really good candidate comes along. And sometimes bosses take their employees for granted. You can only count on yourself to look after your career.

    1. 2 Cents*

      Yeah, I was passed over for a role for a guy with less experience than me, but he was more outgoing (I’m quieter and more introverted. This guy was Big Man on Campus.) The nail in the coffin was he’d use my work as his own, so everyone thought we were both experts when, no, just me.

    2. Dagnabbit!*

      Good for you, though personally I would look but not tell the current company until I was ready to leave. I understand the urge but IMO it’s unlikely to help you.

  16. Close Bracket*

    A question based on some of the comments here:

    Do many people’s companies only give promotions into management? At my last two companies, you could get promoted to more senior positions without them being management positions. My last company had a half dozen or so levels, and it was really hard to get promoted past the first 3. I heard that they did lose people who wanted promotions they couldn’t get. There weren’t very many levels of leadership, either, and it wouldn’t have been realistic to aim for appointment into leadership roles (although there were more program leadership roles in some of the very large programs). My current company has a few dozen levels, and some people get promoted like every two years, which seems astonishing to me. There are many more levels of leadership, too, and it does seem like they want people with many years of experience in those positions. Most group leaders are over 40, although the manager above that is probably 35, tops (his entire division is at least 500 people, I have no idea who someone that young got that job when group leaders with 10 or so people under them are so much older on average).

    Anyway, I hope to get many promotions in job level, and it won’t depend on older people retiring.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      At the insurance company I used to work at, there was a management track for claims people and a technical track for people who had no desire to be people managers, but who wanted to get the biggest and nastiest claims in their respective divisions. There were maybe five levels to get to before a management position (though I saw quite a few people skip a few rungs on the ladder) and about six to get to the technical director title (again, some folks skipped a few steps). I wanted to become a technical director with zero direct reports, but I got burned out by the time I got to the third level – I had to leave to regain my sanity, lol.

      1. Close Bracket*

        Was it either or? I can climb both ladders, and could at my last company, as well (actually, I can’t see anyone accumulating the years of leadership experience without also making technical achievements).

        1. TechWorker*

          At my site it’s both but this is not standard company policy. There’s a lot of managers who are technical and others whose job realistically ends up being entirely people/project management.

        2. voyager1*

          I work in banking (back office). This was how it was at the places I have worked at.

          Analyst I-III, Team Lead, Manager.
          or
          Clerk, Processor, Specialist, Team Lead, Assist Manager, Manager
          or
          Officer I-IV, Manager

          In front office retail banking (which I have not done) there appears to be no reason to how titles go… at least where I am at now.

          1. Close Bracket*

            Honestly, that’s amazing to me. At my current place, it’s more like:

            Engineer I-infinity

            and

            Group Leader, Division Leader, whatever is above that.

            Everybody who is a Group Leader also has an engineer title. So I could be Engineer 10 and get promoted to Llama Painting Group Leader while still being Engineer 10. Then I could be promoted to Engineer 11, 12, and higher and still be Llama Painting Group Leader.

            I don’t know what happens above Group Leader, but as I mentioned, the division has at least 500 people in it. Given the ratio of 1:500 Division Leader:Proletariat, there won’t be that many opportunities for people to climb the management ladder. Not in Engineering, anyway. Maybe it’s different in other functional areas.

        3. Fortitude Jones*

          You could do either or start off being technical and then move into a management role or vice versa. Ideally and theoretically, all managers were also technical experts in their respective divisions – all of them were to the best of my knowledge – they were just technical experts who also managed people and, more often than not, didn’t handle claims themselves anymore but rather oversaw the rest of their claims staff and the high-dollar cases.

          1. Close Bracket*

            So once you are in management, you leave the technical career ladder? That blows my mind.

            Maybe it’s different being matrixed since managers here manage people, not projects.

    2. Moving On OP*

      OP here – there are both “tracks” at my company, but there are much fewer technically-focused positions without supervisory responsibilities than they are manager roles. Plus, as I said in my original letter, I actually love mentoring/teaching/managing people and helping them grow. Weird but true!!!

