In the latest in our Ask the Expert series, one reader asks our resident career strategist Deb Koen whether seeking a promotion need be a priority.
Question: I’m a senior research scientist in industry. I am well respected for my research contributions, but am under increasing pressure to seek opportunities for promotion — which requires vast amounts of complicated paperwork. I have always focused totally on my lab work and, when I am the team leader, on my team. The lab is where I thrive and where I most help the company. I could stay on the same track with a promotion, but I don’t want to take the time to seek one, and I have never been one to boast shamelessly about my accomplishments. Must I attend to these diversions?
Answer: It is your decision whether to act to advance your career. Self-promotion can play an integral part in that advancement, but seeking recognition for your achievements is not necessarily an unsavoury undertaking. Before you dismiss the effort required, allow me to debunk several myths about self-promotion, and to outline the benefits of advancing your career and some techniques for gaining recognition while maintaining your integrity.
Naturejobs reader’s response: “Should I bother with promotion?” Only if it doesn’t seperate you from the skills – and people – you value.
Myths of self-promotion
● Myth 1: Great work is enough. Your research takes place in a corporate setting. As such, it coexists with and is influenced by bottom-line considerations, as well as competing bids from other internal labs and departments for funding, equipment and other resources; organizational values and priorities; and relationship networks. Operating in a vacuum, with regard for little more than your lab work, may put your research, your team and your job at risk.
● Myth 2: Paperwork and presentations are diversions. In fact, these are part of your job. Informing decision-makers about your research and educating them about the value it brings to the organization is crucial to making sure that the company continues to commit resources to your work.
● Myth 3: Self-promotion is unnecessary and unbecoming. Boastful arrogance is unnecessary. Self-promotion, however, is different. You can promote your research without boasting by crafting your approach as an opportunity to raise awareness and inform the company’s leadership about your current projects and how they link to the organization’s priorities. You can discuss and interpret your process, findings, team involvement and connection to company goals without self-aggrandizement. This type of self-promotion is necessary and desirable.
Benefits of advancing your career
You can publicize your contributions and your team’s research without feeling as if you are selling out. Consider these potential benefits:
● The recognition that you gain may help to improve visibility for others on your team who are aiming for promotions. Your actions don’t affect you alone. Members of your team may benefit when you shine a spotlight on the high value of your research. Consider it part of your job responsibility to advocate for your team and to ensure that team members get the recognition and opportunities that they deserve.
● Your efforts to publicize the value of your research will enhance your credibility. Greater visibility for you personally and for your work will create or help to build on an impressive reputation. Developing trust and a solid reputation will position you to negotiate for resources more effectively and to gain access to key people more easily when you need them. A well-informed boss will also find it easier to represent and advocate for your interests.
● Getting promoted is likely to translate into extra funding. Many companies have dual career tracks, which would allow you to pursue either a research/technical path or a managerial path through your promotion. If moving up allows you to pursue your passion, financial gain becomes a factor in your decision-making — and perhaps a significant one. You could accrue a staggering loss of earnings over the course of your career as a result of staying put rather than advancing.
● Giving presentations and submitting the paperwork to company managers will create visibility. This in turn will highlight your strengths to key players in the organization. Greater awareness of your potential among senior management may lead to new and exciting projects for you. These are likely to be opportunities for which you may have been overlooked in the past as a result of management’s lack of familiarity with your strengths.
Gaining recognition, maintaining integrity
If you decide to seek a formal promotion, you can do so without compromising your beliefs or your personality, using these approaches to help you to gain recognition.
● Stick to the facts. Provide a straightforward account of your research and its relevance to the organization. Leave out the superlatives and opinions, present your contributions and allow your audience to reach its own conclusion. This approach is likely to be more compatible with your personal communication style than boasting about how good you are.
● Take advantage of your daily routine. Informal encounters that showcase the work itself can emerge naturally and help you to avoid boastfulness. Share a word or two about your work through staff meetings, routine emails, lunches and conversations in the hallway. The next time someone asks, “How’s it going?” don’t say, “Fine.” Offer a brief answer that will reinforce their understanding of your research and its value.
● Give collective credit. Acknowledge the teamwork and contributions of your colleagues. This will diminish your concern about sounding as if you are bragging. Accepting credit when it is due and passing on the praise to others involved in collaborative efforts will build trust and strengthen morale.
● Use a template. If you decide to seek advancement, there is probably a formal process, including a template provided by the company for documenting your experience and contributions. This will help you to organize your presentation and will make the process less daunting. Use details from past performance reviews for your presentation. For further advice on your presentation and the paperwork, refer to the company intranet, check with your manager and others who have encouraged you to take this step and talk to a researcher whom you respect at the next level up. If you remain stuck on how to pull together the documentation or select the best wording and format to represent your accomplishments, seek assistance from human resources or a career coach. The very act of reaching out to others in a sincere way creates positive visibility for you and fosters a greater understanding of your work.
● Shift your mindset. You should spend the bulk of your time doing exactly what you have been doing — exceptional research in the lab with your team. But don’t stop there. Withholding information can become a liability, so make sure that the people who need to know that you are doing exceptional research do know. To that end, devote two hours each week to speaking up and offering updates at meetings, conducting informal conversations to extend your network and preparing for any upcoming performance reviews — and maybe completing that template for a promotion and salary increase.
Deb Koen is a career strategist and the Nature Careers ‘Ask the Expert’ columnist. She lives in Rochester, New York.
If you have a question for Deb Koen, you can find out how to submit it here.
A full list of past ask the expert Q&As can be found here in our careers toolkit.