By John Tabita

14 Simple Rules to Getting That Promotion

By John Tabita

I primarily write about being a better freelancer and finding higher-paying clients. But the other side of the business fence is how to become more valuable to the company you work for and gaining advancement and recognition in a full-time employment gig.

As someone who’s trained, managed, and supervised others for a number of years, let me assure you that getting promoted doesn’t necessarily require outstanding abilities. All that’s really required is that you do a better job than the next guy. And, sadly, that’s becoming easier and easier as each new generation enters the workforce. As the bar plunges ever downward, I promise you that, by following these 14 Simple Rules, you’ll stand head-and-shoulders above the average worker the next cubicle over.

The events depicted in this article are entirely fictitious. Any similarity to persons living or dead (or previously employed by me) is merely coincidental.

1- Show up on Time

Even better, arrive early.

2- Take 15-Minute Breaks

Not thirty. Not seventeen. Fifteen.

3- Stay off Facebook

Do you really think I didn’t briefly see Facebook on your screen before you clicked away to another tab as you heard me approach?

4- Put Your Cell Phone Away

When I walk to your desk at 10 AM and again at 2 PM, and both times I “just happened“ to catch you texting, do you suppose I know that those weren’t the only two times you were on your phone today?

5- Treat Co-workers with Respect

There are certain names you should never call a co-worker, no matter how badly you’d like to. I’m pretty sure you don’t need me to list them.

6- Dress Better

I’m not talking about wearing a three-piece suit in a causal work environment. But showing up in a stained hoodie and torn jeans, looking like you just crawled out of bed does not impress me. And don’t ever wear your pajamas to work.

7- Keep a Tidy Workspace

Strategically placed paperwork shows me you’re busy; but complete and utter chaos doesn’t inspire my confidence, and the two-day old pizza crust grosses me out.


8- Bring a Notepad and Pen to Meetings

I don’t recall “photographic memory” being on your resume. So if I don’t see you writing down my instructions, I’m going to wonder how well you’ll carry them out. Or maybe you thought what I had to say wasn’t important.

9- Step up to the Plate

There may be times when I throw something at you with little planning or foresight. I may just need you to figure out how to get it done. So don’t make excuses or procrastinate if you can’t figure it out. Ask for help; that’s what I’m here for.

10- Leave Your Drama at Home

Sharing bits of your personal life goes a long way towards building relationships with co-workers. I’ve even been know to share light-hearted struggles (like getting my brainiac kids to actually turn in their homework and get better grades). But exercise caution when sharing the teenage pregnancies, extra-marital indiscretions, divorces, and other dramas of life, should they occur.

11- Be Low Maintenance

If I’m always wondering why you aren’t at your desk, how long of a break you took, or when you’ll finally get that assignment finished, you are a high-maintenance employee. I have more important things to do than keeping track of you all day.

12- Shore Up My Weakness

If you can relieve me of something I hate to do, or I’m not so good at, you’ve made yourself an invaluable asset.

13- Don’t Ever Say (or Think) “It’s not My Job”

I promise never to ask that you climb onto the roof and patch the leak above my desk. But I may assign you additional responsibilities. Your willingness to take on those responsibilities—and even go the extra mile—means I won’t be looking your direction if my boss ever tells me we’re cutting back and needs to know who we should lay off.

14- Make Me Look Good

I once had a boss who thanked me for helping him get a promotion. Running my department smoothly reflected well on him. How do you suppose he repaid me? By helping me get promoted.

Remember, I have a boss of my own. Your poor work habits make me look bad in the eyes of my superiors. Make me look good, and when my boss asks me what kind of job you’re doing, I promise to make you look good as well.

Hard skills like HTML, CSS or PHP may get you hired, but it’s the soft skills that get you ahead, both in your career and in life.

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  • Great tips. Staying off facebook may be hard though.

  • Toby

    Most of these items are pretty sensible. One I take issue with is the dubiously vague mention of “additional responsibilities” attached to item 13 – Don’t Ever Say (or Think) “It’s not My Job”. Being asked to do other peoples work without being compensated for it is the earmark of a bad boss/bad employer. Do you as my manager need help with something that just got dropped in your lap and it’s just gotta be done ASAP? No problem I’ll help you get it done and I’ll do whatever it takes. Does this happen on a regular basis and you haven’t made any attempt to bring in additional support or increase my compensation so it’s inline with my expanded responsibilities? I’m already updating my CV and starting to scout around for better places.