      1. Close Bracket*

        “there are much fewer technically-focused positions without supervisory responsibilities than they are manager roles. ”

        This is so strange to me! Here and at my last company, there are potentially as many technically-focused positions without supervisory responsibilities as there are technical people. Nobody has to retire from a Senior Principal role for another person to be promoted to Senior Principal. Now, everybody won’t have the chops to get promoted, but everybody who has the chops *could* get promoted.

    3. londonedit*

      In my industry (book publishing) and my specialism (editorial) teams tend to be quite small, and ‘promotions’ are usually more like just getting a new job title and maybe a little bit more money. It usually reflects the fact that you’ve been doing your job for a while (maybe 2-3 years) and you’ve gradually taken on more responsibility, or perhaps that a junior member of staff has joined the team and they shift everyone’s job titles round to reflect how long people have been there. Publishing doesn’t pay much, so you’ll often get a bump in job title in lieu of a proper pay rise. There are also usually two editorial tracks – either you’re on the ‘desk editor’ or ‘managing editor’ track, which is more hands-on project management of actual books, or you’re on the ‘commissioning editor’ track, which means you actually commission the books in the first place, from authors/agents.

      So a typical progression for a desk editor would be editorial assistant – assistant editor – editor – senior editor, and for commissioning you’d go from editor to commissioning editor and then probably senior commissioning editor. From there you have jobs that involve running whole editorial departments, like editorial director or publisher, and those are much more strategy-based but may still involve some commissioning of new books. Often people stick around at the more senior levels for quite a long time, so the only way to get a job as editorial director or publisher would be to move on – titles like senior editor are given out if you’ve been there long enough and done a decent job, but the higher-up ones usually need someone to leave, so there’s a role to be filled, or you’d move to a new company that’s advertising that role.

  17. Not So NewReader*

    Just a suggestion, OP, but you might do such a good job teaching that they are afraid to move you. It caught my eye that you said you loved teaching. It probably shows, you’re probably unusually good at it for where you work now. To think about this, look around and see what is happening to other “teachers” in your company, are they stuck or are they getting promotions? And if there isn’t anyone else teaching then you might have put your finger on the exact problem.

    I love Alison’s advice about looking around. It’s not good to feel stuck. It’s pretty healthy to think about options and see what is available to you. For your own peace of mind I think looking around is a good idea. Who knows it could end up that you are happy where you are and you are no longer interested in management. These stories can have twists and turns.

  18. 2 Cents*

    OP, honestly, even if your manager supports you, others with decision-making power may only ever see you as an analyst and not as “management material.” One of the reasons I left my ob last year was because after being passed over for a promotion, it became clear that I was only ever seen as 2 Cents The Worker Bee, not 2 Cents The Leader. So I went somewhere else. Best decision I made.

  19. Clementine*

    I think if you have the feeling you are stalled out, that’s probably the case, and you should start looking. It doesn’t sound like the situation is urgent, so you can be thoughtful as you peruse your options. But at least turn on the “Open to Recruiters” on LinkedIn. Attend various meetups, make a point to engage with people, and so on. Learn a couple of clearly new skills. In the circumstances described, I really doubt the original poster is going to go much further ever.

  20. Gelliebean*

    Well, crap. This is me today – I’ve been at my current employer since 2008. Opportunities are few and far between here because people higher-up tend to be lifers, so I was promoted twice in three years and have been stuck there ever since. I literally found out four hours ago that I didn’t get the newly-created position of supervisor for the department I’ve been running since 2011.

    I don’t know what serendipitous turn of events led to this question being posted today, but it was exactly what I needed to hear.

  21. Jk*

    Sorry, op.

    As many others have in the comments, I’ve also been through the same. You reach a point where all you can do is move on. Especially when you see peers earning more than you with better career progression. You fall behind.

    My first real marketing job I had for 5 years. Was promoted once and told to be grateful for all the money I was making… woohoo 30k in 2011! I left and got a huge raise, stayed at that place 1.5 yrs, got another offer, stayed for 3. Got another offer, stayed for 4. More than doubled my salary in that period. Now I’m making more and have more responsibility and better benefits.

    I typically stay at a role for as long as I’m learning and opportunity exists to grow. Once it’s gone it’s time to start looking

    Always put yourself first and think about resume building and your future.

