How do I know what skills I need to get promoted?

Question: How do I know what skills I need to get promoted?

Sent in by George, Stamford, CT

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Answer: 

When it comes to getting promoted there are a number of factors that can be standing in your way–From poor work habits, lack of strategic relationships, inability to effectively sell oneself or a lack of experience or skills.

For this answer, let’s focus solely on Skills and Experience. The best way to get a sense of what skills or experience you may need to move to your desired next position in the company is to job hunt. That’s right, job hunt.

1. Job Hunt – Your next desired job title probably exists at other companies as well. Go to your preferred job board and check out what it would take to get this job at another company. Look at a lot of different listings and find the similarities in keywords. Below I’ve dissected an example posting.

Let’s take a quick look at this typical job listing to give you an idea on what to focus on.


Marketing Product Manager
Generic Company – St. Louis, MO

(Take a look at the introduction and circle any “keywords” that seem relevant to the requirements for doing the job. I’ve highlighted my choices in Orange. These are usually PERSONALITY TRAITS & EXPERIENCE)

We’re building out our local engineering team. We would like to find a Product Manager with a passion for web and mobile applications. The ideal candidate should have experience with product ownership and presentation. We are looking for a self-starter, with experience creating requirements and acceptance criteria, working with product owners, collecting user feedback and working with engineering teams to build amazing software.

(These next two sections focus on the Technical Skills and the Experience required. For any Technical Skills you’re lacking you can take a quick online course or read a few books and catch up pretty well. When you’re in the company already, it makes it a lot easier to set yourself up for getting the role because you can really investigate which of these technical skills are the most critical in your specific organization. In some situations, the company will pay for your training because they’d rather hire from within.) 

Technical expertise required:

  • Design and bring to market new social features and capabilities to drive customer engagement within software products
  • Identify market opportunities through customer research and insights
  • Prioritize customer needs and develop product roadmaps to deliver on meeting customer expectations
  • Lead, create and launch market-leading product offerings in partnership with sales, marketing, engineering, user experience and support
  • Own the product lifecycle from requirements gathering through production and release
  • Turn global customer and market insights into actionable business and product requirements
  • Build products that deliver great customer experiences

The ideal candidate will:

  • Social feature development experience applying social within large consumer software applications
  • Demonstrated experience managing the end-to-end product lifecycle for consumer or enterprise offerings
  • Ability to develop and execute a successful product roadmap
  • Experience with Agile development and methodologies
  • Proven expertise leading cross-functional teams that together launch on-time and on-budget desktop, web or mobile software product offerings
  • Strong project management skills, including the ability to think and lead complex projects simultaneously
  • Successful history of delivering customer-driven products designed to create a great customer experience

What I’ve highlighted in Green are Skills that you can obtain on your own time. These are the technical tactics you’ll need to actually get the job done. The orange is mostly assessing personality fit and experience.

For any of these skills you lack, I’d recommend finding some books on the topics. Most likely, you’ll find a number of resources available to help you learn. Another great option is to take classes. Your local community college or university are a great option if you are someone that needs to be in the classroom. Secondarily, try out sites like Coursera or EdX that have some fantastic classes taught by college professors from top universities. You can take the class for free, but for a pretty minimal fee you can get an official certificate of completion which is a great thing to reference when you are ready to have that “promote me” conversation.

For the lacking experience, the best opportunities come to those that are vocal about wanting more experience. Cross-departmental projects happen on a pretty regular basis in most large corporations. If your boss isn’t comfortable yet letting you represent the department in these meetings, ask to observe and be present. Learn and take notes and look for opportunities to add value. Just one valuable contribution to a project can help make you memorable and start building the reputation you’ll need to prepare for your upcoming promotion.

2. Be vocal – Start building relationships with the colleagues and coworkers you would have once you get your promotion. Let them know that you’d like to be better prepared for the position for when it next becomes available. Or ask coworkers that have the job you’d like for advice, training and guidance. Many people love feeling appreciated and will enjoy an opportunity to teach their craft or pass on their experience to a coworker.

In the right situation, letting your boss know that you’d like to move up in your career can be really useful. Approach the conversation looking for opportunities to grow and improve. Ask specifically what you could learn and experience to be better prepared to continue to contribute to the company’s success. A good boss will give you opportunities to connect and encourage you to learn and become a better asset to the organization.

Finally. HR departments in many companies are meant to help steer you towards the best resources available to help you reach your career goals. This is also where you can have the conversation about getting compensated for training courses. As an FYI, if the company is going to pay for your classes or to get you an advanced degree, they will usually expect a contractual time agreement. They’ll pay for your MBA but you’ll be obligated to stay at the company for 3 years etc.

Best of luck! Like I mentioned there are a number of steps to take before you’ll be ready for that promotion, but making sure you’re skilled enough to qualify is a great first step!