    • I don’t disagree with what you’ve said. But being assigned additional responsibilities doesn’t automatically entitle you to increased compensation. Being asked to do other peoples work without being compensated is not always the earmark of a bad employer. It may simply be the earmark of a bad economy, one in which that employer simply can’t afford to bring on more people.

    • Alaali

      I Agree with you Toby, I was working for a company where other employees are just to lazy to finish at time. When I finish at time my manager will ask me to take the work of others and finish it also!

      I hate to say that but at the end of the year they get promoted and when I asked my manager about my reward! he asked me to show him what I did more than other members on my team!

      I resigned at that moment and I am working for myself and will not look back again.

  • Greg

    Gotta say, I’d hate to work for you. Why do you care if your (salaried) employee takes a 17 or 20 minute break? As long as she gets her work done on time and is a good employee, that extra 5 minutes is not hurting you.

    While I agree with you that you must use your soft skills to get ahead, inflicting arbitrary rules on those under you is not the way to get people to want to do those things for you, and is not fostering a very dedicated team.

    These are adults, not children, and it’s not a minimum wage McJob. Treat your employees like the professionals they are (how many texts I send a day is no reflection on my effectiveness at my job) and not like 17-year-olds.

    • “Why do you care if your (salaried) employee takes a 17 or 20 minute break? As long as she gets her work done on time and is a good employee, that extra 5 minutes is not hurting you.

      I agree. I’m very lenient with the ones who get the job done. But when that (non-salaried) employee takes an extra 5 minute break and I also catch them on Facebook, and I find them texting, and their work is piling up , I start to have issues.

      “These are adults, not children..”.

      And I expect them to act like adults and be able to work without constant supervision. But I also tell them I’ll allow them just enough rope to hang themselves. So when they start acting like children, they can expect to be treated like children.

      “how many texts I send a day is no reflection on my effectiveness at my job”

      Um… yes it is. Ask your boss; I’m pretty sure he feels the same way.

  • Lucy

    I agree with a lot of this, but maybe if your staff got to take lunch breaks longer than fifteen minutes, they wouldn’t feel the need to deal with personal business like texting when they were at their desk.
    Fifteen minutes is barely enough time to assemble a sandwich and shove it down, let alone take a walk or make a phone call.

    • They get a hour for lunch. The 15-minute breaks are coffee breaks, and they get two of those, plenty of time to deal with personal business.

      • Lucy

        Number 2 makes a lot more sense now. That’s more generous than at my own work.

  • I found the people that got the promotions to generally be suck-ups. They weren’t the best cadidate but were liked by the seniors or had some influence to them getting that promotion.

    In my last corporate job their head web designer has no experience with HTML a year prior to the placement, but miracolously they got that job promotion due to their influence.

  • Richard Miller

    Agree with most points apart from 2 – I’m in UK where it’s normal and not frowned upon to take an hour lunch break – Who cares if you get the work done? and 13 in part – I am a designer and if my boss asked me to look into database security or whatever I would say that’s not what I do, but I could perhaps do some quick research on it. I think it’s also up to the employer to know the employees skills and not allocate them something they can’t do.

  • jim

    Work for yourself, screw the boss =), because its always nice to tell the client to pound sand. Good little boys and girls work for the man and generally get paid crap to begin with, because after all, they are an expense on the books.

    • Not everyone want to be self-employed, so it’s rather condescending to refer this way to hard-working employees who do an honest day’s work.

      I have a relative who worked as a lineman for Edison. I was shocked to find out that he made $100K a year “working for the man.” So both your statements are stereotyping generalizations.

  • Jim Milner

    Number 13 made me laugh. Before I retrained and got into IT at a very small rural hospital, I spent 17 years working as a roofer. When one of the office buildings needed a new roof, guess who got the honor? When it snows hard, I also sometimes assist maintenance in plowing and shoveling. Our hospital can’t afford much, and many of us wear multiple hats. For me, the variety makes the job more interesting. And – like you said – when budget cuts hit, my versatility definitely helped me keep my job.

  • Phil T Tipp

    Oh dear. I take it this article was aimed at extremely junior cube drones who haven’t the age nor experience nor confidence to have developed personality, maturity and personal work discipline. All of this guff is irrelevant – simply remember rule number one – Don’t be a dick. That applies to every situation in life. John, you’d get laughed out of our studio for sounding like an uptight anal-retentive Yank, and probably be told to take your 19th century factory rules with you.

    • So I take it that at your studio, you’re allowed to surf the web, text to your heart’s content, and take as long of a break as you’d like? What part of “while you’re at work and we’re paying you, we expect you to be working” is so uptight, anal-retentive, and 19th century?

