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Not seeing a promotion? Is it a problem? Here’s what to do

October 18, 2022 - 14 min read


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How long is too long to stay in one role?

Signs you’re ready for the next level

How to ask for a promotion

I didn’t get a promotion. Should I quit?

You deserve the best

From day one of your current role, you may have taken advantage of your company’s professional development opportunities. This helped you sharpen your management and leadership skills, allowing you to take on side projects and knock them out of the park — all while continuing to excel in your main job. 

After several years of this, you may reach a plateau. You settle into a groove where very little about your job surprises you. You know what kind of challenges to expect, and overcoming them no longer excites you. 

You might reach this point sooner or later than others. But it happens eventually. And when it does, you might start hoping for a promotion. 

So how long should you wait for that milestone? Being passed over for a promotion once stings, but it gives you more time to prove yourself. You can focus on proving your dedication and ambition to your current manager.

But if you’ve received no promotion in five years or been passed over several times, you might want to re-think your strategy. Let’s look at how long you should stay in a job without a promotion.


How long is too long to stay in one role? 

The average number of years before a promotion varies depending on your company, industry, and seniority. For example, many startups and not-for-profits operate with small teams, leaving little room for advancement. You might consider job-hopping after two years to find a higher position and salary at a bigger company with more opportunities. 

But if you’re at a large company where you can steadily progress up the career ladder, you should aim for a promotion every five years. This benchmark gives you enough time to master the skills of your current role while developing those necessary for your next one.

To meet this deadline, a good rule of thumb is to start applying at the four-year mark. This gives you plenty of time to:

  • Compile your accomplishments and update your portfolio
  • Request a promotion
  • Go through the review process

Hopefully, you’ll land your promotion by the end of your fourth year.


Don’t be a job clinger

A job clinger is someone who stays in the same role for longer than expected. Here are some of the risks of staying in a job for too long:

  • You increase your chances of not getting a promotion at work. Employers will think that you’re more valuable in your current position than if you were promoted. The more time you spend there, the harder you are to replace — so there’s very little incentive for them to move you up the ladder.
  • You’re paid much less working at a single company than those who leave. People who stay at companies for longer than two years earn 50% less than those who leave for greener pastures. That’s not to say you should do the same thing, but two years is the limit of how long you should work without a pay raise.
  • You risk being overshadowed by new talent. The bright, talented recent hire may appear more ambitious and skilled than you. When this happens, your employer may overlook you for the up-and-coming star.
  • Your career development will plateau. If you love your current role, company perks, and work-life balance. Maybe you don’t feel like now’s the time to move on, it’s understandable.

    It’s called the “comfort” zone for a reason. But if you’re too complacent, eventually, your skills will stop improving, and you won’t keep up with your colleagues. You have to become comfortable with being uncomfortable to improve.

Staying where you are for personal reasons like familial obligations or development periods is one thing. Being afraid of success is another.  

If you’re a job clinger, your loyalty is commendable — but you shouldn’t prioritize your company at the expense of your own goals and career advancement. You should instead divide your loyalties equally between your organization and your personal growth. Stay true to your aspirations and make choices accordingly. 

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Signs you’re ready for the next level

When you start a new job, you’ll need at least 1–2 years to learn every facet of it. This means you know everything from who to email for help to how to efficiently organize your workflow.

But after a few years, the novelty will wear off, and you’ll notice some clear signs you’re ready for a higher level of work:

  1. You can do your current job in your sleep. After so many years in the role, you’re aware of common challenges and pitfalls and know how to deal with them. Your everyday tasks also feel really easy.
  2. You’re leaving some of your talents on the table. You have the skills to overhaul your department, but you’re confined to the limits of your job description.
  3. People come to you with questions. Most people are aware of your skills and deep knowledge about your job, so they come to you when they need information.
  4. Everyone seems to appreciate you (except for your boss). Managers from other departments notice your competency and regularly say you’re doing a great job.
  5. You feel ownership over your work. You’re personally invested in whether your department is thriving. Mistakes from others frustrate you, but you also love to see everyone on your team thrive.

If you see the above elements in yourself and your work, it shows you’re ready for new responsibilities — and that it’s time to ask for a promotion. 


How to ask for a promotion

Asking for a promotion is intimidating. In a perfect world, your work would speak for itself. And, after being around for a long amount of time, your bosses would recognize your value to the company and promote you before you ask.

But in most cases, you’ll have to speak up to catch their attention. They might not realize you’re hoping to advance at the company. You’ll have to highlight your new skill set and show that you can thrive in a higher work environment. 

Here’s how to make the ask.

1. Know what you want

Your first step is to clarify your professional goals and how a promotion will help you achieve them. The idea is to make an informed decision. The new, more senior role should not only match your current skills but also align with your career growth.

2. Understand your company’s culture toward promotion

Does your organization often promote from within, or does it prioritize external hires? Pay attention to who gets a shot at the top roles. If your company regularly brings in external employees to fill senior roles, you might want to forgo the promotion in favor of working elsewhere.

3. Research the new position

If your company values promoting from within, wait for the right opening. Then you can ask the outgoing employee for details about the role, their work experience, and any other career advice they might have. That will help you tailor your pitch to match the needs of the position.

4. Start an informal dialogue

Your manager shouldn’t be surprised you want a promotion. Talk to them about your professional development before there’s an opening available. Ask for feedback and chances to grow your skills. Then, when there’s a top position available that matches your experience, they’ll see it as a natural progression in your career.


5. Highlight your track record

Arm yourself with a list of all your victories from your current role. Include all of your positive, measurable impacts on the organization and the responsibilities you’ve taken on since starting. Preparing this information ahead of time shows that no one else’s better for the job than you.

6. Time your request strategically

There’s a good time and a bad time to ask for a promotion or salary increase. To maximize your chances, it’s better to approach your boss after she gives you a glowing performance review or when your team just had a significant win. Don’t ask after a project goes awry or someone quits unexpectedly.

7. Be confident

The higher-ups can tell whether you truly believe in yourself. As long as you’re well prepared, you can approach these discussions with confidence without being confrontational or demanding.

I didn’t get a promotion. Should I quit?

Failing to get a promotion feels personal and heartbreaking. After years of hard work and countless wins on behalf of your organization, you may become unmotivated to continue in your current role. 

Before making any decisions, take a moment to cool down. Strong emotions can lead to brash actions that hurt your career in the long run. Once you’ve leveled out, here are some options to consider:

  • Ask for feedback. Just as you would for a normal job interview, you can ask your manager why you weren’t promoted. They can offer valuable insight on where you should improve.
  • Make a professional development plan. If you have a particular skills deficit, ask your manager for projects that will help you develop in those areas. Together you can create a career plan to move you forward.
  • Hit the job market. It might be time to start job hunting. A recruiter can discretely help with your job search. Don’t tell anyone at your company that you’re looking for new opportunities. Once you have a job offer somewhere else, you can hand in your resignation letter and proceed to the next step on your career path.

You deserve the best

After years of working at an organization, it’s normal to want to stay. You know the team, made friends, and accumulated knowledge that can help you thrive with more responsibility. 

But if you don’t want to stagnate, you’ll have to convince the higher-ups to promote you. This process should begin long before a new role opens in your department. From the beginning, work with your manager to develop your skills and create a clear line of progression from your current role onward.

If you’ve received no promotion after 5 years, it might be time to re-think your future. Either you need to change your strategy to be noticed or update your LinkedIn profile and move on.

This isn’t an easy decision. But if you approach it with an open mind and clearly defined career goals, we’re confident you’ll make the best choice for yourself and your career.

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Published October 18, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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