    I’ve see how disloyal companies can be with coworkers suddenly becoming disposable and getting laid off.

  22. Rich*

    It can be good to just ask, but you have to be prepared for the conversation. I recently lost out on a promotion to another internal candidate. He’s an excellent choice, and while I know I could have done the job, I also can’t find any fault with his selection.

    But I also made sure to talk with my boss and grand-boss (who was the hiring manager for the promoted position), and asked very candidly:
    -Alphonse was a good choice for the promotion, I respect him, and I respect the decision, but, was I a credible candidate?
    -I know you can’t make promises about how it will work out, but do you think I belong in the running for future similar opportunities?
    -Again, I know you can’t make promises, but do you have any sense of a time horizon for when another opportunity is likely to appear… months? a year? multiple years?
    If you don’t think I’m right for this sort of opportunity, do you see me progressing beyond my current role, and what does that look like to you?

    You need to have the right relationship with your boss and grand-boss to have that kind of conversation, but if you do, it can be extremely helpful.

    It can also be pretty uncomfortable. Sometimes candor is … pretty candid and they’ll give you answers that show you their sense of your potential doesn’t match with your sense of it. That can be really hard to hear. But if you take it in a professional rather than personal spirit, it’s almost always useful.

  23. Petty Editor*

    Don’t forget that if hiring takes forever, and they have a candidate they’d like as much as you for a position, they’re also likely considering how hard it would be to replace *your* position, so they’d likely take an outside applicant for the management job and keep the internal candidate where they are. Could also be a wage thing if you’re at the top of your earning range and the new applicant for the manager job is coming in at a cheaper wage. It’s a crappy thing that bad hiring managers do (definitely don’t want to do this to a great internal applicant three times!) but it’s more complicated than anything have to do with you at all. It might just be the hiring manager or bad practices or wage issues or somethign else beyond your own strength entirely.

  24. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I would certainly start looking at the options and throwing resumes around at positions that really jump out at you, that you’d like to explore. The thing is, getting that management experience is something that is a really big pain in the butt to get.

    It’s like the problem with getting into the workforce, where you get the whole “well you need experience first, so…” and then you’re stuck in the hell of “how do you get experience if they won’t give you the chance.” SOMEONE will give it to you, you will get there, maybe not at your current job but somewhere out there will take the bait.

    I’m curious if there’s someone in your organization that wants you where you’re at because you’re good at your job. That’s a thing that happens, someone is all “no, we can’t lose her in that position!” and it’s utterly disgusting but it happens. So you may have everyone on your side except that one frigging jackhole. Which again leads to say that you’ll need to go elsewhere to really get that push you’re desiring.

    1. Moving On OP*

      OP here – first of all, your username rules. Second of all, I think you’re exactly right. They don’t want me in a different role because they would lose me in what I currently do. It’s gross and unfair, but I think that is truly the biggest factor in all of this.

      1. SecondCareer*

        Been there done that! I couldn’t get promoted at the one company I worked at because they would have had to replace me with two people given the number of projects I ran. I was more valuable to them right where I was. The only solution was to leave. Sucks when that happens.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I’ve never ran into these kind of people before but it’s probably in their best interest that they haven’t met me ;)

        I’m glad that you can really whittle it down to that reason though. It’s so much nicer to have some kind of “closure” in your mind! You’ll get where you deserve to be, you don’t want any of their apples, they have little green worms.

  25. Feliz*

    OP how are your business skills?

    You talk about your soft skills (enjoying teaching, growing & developing people) and you clearly have decent hard skills (ability to do your job). But how about your business skills?

    2 years ago I got my current job as a manager of a technical team – and I’m sure the reason I got it was thanks to displaying that I had strong business skills, as well as the required soft & hard skills. It was at a new company, but it was a significant step up so they took a bit of a risk on me. (Old company may have done similar if I’d stayed longer). Over my career I had made quite a few somewhat upward but mostly lateral moves that gave me a real breadth of experience.