      This article wasn’t aimed at “junior cube drones.” It was aimed at anyone who wants to excel at their job and what not to do.

      • I’ve never had a professional job where I was told how many breaks I can have, and how long they can be. Nor would I accept that.

        I agree with the general sentiment — be professional, respectful, task focussed — but the individual rules you’re making here are not something a professional expects to be bound by. How I dress, whether I do a bit of personal surfing here and there, is utterly irrelevant — judge by results, and nothing else.

  • Trevor

    Well, at least now I know not to ever apply for a job at SitePoint under you should one come up. Thanks for the heads up.

    • No worries there, Trevor. I’m over 15,000 miles from SitePoint. I’m sure they’d let you get on Facebook all day long, if you worked for them.

      • Trevor

        Apologies to SitePoint. My mistake. My original post should have read:

        “Well, at least now I know not to ever apply for a job at your company under you should one come up. Thanks for the heads up.”

        I am curious, though, about what prompted you to write this “article” in the first place.

        Was it the actions of a current or previous employee? If so I would be careful that your article doesn’t wander into the territory of bullying if the things you describe reflect actual events. The presence of your disclaimer suggests that this might be the case.

      • Frankly, Trevor, given some of your comments that I’m not going to publish, don’t bother applying for a job at SitePoint, either.

  • John Sheehan

    I think all of the above make perfect sense.

    Remember there is always someone watching you and even when there isn’t (rare), work like there is.

    It also helps to occasionally put yourself in the ‘if this was my company’ position, would I be happy with my own performance.

  • Some of these are really good. But others… yeah… workflow is different for everyone. My boss and I joke about our messy desks and how clean his boss’s desk is. We think in this workflow and attempt to change that makes us waaaaay less functional. I’ve supervised and there are things I tell my subordinates: “Don’t care if you’re on Facebook, texting, taking 28 minutes breaks, etc. so long as your work is done on time to my expectations.” My boss figured out in the first year that I will get 8-hours worth of work done in 6 and dink around the last two. Any attempt to change me resulted in disruption to the quality in my work. I’m an intensely focused person during those 6 hours (even while looking at Facebook, texting, and taking 28 minute breaks). As for texting… there’s a funny story… my boss came into my office from a meeting one day and tried to call me out on texting. I showed him the message from HIS son who was trying to figure out why he couldn’t get a hold of his dad. You never know. So chill out. Life is different for everybody. It’s all about the situation. All the above would be thrown out the window if I was at a sales counter. But I’m not. I’m a desk jockey with my own office. I treat my co-workers with respect, even the ones who torque my wrench so to speak. I make my boss look good. He is happy and I am happy. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • bee

    I agree with every one of your points, John. And, I’m SO surprised at the animosity out there for rules in general. If you’ve been told that the break is 15, then it’s 15. These are not rules meant to quash creativity or beat up your fragile self-esteem. With all the whining about unemployment, these people saunter in, dress like slobs, text their girlfriends all day, play on FB, deceive the boss and expect a promotion within a week. Go back and live in Mom’s basement!
    I’m even more surprised that only one comment (Jim Milner, the roofer) touched on the pure, unadulterated satisfaction of doing a job (all jobs!!) well! Not for the boss. Not for a promotion. Just doing it. Get over yourselves.

    • Bee,

      I appreciate your comments. I must admit, I was also taken aback by some of the comments, especially “I wouldn’t want to work for you.” If they only knew. I’m probably one of the most laid-back, lenient bosses around. (My own boss has even told me he thinks I should be tougher on the people I oversee.) I’ve had people ask to get transferred to my department so they could work for me, and gotten angry when they were transferred out. I’ve had three ex-employees recently ask to get hired back. Two people once said that, if I ever started my own business again, could they come work for me. Clearly, I’m an over-demanding, ogre of a boss, aren’t I?

  • gita

    A lot of the comments here just made me laugh! I am a designer and an employer. I expect my employees to behave professionally at all times. And yes I do care that you meet your targets and finish the job given to you in the specific time frame and in an excellent manner too!

    I don’t care if you take 30 minutes of lunch or one hour – deadlines are to be met as we work in a real world dealing with businesses. So welcome to the real world and step up like John says. With such high unemployment all over the world I am amazed at some of the comments here!

    I must be very lucky to have excellent employees who stick to deadlines and deliver on time even if they have to pull an all nighter! (and yes I take care of them very generously by the way)

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