How to get a promotion if the pandemic has stalled your career progress

Wondering how to get a promotion? You can still get recognition for your hard work, even if it feels like your goals have been hindered after months of pandemic-based uncertainty

composite image of a woman working at a laptop, to illustrate how to get a promotion
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This article is part of our Lost Years series, where we investigate the time since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared by WHO on March 11, 2020. Did we collectively change, how and will we ever go back? How has this time affected our relationship with work, our loved ones, dating and even entertainment? And can we take action to reclaim what we may have lost?

The pandemic has been a catalyst for some dramatic lifestyle changes, especially when it comes to work. From remote work going mainstream to the millions of people who have quit their jobs since spring 2021—AKA The Great Resignation—it’s safe to say the modern workplace is in major flux. 

Throughout the pandemic, employees have proven that productivity doesn’t necessarily need to happen in an office environment, with WFH and hybrid working still as popular as ever (we're all aware of the brilliant benefits of working from home). But arguably, and unfortunately, being visible to managers and superiors does seem to have some impact on career progression. A study from Stanford University found that while remote employees were 13% more productive than those in the office, they were only promoted half as often.

So if you’re feeling like your career goals have been derailed somewhat by the pandemic, you’re not alone. Working from home, alongside the numerous lockdowns, means that many of us have been in a state of professional limbo over the last few years. The good news though, is that if you’re looking to jump to the next level, you can absolutely get promoted even if you’re still working from home, or doing a mix of home and office work.

We chatted to career experts for all the tips on how to get a promotion, as well as the mistakes to avoid if you’re after a promotion.

How to get a promotion at work

1. Remember that visibility is key

woman working on her laptop on her desk

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According to Jenny Garrett OBE, an award-winning career coach, author and leadership trainer, increasing your visibility is key, especially for those workers who aren’t in the office full-time (or any of the time). 

“This is something you may need to work harder if you won’t see people around the office as much. Be clear about what you have to offer. Consider your unique selling points or personal brand and how your skill-set can help your organization to overcome the challenges it is facing,” Garrett explains. 

When it comes to practical tips to make yourself more visible, start with the basics; keep your video on every time you’re in a meeting (also, make sure you’re an active contributor). Try adding a photo to your intranet profile and possibly even your emails, so you become memorable. And be proactive: send regular roundup emails updating your boss on your progress, and letting them know when you’ve hit milestones on certain projects.

Your immediate colleagues aren’t the only ones who could be helping with your career progression, so Garrett recommends increase your online presence too—for example, make sure your LinkedIn info and photo are up-to-date. This is also one of the best things to do when it comes to knowing how to network.

2. Ask for feedback from your manager or supervisor

It is easy to get stuck in the same routine, day after day, doing the tasks that you know are a part of your job description, and not considering how you might move forward. But if you want to make an impression on your leadership team, consider asking your supervisor for advice and feedback from time to time. 

You can touch base on simple things about your daily tasks (such as how they can be improved), or perhaps a recurring issue you’ve been trying to tackle. Ask their thoughts, but remember that it's also better to present some kind of solution too (rather than just bogging them down with a problem), even if it is half-baked at the moment.

two women talking in a conference room of an office

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Career coach Fay Wallis, of Bright Sky Career Coaching, says, “Ask them for their input—how do they think you are performing and what are their recommendations for you moving forward?” she suggests, as one way of making it clear that you’re ready to take on a bigger challenge.

When you’re ready, you can even ask for their recommendations about how to get promoted, letting them know that you are willing to do what it takes to climb the ladder. Make sure to use clear language and to ask for specific steps that you can follow. For example, do they need to see you do more high-level tasks to consider promoting you, and if so, where can you find those?  

3. Be a positive presence in your workplace

Figuring out how to get a promotion doesn't always require specific actions. It sounds simple, but a positive attitude and can-do approach can work wonders for the way that your leadership team and co-workers view you. By approaching tasks with positivity, you are ensuring that you are a person others love to work with, and proving that you have the right personality to stick with the job long-term—the exact type of person that higher-ups are likely to promote. 

If you don't naturally feel all that positive at work, the main thing to remember is to avoid too much negativity. Sure, report problems and roadblocks if and when they happen, but try and be helpful and proactive when sorting them too, rather than defeatist and irritated.

But be careful, being positive doesn't always mean constant laughter. Steer away from inappropriate jokes or constant chatter, even if you do feel comfortable with your colleagues—it can easily backfire. 

4. Network, network, and network some more

Career change coach Alice Stapleton advises anyone looking to get promoted to think of it as your own personal PR or “business development” campaign. And networking is a crucial part of this. 

She advises getting as much face time as possible with decision makers in the business—be it your boss, or managers in other divisions. “You want to be on their minds as much as possible, without being too obvious,” she explains. "Network upwards, downwards, and sideways if in the office. If you work from home, pop into the office now and again, too.”

Stapleton also recommends organizing virtual coffee or lunch breaks when possible, especially with people you might not be dealing with on daily work tasks, so that they get to know you, too.

It can also be very helpful to network with people outside of your company, as a career step-up can sometimes be easier to achieve this way. Connect with people in your industry that you admire, be it via LinkedIn or Twitter, and send them a message. It can't hurt to try!

5. Demonstrate leadership capabilities

Prove that you are a person who can get the job done by asking for more responsibility when the opportunity comes up, and by demonstrating leadership in your everyday tasks. 

