The Best Way to Get Ahead at Work: Develop These Key Skills

You’re a great employee who goes the extra mile, but it’s likely not enough to get promoted just yet. Discover how to get ahead at work by developing 6 essential abilities.

You’re the team player who offers new ideas, raises your hand for additional responsibilities, and consistently delivers outstanding results—making your boss’s job easier and earning those glowing performance reviews.

And all these qualities are fantastic—you’re a great employee. But it’s likely not enough to get promoted just yet.

Great Employees Don’t Always Get Ahead at Work

It’s a common story—great employees getting passed over for promotions.

Don’t worry; you’re in good company. Most professionals struggle with how to best prepare and position themselves for a promotion. After all, it’s tough to know what counts the most for a work promotion.

And can be even harder to maintain a positive attitude when you’ve been in your current position a while and keep getting overlooked for new opportunities.

Believe me, I’ve been there too.

I faced all the usual challenges one faces when trying to get promoted at work—working with bad bosses and coworkers, struggling to speak up and be heard, dealing with office politics, and so much more.

But I also learned a few things about how to get ahead at work. After starting my first corporate job as an admin assistant, I gradually advanced up the ranks and eventually became a chief marketing officer.

My career advancement journey taught me that being a great employee doesn’t always guarantee a promotion. However, I also discovered how to cut through the noise and zero in on what truly matters to advance your career.

How to Get Ahead at Work? Make it Easier for Others to See You’re Ready to Get Promoted

The reality is, you know you’re ready to take on a new opportunity, but the decision makers who could promote you into a new job haven’t caught on yet.

Sure, in a perfect world our work should speak for itself. But let’s face it, senior managers can easily get swamped with their own workload, making it tough to keep tabs on everyone’s performance.

This can be especially true if you’ve been at your company a while and management is starting to take you for granted, or worse, has a bias for adding new talent to the organization instead of promoting from within.

So, you need to make it easier for them to see you’re ready for that next step up the career ladder into a new position. 

This means harnessing all that untapped talent and ambition you possess and positioning it perfectly with the path to a promotion. Or what I like to call, the 6 P’s of a Promotion:

1. Performance: Get Credit As a Top Performer

First, how’s your performance game? You know being recognized as a top performer sets the stage for a thriving career—it’s the table stakes for climbing the corporate ladder.

If you aren’t seeing signs of appreciation for your hard work or haven’t been handed exciting new projects, it might be because your idea of going above and beyond doesn’t quite match up with your company’s.

Keep in mind, performance isn’t just about doing your job; it’s about doing it exceptionally well and adapting as your career evolves. Being easy to work with and manage are all part of the equation too.

And even if your performance is top-notch, you’ll have problems if your results aren’t connected back to you. Those results should have your name written all over them. Not your boss’s. Not your coworker’s. Yours. This means making it easier for management to see your value.

Of course, being seen as a top performer is only the first step to solidify your promotion readiness. More is needed if you want to level up at work, like showing your potential to succeed at a higher level.

2. Potential: Show Your Readiness for More

You’ve got to prepare yourself for what comes next in your career journey. So instead of merely taking on more tasks in your current job, focus on strategically positioning yourself for bigger responsibilities.

This means getting outside your comfort zone to showcase your ability to adapt, inspire others, and contribute to team success. And while you don’t need to knock it out of the park every time, you do need to demonstrate you’re learning and gaining new skills from each new experience.

You see, being recognized as a high-potential employee is a big deal in the corporate world because it comes with a bunch of benefits that can supercharge your career.

As a high-potential, companies are willing to make substantial investments in your development, granting you access to a realm of growth opportunities that aren’t available to everyone. This can include coaching, specialized training, and additional resources that make you even more promotable.

So, being designated as a high potential isn’t merely a title; it’s a gateway to opening doors and propelling your career forward.

3. Presence: Make an Impact on Others

Once you get your status solidified as a high-performing, high-potential professional, it’s a good idea to take a moment to reflect on the impression you’re making at work. Are you showing up with impact?

When we say impact, it’s not just about charisma and self-assuredness. You can exude confidence and still not have a positive effect on your colleagues, especially if your presence comes across as insincere or rehearsed.

What we’re really talking about here is becoming the go-to person for advice and someone whose words carry weight. Being friendly with your coworkers is a fantastic start, but becoming a trusted colleague others turn to for guidance and support in times of stress is even more valuable.

Showing up with impact means you focus more on others than you do yourself. You generously make time for others and instead of thinking about what you’re going to say next, you shift your attention to your colleagues – listening, connecting, and engaging.

4. People: Gain Advocacy and Support

Speaking of your colleagues, are they rooting for your promotion? Because getting promoted isn’t a solo sport—you need a strong network of people who genuinely want to see you succeed.

Now, you might be thinking, “I’ve got my manager’s backing, so I’m golden.” Having a supportive boss who believes in you is undoubtedly crucial. But your manager alone won’t cut it.

There are more decision-makers than you might realize when it comes to promotions. And as you climb the career ladder, the key players who matter most will shift and evolve.

Sometimes, the game-changer for your career is getting the right people to know you better. For instance, your boss’s boss might not be rallying behind your promotion just because they haven’t had much exposure to you. So, it’s time to find ways to interact with them more often!

Your coworkers matter too, especially when it comes to advancing into a managerial role. Leadership wants to make sure that moving you up won’t ruffle too many feathers among other team members. Building up the trust and respect of your peers is important.

And as a senior manager, you need other senior leaders on your side. Earning a promotion to the senior executive ranks typically requires nodding heads from a committee of higher ups.

5. Personal Power: Advance in Your Own Way

Building strong connections with the right people is a major deal when you’re aiming for a promotion. However, this doesn’t equate to showboating and schmoozing—steer clear of behavior doesn’t align with who you are just to get ahead. You should still feel good about yourself at the end of the day!

On the other hand, you can’t simply refuse to take actions that will accelerate your career path because they make you uncomfortable—unless you want to get stuck circling in a career cul-de-sac. Remember, there’s always more than one way forward.

Learning how to get ahead at work is about evolving into the best version of yourself, striking a balance between growth and authenticity. You want to become more promotable while remaining true to who you are—not turning into a fake or phony individual.

How do you do this? It’s a journey that requires self-awareness, mindful adaption, and a keen understanding of your unique beliefs and values.

Real-World Promotion Stories About what it really takes to get ahead at work

Promotion Story 2

Promoted from Director to Executive Level

“I received a 15% bump in total compensation (base, bonus, equity).”

Promotion Story 3

Promoted from Coordinator to Manager Level

“I’m proud to say I got promoted because I asked!”

Promotion Story 6

Promoted from Manager to Director Level

“The hardest part about getting promoted to where I am now was overcoming age and gender prejudice.”


About Author

As a former CMO who started her career as an admin assistant, Alison writes about climbing the corporate ladder.

Alison set a goal to use her corporate career to achieve financial freedom – and make work optional.

You can read more about her story here.



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