Uncertain economic conditions have led many employers to focus on making the most of their existing IT staffs. Consequently, skilled IT professionals may find ample opportunities to take on new challenges and advance their careers without having to look beyond their companies' walls. Taking advantage of these circumstances, however, requires a strategic approach.
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If you're interested in a promotion, here are some tips to put yourself in the best position:
Consider the requirements. Don't overlook the most crucial part of preparing for advancement: making sure you really want it. While it's safe to assume you'd welcome any additional compensation or perks, what about the extra responsibilities? After you've learned more about the new role, determine whether you're prepared to do everything the position entails. Will a higher position mean you have to play office politics? Will you be leaving behind technical work that you still enjoy or taking on a dual role that requires both development and database skills, for example? Are you comfortable transitioning from peer to manager if you accept a supervisory role?
Assess yourself. Before you begin campaigning for a promotion, take an honest look at your abilities. Are you committed to continual learning? What steps have you taken to keep your technical skills current? For IT promotions, soft skills such as communication and leadership are often an even more important consideration. Find ways to showcase these skills, such as by volunteering to lead a project or interacting with co-workers outside of IT.
Talk to your boss. You may think it's obvious that you'd welcome an advancement opportunity, but a busy manager may not be as aware of your career aspirations as you believe. Frame the discussion in terms of your readiness for greater responsibility—not your desire for a title change or pay increase. Ask about specific actions you can take, such as training or project leadership, to encourage the process. Be receptive to advice about areas that may need improvement. In addition, your boss may not be aware of all the projects you've been involved with. To ensure that your achievements are front of mind, provide your supervisor with a monthly status report that summarizes the assignments you're working on or have recently completed.
Look the part. It may sound like a superficial matter, especially in IT, but the way you present yourself at work, including your style of dress, can influence your advancement prospects. In a survey by Robert Half International, 93 percent of managers polled said a person's style of dress at work influences his or her chances of earning a promotion; one-third said on-the-job attire "significantly" affects an employee's advancement prospects. Without overdoing it, take some cues from the way your supervisor dresses.
Boost your value. Pursuing training in a key area can boost your candidacy for a promotion. According to a Robert Half Technology survey of CIOs, technical skills are the area in which IT staffers could use the most improvement. Consider a certification that aligns well with your company's needs.
Lend a helping hand. To show your boss that you can handle new responsibilities, volunteer to take the lead on a project or IT initiative—especially one that's considered difficult or less desirable. Such "problem" assignments are usually the ones at the forefront of your manager's mind. Even if the task isn't executed to perfection, you'll be demonstrating a willingness to take on demands beyond your comfort zone, a key characteristic for advancement.
Speak up. Actively participate in office discussions whenever appropriate. Before meetings, review the agenda and prepare a few points of interest on the topics at hand. Also look for opportunities to go beyond your usual duties. For example, you might offer to help with new-hire orientations, providing an overview of the IT department and how people in other areas of the company can work with your group effectively.
Network internally. In general, the higher the position, the more you'll interact and collaborate with people outside of IT. Go out of your way to meet people from other departments, both during the workday and at company functions. It's a good way to practice your soft skills and make connections that you might draw upon as you advance, too.
Of course, even if you deserve a promotion, it won't necessarily arrive on your schedule. Also keep in mind that not every promotion brings an immediate, substantial raise, especially in a challenging economy. But by demonstrating a desire for more responsibility, expanding your skills and learning to showcase your value, you give your career the best chance to keep moving forward—and upward.