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The 25 Best Ways to Score a Promotion

How to scale the career ladder at lightning speed.

Why is it that some people always seem to know how to get ahead at work with such ease, soaring up the corporate ladder as if guided by angels—while others languish in cubicles, unable to catch a break? Well, the answer's easy: It's a combination of crucial factors that some get and others don't.

To ensure that you're part of the former, we've compiled the ultimate 25 tenets of how to get ahead at work. So read on, take advantage of them, and rise so fast you get a nose bleed! And for more amazing career advice, check out the 40 Best Ways to Jumpstart Your Career.

Show up right

promotion women shaking hands

If this sounds basic, it's because it is. Arrive at work well-rested and looking polished. All that involves is getting your eight hours and waking up with enough time. Every interaction you have in the workplace will reflect upon you, and you can easily dial up the positivity of those interactions by ensuring that you're not offensive to the eye or the nose. This one isn't just about how to get ahead at work—it's about how to get ahead in life, too. And for some advice on what not to do at work, check out these 40 Things No One Should Ever Say at Work.

Know your strengths—and own them

Shaking hands mortgage payment

"Whatever you are," said Abraham Lincoln once, "be a good one." Like most things, he was right. Knowing your worth will give you confidence in the idea that you are a valuable asset. Internalize that knowledge, and it won't be long before people are impressed with what you bring. If you're not certain yet, experiment. And for ways to gain a more confident footing at work, check out these 20 Daily Confidence Boosters for Getting Ahead at Work.

Be selective with what you do


Yes, it's good to be a team player. But if you get sucked into a workstream that has little relevance to your career goals, get out of it stat. You're wasting your time and lengthening the time you'll need to get where you want. Always use your time in a smart and effective way. And for more advice on how to get ahead at work, make sure to avoid the 10 Morning Habits That Are Destroying Your Productivity. 

Minimize Interruptions

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According to a University of California study, an interruption costs you an average of 23 minutes before you return to the original task. In fact, researchers say, temporarily cutting yourself off from e-mail can significantly reduce stress and hone your focus. Your best bet is to walk away for a bit. Work from a café or an empty conference room. If your boss is amenable, know that Working from Home is the Holy Grail of Productivity Hacks.

Get along to get ahead

never say at work

It's good to be liked. In the workplace, being a reasonable, amiable person can mean the difference between career advancement and stagnation, even if you're kicking ass. You can only gain from building positive relationships with everyone in your workplace. Be friendly to everyone, even those who are reticent to smile back at you. Ask how a co-worker's day is going. Find some common interests, and talk about them. The more people you develop positive relationships with, the better off you'll be. And for more amazing career advice, here are 60 Ways to Buy an Extra 60 Minutes Every Day.

Make a list

make lists Smartest Men Get Ahead

Making a long list of stuff that you need to get done might seem stressful in the short term, but not having an agenda will be more costly down the line. "Having a lot to do creates a healthy sense of pressure to achieve more focus," says Don Wetmore, J.D., founder of the Productivity Institute. Wetmore suggests overplanning your day by 50 percent. "A project tends to expand with the time allocated to it," he says. "Give yourself one thing to do, and it'll take all day. But give yourself 12 things, and you'll get nine done." Bonus: Writing your to-do list at night is a Genius Productivity Hack That Will Improve Your Sleep. 

Underpromise, Overdeliver

The boss wants you to improve on your targets. But after crunching the numbers, you realize that what he's asking for is going to be a reach. The competitor in you might be quick to rally, but check your enthusiasm. A more modest target might help you in the long run.

"Manage expectations early on. That way you won't overcommit, do tons of work and still wind up with disappointing results," Seldman says. It's better to exceed modest goals than to fall short of overly aggressive ones. People are happier with unexpected good news than with predictable success, say researchers at the University of Florida.

Work at a startup, at least once

employees-at-table Smartest Men Get Ahead

Having worked at a startup will give your career a huge boost later on. Why? You can have a serious impact on the fate of a small and scrappy company, build something from the ground up and see how all the moving parts fit together as you perform several different roles at once. And for more amazing advice, here are The Best Computer Desktop Backgrounds for Maximizing Your Productivity. 

Be like the lobster

man with headache Smartest Men Get Ahead

Ever see that viral video of Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski using a lobster to demonstrate how the stress of becoming too big for its confining exoskeleton leads to it shedding that shell and growing? It can be stressful when the task before you exceeds your skills and experience, but that's how we grow.

"Anxiety is a natural emotion that lives in the gap between where we are and where we want to be," says Robert Rosen, Ph.D., founder of Healthy Companies International and author of Just Enough Anxiety: The Hidden Driver of Business Success. "We need to reframe how we look at anxiety. It's not something to run away from but something that can be used as productive energy." And for ways to beat back anxiety, here are 10 Secrets for Beating Stress in 10 Minutes. (Or Less!)

