People clap as young smiling woman leaves work with a box of her stuff

Up or out? When to leave if you’re not getting promoted

Karen Geier|

When we’re young, we’re taught by our parents, teachers and coaches that “winners never quit.” A lovely sentiment that helps foster innovation, dedication, and feats by some of our best athletes, titans of industry, and performers.

Yet, the reality of the working world is that there are times when you will most likely have to make the call whether to stay at a job where you might not be promoted, or look elsewhere.

Academia has long had a history of what they call the “up or out” track: You either are promoted, or you need to start looking. Still, everyone knows someone who is a serial job hopper, something that used to be frowned upon, but in today’s job market is seen as increasingly the way to “get what you want” out of a job. Our internal research at Workopolis shows that a majority of people now stay in jobs for less than two years. (read more about our research on job hopping).

How can you be sure whether to stay at your job if you’re unsure whether a promotion will ever come? Here are some tips on making that decision and what to do in the meantime.

Know the Basics

Many companies fear appearing as though they are playing favorites. Be aware that 18 months – two years is usually the minimum amount of time to wait for a promotion, unless you have had a discussion about that timeline being shortened before you were even hired.

Look at Comparable Moves

Within your company, are there other, similarly qualified people who have the same amount of experience as you who have made an upward move recently? Are there people who do your same job at similarly-sized companies who have been promoted faster than you? This is a good benchmark. Resist the temptation to make it the basis of an argument for your own promotion, however, should you broach the topic with your boss.

Take an Unflinching Inventory of Your Contributions

Are you someone who routinely helps projects get over the finish line, or makes material contributions to projects that enable their success? Or are you someone who is just a medium player on a winning team? Understand whether your actual contributions would be recognized by peers or your boss. This exercise serves a dual purpose: If you have been a great worker, you now have a list of your accomplishments to work into a salary discussion with your boss. If you feel you may be lacking upon closer inspection, you have a chance to redouble your efforts

If You Decide To Wait It Out, at Least Have the Talk

No one enjoys engaging their boss in a salary or promotion discussion, but nearly everyone who has been promoted or gotten a higher salary has had to do it, so approach it as the fee of entry, and get your talking points down. Know what you’ve done. Keep your plea short, and unemotional, and ask your boss for feedback. This conversation will put a finer point on whether you will be promoted in future. If you feel like you weren’t listened to, or you got platitudes, it’s probably time to set a deadline after which if you’re not “up,” you’ll see yourself out.

Set a Deadline, and Do Your Best

Set a sensible deadline (two weeks after your chat is too short. Eight months is probably too long). During this time, get your resume up to snuff, and start doing research for your next move. Quietly tell people you trust you might be making a move, so they can help you.

During this time, you should still be giving it your all at work, and making sure your contributions get noticed.

Close the gap between your current and future skillset requirements

“While you may be a top performer in your current job, there may be areas where you still need to develop before hitting your target role.” Says says Sarah Paul, Director of Human Resources at Govan Brown Construction Managers. “You may require further education or certification, demonstrated decision taking, change management etc. Ensure you are accurately gauging where the gaps are between your current behavioural and technical skillset and those required in the more senior role at your company.”

One of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do in your career is decide when to get out if you’re not getting what you want. Being honest with yourself, candid with your boss, and knowing what you’re worth in the marketplace can go a long way towards making the decision easier.


Category: Career Dilemmas, Latest News & Advice,