Prepare for promotion: how to develop a strategy for success

How can you ensure you have the best chances of success when applying for a promotion? Here are some tips from careers consultant Eleanor Hennige

Eleanor Hennige's avatar
21 Dec 2023
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University of Edinburgh

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So you’re seeking a promotion. Is it to boost your status? Do you believe that you have met the required criteria? Or is now simply your moment? Whatever the reason, you need a well-developed strategy for success.

Seek support from mentors

Try to gain tailored support from colleagues who have been through the promotion process. They can share their wisdom on putting together a good application and take you through the specifics of the process. Don’t be afraid to ask to see your colleagues’ promotion applications because they could give you great insight into what to include.

Another key source of support is your line manager, who can offer tips on what to highlight when it comes to your achievements and experience. You could also find an academic mentor – someone likely to have a different opinion on how to approach the promotion process.

Create a personal timeline

There can be lots of school-specific deadlines to meet, so discussing these early with your line manager will give you a chance to create a plan that will help you avoid missing any. Map out a timeline so that you know what needs to be done by when. Within it, aim to build in discussions with your line manager and mentors.

Well before you start completing forms it is useful to undertake a bit of benchmarking and self-assessment so that you have a clear idea of your strengths and areas for improvement.

Increase your visibility within your institution

Academics need to be seen if they want to get ahead. Does senior management know who you are? Do you sit on any important, high-profile committees? A benefit of undertaking activities outside of your day-to-day remit is that they get you noticed by your institution’s decision-makers. If you don’t think that your activities have been noticed, stay alert for opportunities that allow you to raise your profile within the department and beyond. For example, look for calls to join working groups and committees or opportunities to apply for management roles that arise. Are there any channels within the university that you can use to highlight your wider impact? Writing an article that gets promoted in your institution’s internal newsletter is another good way to get noticed.

Believe in yourself

Having a positive mental attitude can do wonders for your confidence. Being clear about your key achievements, putting together the paperwork in good time and noting that you have as good a chance as other colleagues can help with this. Equally, it’s important to be realistic. You might not achieve the desired outcome on the first attempt, but you can ask for feedback that might help you succeed the second time around.

Application tips

When thinking about writing your promotion case, refresh yourself on your university’s strategy and mission so that you can highlight any experience that aligns with that directly. Previous annual review paperwork can also feed into your application because it will enable you to highlight areas in which you have significantly improved.

Collaboration is often viewed positively on applications, so consider what you’ve worked on with colleagues. Is this an area that you need to highlight in your application? The answer to this question will depend upon your department or institution’s future goals, which is another good reason to try and stay abreast of what’s happening at the senior management level.

When it comes to your academic CV, stick to the guidance given by your institution, such as that relating to font size and format. Remember that you need to present a full picture of your achievements but you also need to be succinct, so bullet points are your friends. When it comes to how much to include, check the guidance provided by your institution – but, if in doubt, stick to experiences you’ve gained in the last five years. Don’t forget to highlight your external contributions to the academic community: for example, external examining, consultancy, board membership and committees and society membership, among others.

Preparing for promotion can be challenging, but by following the steps I’ve mentioned above, you’ll have a clear picture of the actions you’ll need to take to reach your goal. Remember to be realistic. Sometimes you will have a shorter deadline to work towards than you’d like. Nevertheless, prioritise what needs to be done and focus on submitting the best application that you can.

Eleanor Hennige is the research staff careers consultant at the Institute for Academic Development at the University of Edinburgh.

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