You’ve been in the same executive-level position for the past five years. You’ve seen colleagues at your same level get promoted at your company and elsewhere, but every time you’ve applied for a promotion, you’ve been passed up.
You might wonder, “why can’t I get ahead in my career?” Though you were effective enough to land yourself an executive position, your career has now stalled for reasons you can’t quite identify.
What could be going on? In this article, we’ll talk about common reasons why promising executive careers can get stuck in the mud and how you can overcome the career stagnation.
You lack a “brand halo.”
According to Hult International Business School, most successful professionals have a “brand halo,” defined as a particular area of interest or expertise.
“Think about what drives you personally and professionally. Maybe it’s a passion for new technology. Or maybe it’s a love for nature or an interest in sustainability. These are your personal brand values,” they write.
The more colleagues who know about your brand values, the more likely you are to have a “brand halo,” where you’re recognized for your passion for a particular area. If you’re more of a generalist, then you may be losing out on promotions that require specific expertise.
Your ideas are threatening or irrelevant.
Company culture and modernity play significant roles in career stagnation. Perhaps you’re not being promoted because you’re too confrontational, or you have ideas that make senior leadership nervous. If you’re a forward thinker stuck at a conventional company, you may never be considered for promotion by leaders who don’t want to be pushed.
Alternatively, you may have a particular niche or interest that won your executive-level role in the first place. But then, you started resting on your laurels while the rest of the industry moved on. If you’ve let your area of expertise languish, you may discover that you’re not current enough for promotion.
Someone else is already doing your job.
If you have a brand halo or are known for particular expertise, then there might not be any place for you in your company’s senior leadership. Specifically, someone else might already have the one and only position in your focus area – and they may not be leaving the company anytime soon!
So, if you’re at a small company, you may not be getting promoted because someone else already has the job you would be most qualified for.
Leadership doesn’t know you’re dissatisfied in your current role.
How often do you tell senior leadership that you’re looking to advance? If you’re not clear with your boss that you’re hoping to move up, they may have no idea that you’re seeking a promotion internally or externally. There are lots of reasons someone may be satisfied with their executive-level career, and if you’re not articulating your professional desires, they may think that you’re one of them!
You haven’t duplicated your skills – meaning your promotion might be too big of a loss.
If you’re exceptional in your position, you might believe that senior leadership would be hungry to promote you. Unfortunately, this isn’t always true. Sometimes, you’re the only person in the company who can do your current job, making leadership hesitant to promote you.
That’s why it pays to train someone to succeed you. If you train one or two people to do your job, you’re not making yourself obsolete; you’re making yourself available for promotion.
You’ve been pushing yourself into advancement without evaluating what you really want.
If you’re successful in a job path that has suddenly stalled, you’re tempted to keep trying what used to work – but is now failing. But perhaps what’s really halting your advancement is your waning interest in your field or role.
For instance, career coach Caroline Ceniza-Levine shares an example of a client who was doing an excellent job – at the wrong job.
“I worked with a client who was a beloved manager in his professional services firm but who got passed up for a partner role. He needed to do more selling and more thought leadership. Yet, he was still very hands-on with his clients’ day-to-day needs. If you’re great at doing a job that is not the focus of what you should be doing, then you will stall in that role,” she writes.
How to overcome career stagnation?
It can be extremely frustrating when you’ve been in the same position for a long time and can’t seem to get ahead. But key here is breaking your routine.
Rather than wondering, “Why can’t I get ahead in my career?” it’s time to figure out what you’re missing. Are you too demanding, or are your ideas outdated? Are you setting yourself up as someone with particular expertise?
Or perhaps the problem lies in the pursuit of your current or next opportunity. Does this role let you live your values? If not, you may have to look for a different role or field. If it does, it may be time to branch outside of your company, especially if you realize you’ll never advance where you’re at.
When you’re stuck, it can feel like you’re never going to overcome your career stagnation. But with some authentic self- and organizational evaluation, you’ll be in a much better position to take a step forward in your career.