December 22

How to be promoted internally


Please note that names and identifying details have been changed to protect the identities of those mentioned.

I looked at her, wondering what the hell she was trying to do.

Was she trying to screw me over?

In my first job, I was the worst member of the team. Here’s what you can learn from my experience.
In my first job, I was the worst member of the team. Here’s what you can learn from my experience.

Earlier that morning, she had written an email copying our administrative staff, directors, and my supervisor, stating,

I want to put it on the record that John has failed to submit the forms on time again, stating the same reason as before.

Right. There goes my promotion.

If you’re the high achiever who wants to be promoted fast, kudos to you. You’ve come to the right place.

After years talking to career high-flyers for our book “Vault”, we realised there were some commonalities that kept repeating.

Here’s what we think you can do.

Be calmer than you are internally

Working is tough. You don’t have to make it tougher by doing things like me, disagreeing with people.

You’re going to have tons to do. How would you remain calm?
You’re going to have tons to do. How would you remain calm?

Being likeable is something we go into later, but one of the standout qualities for most employers is the ability to stay calm under pressure.

Even though you might be going gaga inside, it’s vital that you just stay locked in.

Simple things like breathing slowly when you’re anxious can help.

Composure, as Don Miller defines it,

is the ability to

react less than what the situation calls for.

Say for example you had a boss who criticised your work.

A normal reaction would be a 7 out of 10 (with 10 being blowing your top).

You take it a notch down, and you thank him for his feedback.

Now, that’s composure.

Don’t make mistakes

Warren Buffet, one of the world’s greatest investors, was once asked how to invest. He shared two rules.

  1. Don’t lose money.
  2. Never forget rule number 1.

The same can apply to the world of work, where it can be often easier to focus on all the things to do, rather than the things you should not do.

This means basics like:

  1. Don’t be late for work
  2. Be punctual for meetings
  3. Don’t double book yourself for meetings
    1. This simply means that you don’t find yourself scheduling two meetings in the same time
Growing your career means growing in the basics, first.
Growing your career means growing in the basics, first.

Whilst this seems basic, often it isn’t.

During my first job, I was regularly doing all these extra things like piloting projects, running programmes, but I constantly wondered why I wasn’t rising to the top of the list for the ones to be promoted.


I wasn’t even doing the basics right.

Are you trying to run before you even walk?


Do your job, before you do anything else

You might find yourself wanting to do many things, but do the right things first.
You might find yourself wanting to do many things, but do the right things first.

I stared at my director across the Zoom meeting, wondering if I had heard wrongly. Had he just said that?

Maybe you should focus on the job description, before you do anything else.

I thought I was a hotshot. After all, I was writing things like strategy memos, sharing how I thought our agency could improve.

I was leading on the strategy discussions on the projects we were running within the agency. I was reading up on their annual report and telling them how to improve it.

I was even suggesting how to do the Google ads marketing for the agency!

Maybe that sounds like you. You’re doing all these extra things. But you’re wondering,

Why doesn’t my boss seem to take notice of me?

Is he blind?

If you want to be promoted internally, you need to do your basic job well, first, before you do everything else. Many of us younger people make the mistake of thinking that if we did everything else well, that would cover up for the gaps in our job.


Doesn’t happen that way.

Grow your job step by step, systematically.
Grow your job step by step, systematically.

Be likeable

Let’s be honest.

The ones that climb to the top are often the ones who are well liked.

Take Ariel, for example. In my first agency, she constantly went out on a limb to attend to people’s needs.

If you follow the simple tips above, you can be found to make more friends than enemies.

Ask for what you want

There’s little point staying tight-lipped about your desire to be promoted. People can’t read your mind.

One example I had from a friend was that she would actually instant message her director and tell him that she was interested in X project, so that she would be placed on the team.

If you want something, ask.

Know what the accelerator jobs are

During a British Council event I attended, I remember the High Commissioner sharing a tidy nugget of advice.

Know what the accelerator, and icon jobs are.

And aim for those.

There are ‘fast-track’ jobs like the Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister. You often see people in those roles going onto bigger roles.

In every industry, there are jobs like these.

Your role is to find those roles, and to angle so that you get those roles.

Knowing how to get them may not be that straightforward, and that’s why we always say it’s better going on this journey with someone else.

Ask for help from sponsors

Sponsoring and mentoring isn’t a new concept.

But it’s strange how few of us use it.

We do need some form of sponsoring (which we define as someone who has your back, and is promoting you even when you’re not there.)

In your company, this can be vital.

Your sponsor has the ear of key decision makers in the company who can end up choosing you, rather than someone else.

Asking for this help can be as simple as typing an email to them, stating

  1. How much you admire their work
  2. What you’re struggling with
  3. And what you’d be willing to do to put in the work

Here’s an example of something I wrote recently to someone I was asking to sponsor me.

Dear Adam

I’ve admired your courage and ability to make things happen within the company, even though there are so many obstacles in the way.

I’m wondering if I could ask you to be my sponsor and mentor.

In this current stage of my career, I’m struggling to know what the next steps are. I would really appreciate your help in bringing me to the next stage.

It can be simple advice.

On my end, I would take your advice sincerely and implement them. For example, with my last mentor, one advice I took from him was to learn to be more likeable. With this advice, I managed to find a role within this company.

I hope I can also grow under your tutelage.

What do you think?

You would be surprised at how many people want to help.

Why do you want the promotion?

Knowing why you’re gunning for that promotion might help you keep in line longer.

It’s never easy to be fighting against others for that promotion.

Make no mistake. We are all humans. There are limited resources.

A promotion is always in demand, with the increased responsibilities, and most importantly, pay, making it really competitive.

Know why you’re getting it.

That way, you can last the distance.



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