The Real Secret to Scoring a Promotion That No One Tells You About

May 16, 2014 - Joe Matar
Let’s imagine a time in the not-too-distant future when your company’s executive team is considering candidates for promotion. You’re being discussed. What are those executives saying? You can be sure the conversation will include far more than a discussion of your on-the-job skills. Promotions aren’t offered based on job skills alone. Plenty of people are good at their jobs, yet never get ahead. If you want to be the person selected for advancement, you must move beyond honing your skills; you must learn to sell yourself to executives throughout your company, creating a personal brand that distinguishes you from others. (Click here to tweet this thought.) So how should you sell yourself? By creating an elevator pitch that you can deliver to these executives when you get the chance to speak with them? No. Despite popular belief, an elevator pitch is perhaps the least effective way to sell yourself. Instead, sell yourself by engaging leaders in improvised conversations that matter to them. Improvisation is key. You can’t possibly pre-script a conversation with one of your company’s senior leaders because you can’t predict what will happen when you meet with them. You need to be ready to improvise a fresh, spontaneous conversation that’ll capture the interest of this executive, based on what unfolds as the two of you speak. You may not have unfettered access to your company’s top leaders, so make the most of every small encounter. Use these tips to ditch the pitch and improvise meaningful conversations that get you noticed.

Think input before output

Each executive in your company is unique. Before telling them about yourself, listen and observe. Seek to understand who they are, what their style is and what interests them. If you’re alert and pay close attention, you’ll discover ways to interest each of these executives.

Go with the flow

Engage these executives in ongoing conversations. Be willing to adapt to the subjects and style of each executive, so your dialogue feels natural, flowing and comfortable. Don’t worry about impressing this person with your skills; first interest them in having conversations with you.

Explore and heighten

As you have conversations with one of your company’s leaders, find out what matters to them. Then, heighten the conversation by talking about what they care about. This will also increase their interest in continuing to speak with you, opening up new opportunities to build your relationship with them.

Obey the one-paragraph rule

When talking with a senior person in your company, never speak more than one-paragraph’s worth of information without leaving a break. This will give the other person a chance to speak, process information or react. And it’ll help you keep them engaged in the conversation. Don’t monologue.

Focus the conversation on the other person

No matter how much an executive begins to like you, she likes herself more. It makes more sense to talk about her than you. Here’s a rule of thumb: Focus 95 percent of the subject matter of your conversations on the executive, talking about her work, her areas of responsibility, her key projects and her interests. If you do this, you’ll inevitably find opportunities to weave relevant information about yourself into the conversation, always connecting things about you to things about her.

Focus on the relationship

Don’t think of selling yourself to your company’s leaders as a series of transactions. It’s much more about building relationships over time. By ditching the pitch and creating fresh, spontaneous and improvised conversations that matter to each executive, you’ll see these relationships grow. Let’s return to that time in the not-too-distant future when your company’s senior leaders are meeting to determine who will move up another notch up the ladder of success. Imagine you’ve successfully sold yourself as a key leader of your company’s future. Now imagine the wonderful things those leaders are saying as they try to outdo each other in praising you. You can make that happen when you sell yourself by ditching the pitch. Steve Yastrow is the author of Ditch the Pitch: The Art of Improvised Persuasion (SelectBooks; January 2014) and the founder of Yastrow and Company. Find him at and @steveyastrow.