A few ways to show leadership daily include: 

  • Asking your co-workers their thoughts on a project
  • Sending out well-worded meeting summaries
  • Speaking positively in meetings and 1-2-1's
  • Honing your professional communication skills

Not only should this increase the chances of your name coming up for future promotion opportunities, but you'll also help to prove yourself to be indispensable to the company. 

You can also signal that you’re ready for the next step by showing your superiors you’re prepared to do more senior types of work. Garrett explains that asking for more responsibility “reduces the gap between the job you want and the job that you do.” 

It can be helpful to do some research on experience and skills you need for the role you’re after—for example, if you need experience managing budgets for your dream job, why not ask your manager if there's any way you could lead on a smaller project with a smaller budget, to get you started? Garrett also advises looking out for any work shadowing, transfer or vacation cover opportunities, so you can brush up on new skills.

6. Dress for the job you want

As the saying goes, 'Dress for the job you want, not the job you have'. And while it may sound like a tired old cliché, there's actually some truth to it. What we wear influences how we feel and even how we behave, and if you want to get a promotion, dressing confidently can send a great message to your superiors that you're ready to step into a higher-level role. 

To ensure you look polished and professional without breaking a sweat, try investing in a good capsule wardrobe full of brilliant basics, and setting out your clothes the night before work. This will help you feel more put-together and make your morning routine even more efficient.

woman trying on a capsule wardrobe for work

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Even if your office has a more casual work environment, try not to fall into the trap of wearing clothes that are too laid-back. Follow the cue of higher-ups at your place of employment, and mimic the dress style of those in positions similar to the one that you want. For example, if the manager of marketing consistently dresses well, even on casual Fridays, consider stepping up your style and saying no to sneakers (we know, sob!)

7. Don't be afraid to have ideas and own them

Standing out from the crowd with creative ideas and problem solving skills can really get you noticed.

Garrett recommends engaging with “curiosity and a problem-solving mindset” for those who want to start being more innovative employees. This could mean asking questions to help you understand the rationale of a particular decision, or how something will work once it’s been put into practice. 

And equally, don't be afraid to put forward suggestions you believe could be better or more time efficient. The more you discover, the likelier you are to realize that one of your ideas can help streamline certain processes or cut costs. You may well have thought of something your manager didn't consider, given your different working experiences.

“Have the courage to share any and all ideas, because they could make a real difference and lead to securing that promotion,” Garrett recommends. 

8. Finally, make a case for getting promoted

Sounds obvious, right? But according to Wallis, all too often, bosses and managers aren’t aware of the ambitions of their employees, or that they’re even hoping to get promoted. One of the most important things you can do when considering how to get a promotion, or how to ask for a pay raise, is to make a case to your boss about why you should be promoted.

woman showing a presentation at work

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This could include making a virtual presentation or preparing a brief speech. Either way, you should be prepared to give specific numbers, explaining what exactly you have contributed to the company during your tenure. Explain why you want to get a promotion and what you wish to accomplish within the company going forward. And don't forget to mention all the extra little things you do—have you spent extra time training a co-worker who doesn't quite get the new software? Or are you the one who always keeps team spreadsheets up to date?

By the end, your supervisor should fully understand what an asset you are to the company, and be prepared to explain the process of earning a promotion. Even if your boss explains that a promotion isn't on the cards in the immediate future, she or he can hopefully explain to you what you need to do to get there within a reasonable time frame. Take it one day at a time. You’ve got this!

Mistakes to avoid if you're after a promotion

According to the experts, while there are many ways to try and achieve a step-up in your career, there are also plenty of things to avoid doing, too:

  • Don’t come down with 'tiara syndrome'—there’s a fine line between shouting too often and loudly about all of your achievements… and saying nothing at all. Bright Sky’s Fay Wallis says that a common issue many fall into is 'tiara syndrome.' “We hope that by working really hard, someone will notice and place a metaphorical tiara on our head to reward us. Unfortunately that isn’t how the world of work operates most of the time,” she explains. Don't be afraid to schedule in regular catch-ups with your boss—don't presume they know and see what you are doing without your guidance. 
  • Don’t just show up—according to Stapleton, simply doing your day job isn’t going to get you promoted in this day and age. You need to show your bosses that you’re adding extra value, and prove you can do a job that's a step up. “Suggest new ways of working or new projects to be implemented to help solve a problem the team or business are struggling with. Show your initiative and willingness to contribute that little bit extra to the business,” she explains.
  • Be sure to read the room—Jenny Garrett advises workers to be sensitive about timing when broaching the idea of a promotion. If your company is having financial struggles and laying people off, this might not be the best time to push for a promotion. It's also worth avoiding these kind of conversations in particularly busy times, as your manager likely won't have the bandwidth to properly address it. She recommends parking the idea and scheduling in a date to revisit it in a few months’ time—by no means should you forget your goal!
  • Be prepared at all times—in the same vein, you never know when your boss might call you in for a conversation about that promotion, so keep regular tabs on your key achievements throughout the year, Garrett says. You don't want to be caught in a conversation if you haven't properly considered your contributions for a few months, as you won't be able to sell yourself as well as you otherwise would. 
Jennifer Barton Packer

Jennifer Barton is a freelance writer who swapped New York City for London. She writes on a range of topics, from trends to tech, fitness to finance, for publications including British Vogue, WIRED, Stylist, Grazia, InStyle, The Telegraph, Romper, StyleCaster and more.