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6 Signs That You’re "Unpromotable" and What to Do About It

Terri Williams
Terri Williams

While the economy is improving, it’s still a competitive job market and the competition is even steeper for employees trying to get promoted. 

And you may be hindering your own chances for career advancement, by creating certain blunders that raise red flags with the higher-ups.

Dennis Theodorou, executive search expert and vice president of Operations at JMJ Phillip Executive Search, says that their companies are always looking to promote their employees.

"For the other employees that are 'unpromotable', what we have found out is that 99 out of 100 times, it is not management that is the issue, it's the employee.”

Fortunately, all of these issues are repairable, once you know what they are. Keep reading to discover seven signs that you may be "unpromotable".

1. You’re Always Late 

If you consistently arrive to work after the expected time, you should already know that you’re not promotable, so we won’t waste valuable article space discussing that issue. However, you may not understand that there are other ways of being late that can also stall your career.

For example, you may be an excellent worker, but you’re always the last person rushing into a meeting. Your assignments and projects are always late. Perhaps this is a result of having so many items on your plate that there simply isn’t enough time to complete them all. However, most people (including your supervisor) don’t drill down far enough to understand why you’re always late, they just know that you are always late, and this can make you "unpromotable". 

The only way to combat this perception is the change your work reality. For example, you may need to discuss ways to distribute the workload more equitably, or at least be given more realistic deadlines.  

2. You Do Your Job, and That’s All

While some employees are overworked, others refuse to do anything that is not in their job description. That may be your right as an employee, but if you want to be promoted, you’ll need to go the extra mile. If you’re quick to either declare or demonstrate “that’s not in my job description,” no one is going to put you in a more advanced position.  

So, do you know if you’re this type of person? You work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and you’re cleaning off your desk at 4:30 p.m. to make sure you’re out the door at 5 p.m. regardless of what’s going on. Or, you refuse to answer work-related emails or phone calls after hours. However, whether you like it or not, we’re becoming a nation of 24-hour workers. And while you may have the right to clearly delineate your work and life schedules, it won’t make you the type of employee that companies want to promote.

3. You’re Not a Critical Thinker

Closely related to just doing your job is the inability to analyze what you’re doing and why. Rod Adams, recruiting leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers, says, “Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are necessary components of workplace success.” Anyone can robotically perform a job, but Adams says companies are looking of those who can plan the best way to complete a task, analyze the effectiveness and efficiency of their actions, and reflect on ways to improve the process.

4. You Have Poor Communication Skills

Effective communication is important in any role, but it is crucial for your career advancement. In a leadership role, you must interact with subordinates, colleagues, upper-level management, clients, and the general public. When you’re representing the company submitting proposals, presenting ideas, explaining corporate changes, products, and services, etc., you must be able to communicate professionally, whether verbally or in writing.

In fact, J. Lance Reese, COO of the LIMU Company, says that communication skills play a huge role in determining career advancement. “I have never promoted anyone to a mid- or high-level management position who does not write well,” says Reese.

5. You Don’t Like the Company

If you don’t care about the company’s goals, mission statement, values, etc., don’t expect upper management to care about your career aspirations. Ditto if you complain about the company’s policies, the other employees, and your wages. If you truly believe the job or company is that bad, you should consider leaving to go work in a more compatible environment, because you’re never going to be promoted where you are.

Theodorou says that gossiping and throwing other employees under the bus is a guaranteed way to stall your career. “Others in the company never respect this type of person because they don’t embrace the culture, and rewarding someone with this type of reputation with a promotion causes a rift with the rest of the team,” explains Theodorou, who then adds, “Who wants to see someone climbing the ladder when they are full of negative energy?”

6. You’re Not Considered a Team Player

Teamwork encompasses a variety of work scenarios, and you’d be surprised what constitutes not being a team player. For example, when you refuse to do more than what’s in your job description, there’s a good chance the work gets passed on to someone else and you can bet that person doesn’t consider you a good teammate.

And if you have quirks and hang-ups about working with people from different backgrounds and cultures, that’s also going to hinder your career advancement efforts. According to Adams, smart companies encourage diversity and inclusiveness to build a rich talent pool.

“It’s important for all employees to embrace the variety of educational and cultural backgrounds of their peers; employees should be able to engage in activities that build and strengthen relationships between each other.” If you don’t want to do this, you become the weak and "unpromotable" link on the team.

It’s a competitive job market, and those who want to be promoted must go the extra mile to demonstrate that they’re team players who are concerned about the organization and its goals and success.

Image Credit: NicoElNino / Getty Images
Terri Williams
Terri Williams Member
Terri has extensive experience covering business, tech, and education topics for a variety of clients, including USA Today, Yahoo, U.S. News & World Report, Robert Half, Investopedia, Loyola University Chicago Center for Digital Ethics and Policy, HR & Talent Management, and GoodCall. Her work has also been widely published on the websites of The Houston Chronicle, The San Francisco Chronicle, Arizona Central, Global Post, and