Moving On Up

What do you do when you’re seeking a promotion at work and you’re in a comfortable position while others are struggling? Do you leave things be (stay quiet and don’t rock the boat), or do you speak up and ask for what you’re worth?

I’m blessed to say that I’ve been employed at the same firm full-time for over a decade, fresh out of college (I was hired less than two months after graduation). I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs in that time.

Humble Beginnings

I started as a junior technical writer in a Maryland office just outside of DC at age 22. I had a Bachelor’s degree in technical communication but no telecommunications knowledge. In just one year, my mentor and manager saw to it that I was promoted to Information Developer (a mid-level technical writer).

During the time I worked in MD, the technical publications team grew from a staff of four (I was number 4, but the others were temps) to 15. The company grew too fast, and layoffs ensued. I lost count of how many layoffs I have escaped since 2000 (including some last month—it’s amazing how the work keeps piling up while the funding dies off). In the meantime, continued to perform and train new hires. My manager encouraged me to take advantage of the company’s tuition assistance program, so I earned my Master’s in two years while she worked on her Bachelor’s.  It was also during this same employment streak that I bought my first house, got married, gave birth to my daughter, and got divorced. Basically, I grew up while working here.

When I returned from maternity leave in September 2003, my manager had changed. Manager #1 still worked in an office a hundred feet away from mine, but I no longer reported to her. Manager #2 was in NJ, and flew down to meet us, but I only saw him once. This began my experience of working for people I almost never saw in person.

Working Alone

In June 2004, I separated from my husband and moved to Virginia with my daughter. I worked from a tiny office with two desks, where technicians and installers would come and go. The manager of that office arranged to allow me a key to the office, and the vacant desk. I had my equipment shipped from Maryland and pretty much worked in isolation. I endured a big transition—not only the new state of Virginia, but missing my friends and co-workers in Maryland, coping with a marital separation, and becoming a single mom

In September 2004, I received a letter from Corporate and Human Resources, stating that the office in Maryland would be closing, and my job would end.  I was being laid off—I wasn’t able to dodge the bullet by moving to Virginia (or so I thought). I started planning to move and look for work. I went to Maryland in November 2005 to train the writer from India who was taking over my work. There was a very different air in the building at that time, as everyone else was training their successors as well.

Looking for work did not take long. In January 2005, just a couple of weeks before my lay-off date, I was hired at a temporary agency in Virginia Beach. They placed me at a well-known managed healthcare company for a 3-month assignment. Two weeks after I started the job (and still employed at the other company with very little work to do), my manager held a conference call with myself and the other remaining writers in Maryland.  His news was that we would be retained after all! We all had the option of working from home now that the office was closed. Since I wasn’t losing my job, I put in my two-week notice with my temporary agency and the healthcare company—two weeks after I started.

I adjusted to working at home pretty well. But sometimes out-of-sight also means out-of-mind. You have to work harder to demonstrate your worth because you’re not seen every day like typical co-workers in the office. (If it helps, check out y 2009 presentation that gives more insights about telecommuting.)

It occurred to me in latter part of 2006 that I was doing the same level of work as my colleagues, but they were paid more and had a senior level. I started thinking about what I could do to advance my career and be noticed while still working virtually.

I volunteered for projects that came up, and was willing to assist wherever I could with my colleagues. I wanted to “meet” as many people as I could and soak up as much knowledge as I could. I started asking questions of former managers about what to do. I floated from project to project for about 2 years, being “borrowed” by different managers who did not have enough help for the workloads of their teams.

Unstable Leadership

In December 2006, my manager changed again because of a reorganization. At this time, we also completed a merger of two companies. Thankfully, this third manager was someone I already knew, so I didn’t have to take extra time to build a rapport with her. She already knew my work ethic.

In June 2007, this manager decided to move to a different division, so one of my writing colleagues became my manager. She did not know me that well, but was sweet and encouraging. However, she left the company in December 2007.

So in 2008 I was on my fifth manager—my third in 13 months. She worked with me on a project a year ago but doesn’t know me as well as other co-workers. Nevertheless, my previous manager put in a good for me, and I got the boldness to request a promotion.

Bad Timing?

I requested advice from Managers #1 and #2 about what it would take for me to get promoted. They said it would be a miracle, because of the constant layoffs going on as a result of the recent merger—even for someone like me who exceeded performance expectations. Manager #3 had told me to be on the alert to be laid off.  HR was still in the process of trying to consolidate job descriptions between the two merged companies, comparing the two former company’s pre-merger job descriptions to come up with a leveling that will make jobs equal, so they also thought promotion was unlikely. But in April 2008, I became a senior technical writer, just like my colleagues. It felt great to be validated and see my perseverance pay off.

What to Do

My advice to those of you who know your worth and want others to recognize them to receive a promotion are:

  • Keep the end in mind, and stay focused on your current responsibilities. Don’t let the quality of your work suffer and show your worth.
  • Participate in projects that stretch you and showcase your skills, especially in a new capacity. Demonstrate that you can do the work required of the position you seek.
  • Seek advice from knowledgeable sources in your company about how to be promoted, and request a recommendation, if applicable.

Promotion comes from above. Sometimes we don’t want to brag about ourselves and seem too proud, but we also should not shrink in a corner. In the Bible, the Pharisees often balked at Jesus’ boldness when he declared who He was, Who sent Him, and what He was put on earth to do. Jesus never shied away from them because of it—he just carried out His mission. That said, if we’re secure in ourselves, if we know our purpose and where God has placed us, and we have the right heart and attitude, it is more than OK to tell others about your capabilities and ask for compensation that you feel you deserve.

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2 thoughts on “Moving On Up

  1. great story and sound advice. upon completion of high school, i had no idea what i wanted to do. i received a full academic scholarship from a HBCU here in mississippi but never utilized it. i’m sure my mother and friends thought i was a complete failure.

    gifted/talented student. honor graduate. full college scholarship. and there i was working in a warehouse as a shipping/receiving clerk. ah, the crazy things love makes you do.

    nursing came along and saved my life. it’s ironic that i work in a field now saving lives…when the opportunity to become a registered nurse truly is what saved mine.

    never have had to experience fear or apprehension about layoffs. the nursing shortage is insurance that i will always have a job if i want one.

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