Career Tips

Young Alumni Job Search, Part VII: How Do I Get Promoted?

By Lisa Parker

“I need help finding a new job. I’ve been here for a while and still haven’t been promoted!”

I know why the Career Services team gets calls like this. From the day we enter kindergarten until the day we graduate college, the passing of a year typically results in a change of status. We move up a level. We have something new and more meaningful to call ourselves. The activities we are involved with grow in complexity.

What happens when we enter the working world? This predictable progression often slows down significantly. All of a sudden working hard at something for a year no longer means we are automatically going to be rewarded with a new title. In fact, working hard at something and taking on new responsibilities for several years may not guarantee it either.

This change of pace isn’t because businesses are clueless or poorly run, but because the focus of the working world isn’t exclusively about what the individual learns anymore. Developing the skills and expanding the experiences of the workforce does matter, but it’s a chunk of pixels in a much larger picture. Mixed into the equation is the need to work towards a common goal in a way that makes use of those new on the scene and those who have come before. Never mind how chaotic it would be if staff was constantly in transition. Keep in mind, in school the goals were crafted in annual terms. Companies have goals the span months, years and decades.

Since employee advancement can’t be an employer’s primary focus, does that mean employees are destined to be outdated? No! The most important lessons to learn early on in your professional life are to take ownership of your development and to understand growth comes from more than job titles and daily work tasks.  Too many professionals who relied exclusively on their employers’ plans for their development over the past decade found themselves well behind the pack in the economic downturn. Most employers can/will only expose employees to skills and experiences relevant to current needs. That means it’s up to individuals to identify where growth is needed and how to achieve it.

What is a motivated person who craves growth to do? Here are a few places to start:

  • Identify leaders in your field, or fields of interest, and pay attention to what technology, professional organizations, management philosophy and personal skills they appear to be aligned with or developing.
  • Read industry and profession specific publications, taking care to note trends and content you aren’t familiar with. Commit time monthly to learning new skills & concepts you identified from what you read and from the people you spoke with.
  • Expand your networking circle and further develop skills and knowledge you have already by taking on extra responsibilities, attending workshops & lectures, volunteering in the community and collaborating with Spartan alumni whenever possible.

In a nutshell, drive your personal and professional development according to your own timeline. At the end of the day, title changes aren’t indicative of growth. The ability to regularly show off new features relevant to current and future employers is the name of the game.


Lisa joined the Michigan State University Alumni Association as Director of Alumni Career & Business Services on May 1, 2012. Her primary focus is to develop effective networking and resource channels for experienced alumni interested in professional development and job search strategy assistance. Additionally, Lisa works directly with corporate, education, foundation and government partners seeking to attract qualified talent, retain and develop good employees, and establish collaborative relationships in line with their established goals and objectives.

With 15+ years’ experience in third party recruiting, Lisa offers a balanced understanding of both employee and employer perspectives.

Lisa is a firm advocate of the networking process and considers it a vital element in a successful job search. In addition to helping job seekers develop and best utilize networking contacts, Lisa shares her knowledge and insigh-gained aiding corporate recruiting efforts-to give Spartan job seekers an edge in terms of lead sourcing, resume presentation and interview strategy.

Among Lisa’s notable accomplishments: Prima Civitas Foundation Scholar; Michigan Works Association Volunteer of the Year; Pink Slip Mid Michigan Planning Committee; career content blogger.


1 comment

  1. Emily White 22 June, 2012 at 08:26

    Great post and point, Lisa! Growth comes from within and certainly isn’t marked by a title/status update. I really like your suggestions. Learn a new skill, create a side project, etc.

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