    There are some things that I think people are looking for from candidates for technical leaders but often aren’t acknowledged/articulated

    A tight focus on what you can do to deliver the results company needs. It sounds sooooo corporate but it’s true – regardless if it’s bottom line $$ or a trouble free rollout. I love developing my team so they can succeed as individuals – but the better they perform the better the results for the company. I had manage out two poor performers fairly quickly – always with the focus on what was best for the company. I now have a great, high performing team. I’m able to be pragmatic – if something is wildly out of process, on a timeline so short we really need a time machine, championed by someone I don’t especially respect – if it’s what makes sense for the company then I’ll throw myself behind it.

    Being able to continue to make progress on things when there is a lot of ambiguity / conflicting priorities / situations that aren’t clear cut / information isn’t available. I’ll still discuss these with my own manager (esp if there are major ramifications) but I really notice who on my team is good at this and who is . . . not. There are so many situations where decisions have to be made with limited information and a short time frame. Somehow you have to show that you can handle this, not be paralysed with indecision nor make the wrong call!

    Understanding of the business world you are in – who your customers are / who your consumers are / how sales works in your field / what marketing do / what your competitors are up to / what your company’s financial situation & results are etc. It’s very easy to get silo’d in a technical field and only be exposed to the immediate inputs/outputs of your job. Because of my breadth of experience I was able to demonstrate that I had a working understanding of marketing & sales and extensive experience dealing with the major retail customers (who are notoriously difficult).

    Phew! This turned into a bit of a novel and I’m sure there are lots more things. Anyway, this is the kind of info that I’m trying to pass on to my team members who are interested in moving up at some stage. Hopefully there will be some good somewhat upward lateral opportunities within the company to give them that breadth of experience that really helps

  26. Jimming*

    Ugh yes. For 3 years I was told there was nothing I could do to improve, I qualified for a promotion but there was “no business need” for it. Slightly different from OPs situation but I started looking and I’ve moved on. Sometimes you have to look elsewhere.

  27. Clover*

    It took me 3 years to get a manager role. I was in a technical role for years before this (over ten years). Despite the rejections I continued to update my leadership skills by attending courses offered in house and externally. I finally got a chance for two weeks backfill which was outside of the promotion process, which now has become a permanent long term position in a promotion process. I questioned too should I stay or go but decided to stay because I liked the business overall – the people, the work and the working hours. As a manager I like suggesting people job shadow as much as they can while waiting for their chance. Being really pro-active is good too – if you can take over a few management duties while in the current role that’s a good start too. Good luck!

  28. I feel ya OP*

    That was my thought, like OP I’m a very high-performing IC in a niche technical field. (I have personally make a new type of teapot, and am teaching a number of teapot PHDs how to do this job even though I have a lowly MS). Many times I’ve saved my (non-technical) manager’s hide by following through on the impossible promises he made to his boss and others even higher up the food chain. So as a top do-er I’ve worked myself into this cycle for several years:

    1) Manager promises the moon to keep himself out of hot water
    2) I bust my ass, working long hours and weekends, inventing new teapot-development approaches in a couple days, to save said manager’s hide
    3) I get told I’m too “in the weeds” to be a supervisor (like OP, 3x rejected for promotion)
    4) 3% raise (2% is company average, so… thanks?)

    At one point my grandboss even tried to get me to go into a side consulting business with him. This is the same guy that has frequently blocked my promotion to keep me where I am.

    Because I’m location-specific to my metro and work in a niche field, the jobs are few and far between. Honestly I’m considering just striking out on my own and doing freelance consulting. Either that, or moving companies to take a lower-stress, easier, perhaps lower paying job and building up my consulting business on the side. In any case I’m done with being used and taken for granted. (And no, there is no technical career path here. I’ve pushed for it, but right now I’m topped-out without getting put into management).

  29. TootsNYC*

    Were they all external hires?

    People are going to hate me for this, but I have a bias toward bringing in outside perspectives.

    Not always–there have been times I’ve seen someone on the inside that I thought would be powerful in a higher role.
    But I’ve also seen too many times when someone got promoted and they’ve only ever been exposed to their current employer, and they have bad habits, or a limited perspective.
    Or they just haven’t learned any other sorts of things.

    I’ve hired current freelancers to be on staff; I’ve argued for a promotion for someone under me. But in all those situations, those people have worked elsewhere extensively.

    The ones that bother me are the ones where someone has never worked elsewhere, or only done so as an entry-level person.

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