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9 Ways to Grow at Work Without a Promotion

Just because a promotion isn’t available doesn't mean you can’t advance your career. Here are nine ways to grow at work without a promotion.

By Mara Calvello  •   June 17, 2022  •   7 min read

In a perfect world, career growth is easy to plan out and predict.

You show up to work as your best self, you’re a top performer in your department, you’re always willing to help others. Clearly, a promotion is on the table, right?

Not always. Sometimes, career growth in the form of a promotion isn’t up for grabs, but this doesn’t mean your company doesn’t see you as valuable. It also doesn’t mean you can’t develop new skills to prove yourself to your manager or supervisor. 

Growth at work is still possible if a promotion isn’t on the table; you just have to reshape your thinking a bit.

Why is growth at work important?

Opportunities for growth at work can be incredibly important, no matter what industry you’re in. 

For starters, doing your best to grow as an individual can improve your sense of well-being as you work towards and potentially accomplish goals you’ve set out for yourself. Having this sense of happiness and accomplishment is essential for professional and personal purposes.

Additionally, feeling like you’re progressing in your career can make you feel a higher sense of job satisfaction and give you a good feeling of where you are in life. Growth at work and the new responsibilities that come with this change can make anyone feel accomplished and reassured in their career path.

The feeling you get when you experience growth in your career can also provide a boost in self-esteem and self-confidence. Seeing your hard work pay off in the form of a promotion for which you’ve been striving kicks imposter syndrome to the curb and reaffirms that you’re capable of achieving anything you work towards.

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Reasons a promotion may not be possible 

Unsure why a promotion may not be possible right now? Here are some common reasons you may have to wait for a promotion. 

  • Budget: Organizations often have a strict budget to follow, whether for the quarter, half, or the entire year. If the budget is tight or the organization is at risk of going over, promotions will likely not be offered to even the best employees.
  • Limited options for advancement: Not every department will have opportunities for advancement during performance reviews. If you’re interested in a management role or a team lead position as a promotion, that option may not be available. Specific components within a department have to be in place for certain promotions to be possible.
  • Narrowing org chart: Even if you had a stand-out performance over the last few months, sometimes a narrowing organization chart means a promotion may not be on the table. Not everyone can be promoted simultaneously or even within the same year. 
  • Feedback from management: You may think you’re ready for a promotion, but management may think otherwise. If your manager or supervisor thinks you’re not yet ready for the promotion you’d like to receive, consider creating a plan or roadmap with ways you can improve to get the promotion you’d like in a feasible timeline. 

How to grow at work without a promotion

If you’ve recently found out that you can’t get a promotion, but you’re still interested in growing at work, hope isn’t all lost! Here are nine ways you can still grow in your career without a promotion or a fancy new job title.

1Learn new skills

When a promotion isn’t possible, take the time to learn something new. These additional skills can be directly related to your current role or something that’s a little more adjacent to your responsibilities. 

Consider new skills like:

  • Learning how to code
  • Enhancing project management 
  • Improving your problem-solving skills
  • Getting better at public speaking
  • Focusing on social media
  • Learning advanced software, like Photoshop or Google Analytics

Consider what interests you the most and where you’d like to grow, and go from there!

2Grow your current skills 

There’s always room for improvement. So, consider growing the skills already within your arsenal. To do so, make the most of your one-on-one meetings with your manager or supervisor. Ask what skills you have that could use a little sharpening or improving. Work together to pinpoint which current skills you should work on and determine check-ins, benchmarks, or progress updates.

Ultimately, it’s always a good time to get better in the areas where you may be lacking and to truly become the best at certain skills at which you both agree you already excel.

3Make lateral moves

If a promotion isn’t possible, consider making a lateral move within your team or department.

A lateral move is when you move to another role on the same level with similar pay as your current position. Depending on the type of move you make, it can work to your advantage to grow your career and even grow your salary. However, always do some research on the market value of the new position—just because it’s a lateral move doesn’t mean it’s the same pay grade.

Making a lateral move in your career is an excellent way to exhibit a growth mindset, which can help your career in the long run.

4Reshape your position

When a promotion isn’t available, it’s easy to get comfortable in your current role. Instead, consider reshaping your position to be exactly what you want for yourself. This can mean taking on more responsibilities or doing more of what you want to be doing.

Maybe there’s a portion of your to-do list that you enjoy more than others, and now is the time to consider what you like most about your role and focus on doing more of those tasks. Have this conversation with your manager or supervisor and let them know you’d like more of the responsibilities you feel like you excel at the most.

5Be a mentor 

Becoming a mentor is another way you can grow in your current role. Doing so is a great way to expand your influence by taking the time to mentor others on your team. This could make you the go-to person for answering specific questions, leading brainstorming sessions, and creating new strategies within the department. Mentoring is all about gaining unique experience, making connections with others, and trying new skill sets. 

You can also choose one person on your team to mentor. The two of you can have mentor meetings regularly where you can showcase your ability to lead and teach others, which will be extremely valuable when promotions become available again. 

To get to know the person you’re mentoring, make sure to ask the right questions, like:

  • Where do you see yourself in 3-5 years?
  • What about your role are you most passionate about?
  • What skills are you interested in learning?
  • How can I help you reach your goals?

Be sure to add mentorship to your resume and leverage it when the time is right.

6Find your passion

As you grow in your current role, you may likely take on different projects, be asked to develop new strategies, or be a part of new initiatives within the organization. While it may feel like others on your team are putting more work on your plate, taking on new projects is a great way to discover new interests.

Look to these new opportunities to find what you’re most passionate about in your role. Really think about when you are your happiest and fullest self and lean into this feeling and the projects evoking it.

The same applies to what your passions are outside of work. Loving what you do outside of your role can help you professionally, too.

7Change careers 

Don’t feel like waiting around for a promotion at your current job? We don’t blame you.

Now could be the right time to take the leap and change careers altogether. If you’ve reshaped your role and discovered new passions, maybe you also realized there are not many of these opportunities for you where you currently are. 

Whether it’s a career adjacent to what you’re doing now or a complete 180-degree change, it’s never too late to make a change or find something better suited for your needs and skills.

8Ask for feedback

Another great way to grow professionally without a promotion is to have a serious conversation with your manager or supervisor where you ask for their feedback. When you ask for feedback on your performance, projects, and meetings, you show that you’re serious about finding new ways to improve and do things differently as needed. This feedback can provide you with new areas to focus on or new skills you should be working on to inspire growth.

Take this tip one step further and ask your peers for feedback, too. Your peers are often the ones who work with you directly on projects, and chances are good their insights will be different (and even more specific) than your manager’s.

9Become an ambassador 

Finally, look for ways to become an ambassador. Whether this means taking on speaking engagements, partaking in podcast interviews, and growing your personal brand or social media profiles, this can be a great time to get your face and name out there in your specific industry. 

Making yourself known and showcasing your knowledge in your field is a great way to grow personally and professionally. 

Growth is still possible!

No one likes to hear that a promotion isn’t in their cards right now. But this doesn’t mean you can’t focus on yourself and grow professionally in your role—or in a new role altogether! 

Whichever tip you decide to implement, don’t let a promotion hold you back from finding new ways to grow.

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