Then be like Buffett

Warren Buffett Smartest Men Get Ahead
Kent Sievers / Shutterstock

Warren Buffett says, "I just sit in my office and read all day." The Oracle of Omaha estimates that he spends 80% of his work day reading and thinking. Do as much of that as you can. You'll expand your knowledge base and devise more creative solutions. For help hoovering up more knowledge, here are The Secrets of Speed Reading. 

Find the person who is great at what you want to do

never say this at work

Chances are that someone is already doing what you want to do and crushing it. This person has knowledge to impart. Learn all you can about them, devise some questions about what you've learned, then take them out on a coffee date to figure out how they got to where you want to be. Ask them to become your mentor. This will help you deliberately practice the skills you want to learn, with someone who can give you clear feedback and can speak from their own experience.

Do Workload Triage

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Not all the tasks ahead of you require the same amount of time and effort. So what should get done first? The little things that you can swat away in short order, or some heavy lifting? "If you can complete the task in two minutes or less, do it right away," says David Allen, author of Getting Things Done.

If it's a little more time-intensive, save it until you've had a chance to get urgent assignments out of the way. All the while, throw on Spotify and create a playlist. Researchers at the University of Windsor found that people who listened to their favorite music felt more positive and did better on tasks that required creative input.

Stay positive

40 compliments

Workplace gossip can make the day go quicker, and although it's fine — perhaps even advantageous — to listen in, keep your own thoughts to yourself. Even when supervisors are seeking opinions on other workers, rein in negativity and look for positives. When you have an opportunity to speak ill of someone, ask yourself if it's true, helpful and kind. If you need a quick attitude adjustment, consult these 25 Ways to be Happier Now.

Master your area

man at standing desk Smartest Men Get Ahead

Be voracious in accumulating all the knowledge and experience you can to master what you want to do. Attend conferences, take classes, read books. Even if you don't end up being the No. 1 in your field, it gives you invaluable direction.

Make your weaknesses your super powers

richard branson promotion

Richard Branson, the British business tycoon and founder of the Virgin Group, used his own weakness — dyslexia — to create one of his greatest strengths: The art of communication and delegation. Reflect on what you've overcome. Think of it as a superpower acquired through adversity.

Give yourself plenty of opportunities to fail

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Get yourself into a position where success is not guaranteed. Although success initially feels good, having those wins in easy reach all the time won't help you grow.

Fill up your downtime

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A project has ended, and until something new starts up, you're taking long lunches and generally goofing off. That downtime is key in separating the people who get ahead from the people who get left behind. Work on a low-priority project. Volunteer for a team that could use your help and whose work interests you.

Don't compare

man relaxing in office chair Smartest Men Get Ahead

Comparing ourselves to co-workers is often a losing proposition. "People who have a problem with anxiety get lost in judging themselves," says Mel Schwartz, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in Westport, Connecticut. Schwartz says we measure to create order in our lives, but by doing so, we lose our humanity. "The critical voice is enslaving," he says. To escape, accept yourself who you are and believe in what you bring.

Fight fear

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Fear is a feeling rarely based in reality. It's a primitive sense that was useful when we had to wield a spear or climb a tree when confronted by a hungry lion. Overcome the reptilian part of your brain when making career choices. Fortune favors the bold.

Put your health first

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If you're not in good health, your 'A' game will take a massive hit. Make looking after yourself non-negotiable. Getting exercise and eating a healthy diet will improve both your energy and your appearance, things that are beneficial in any work environment. While it's a good idea to socialize with coworkers, overindulging in the booze won't do you any favors long-term.

Make time for active reflection

man relaxing Smartest Men Get Ahead

Every evening as you walk to your car or board the train, ask yourself two questions. What was the most important thing I did today? What is the most important thing I have to do tomorrow? Instituting this 10-minute meditation will help you grow every day.

Surround yourself with the right people

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It's often said that an individual is the average of the five people they spend the most time with. If there's a grain of truth to that, think about the five people you're closest with outside the workplace. Reflect on whether you're bringing elements of them into the office with you and whether those elements are positive or negative. Then think about the people who you socialize with at work. What are they telling you about where you want to be in your career?


50 compliments

Volunteering is a great opportunity to gain leadership experience or get a new perspective. You'll also be able to meet people and make friends outside of your default networks. If time is an issue, volunteer for short-term, high-return events. You can dedicate one weekend of your life and gain skills for years to come.

Be ready, be steady

man at computer Smartest Men Get Ahead

You can't turn the oven up to 450 degrees and expect a cake to bake faster. Likewise, you can't go balls-out in your career and expect near-instant results. Instead, aim for incremental progress. Find the direction you want to be going, resolve to move toward it and be patient.

Stand up for yourself

Office workplace

If you want a raise or a promotion — and you do — be clear about it. Establish the best case for why you should be considered for advancement. Then ask your supervisor directly for what you want. If you get a "no," ask what you need to do to put yourself in line for it, and do just that. If you don't stand up for yourself in the workplace, it's unlikely that anyone else will. Now start living your life to the absolute fullest by checking off these 50 Things You Must Do in Your Lifetime.

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