Ed. note: I've been sitting on this post for a few weeks. Oddly, it seems appropriate to publish now given Tony Nitti's article earlier today. You let me know what you think.
Most firms promotion time occurs during the summer, but for all you audit and tax folks out there, busy season is the time to make your mark! When I worked in the Big 4, it was a three-year track to get promoted to senior associate. I was promoted in two years and received the highest rating each year (a 1 on a 1-5 scale).
I’m telling you this not to “toot my horn” but to establish my authority. What I’m about to tell you is not empty advice from a blowhard. I did it, and it worked.
The recipe to get promoted has little to do with technical expertise and everything to do with awareness and planning. It is not because I was smarter, or worked harder. I did a few simple things differently than anyone else and that led to an early promotion. This is geared towards people that want to be promoted to senior associate. However, many of the same principles apply to other levels of promotion as well.
Get In Early Every Day – Most people do not like getting up early. I live in Miami, FL and everyone strolls into the office around 9:45am. Even if those people stay until midnight, or 3am, they will never get the same respect as early birds.
I’m not quite sure why people are so impressed with early birds, but they are. If you arrive every day at 7:30am or earlier, it is nearly impossible for your senior/manager to deny your work ethic. Even if you are watching YouTube and drinking coffee (how would they know they are sleeping), it will be hard for them to give you anything other than “exceeded expectations” on your review. You clearly started every day before their alarm went off and every morning when they walk in, who was there already working? You!
I will say that this does require sacrifice. Just because you start earlier, for this plan to work you cannot leave before the rest of your team. Not fair? That is why not everyone is top rated and early promoted. You have to do something extra to stand out.
Express Your Goals – Obviously your career coach needs to know your goals, but there are some others that need to be informed as well. At one point, I asked my Partner about the possibility of being early promoted to senior associate. She said it was not likely as the regional partner was against it.
The same day I sent an email to the regional partner and asked to have a 10-minute meeting next time he was in town. He agreed, and we met a few weeks later.
When sharing your goal, it is important to have the right setting. Typically that means a one-on-one meeting behind closed doors. You do not want the whole team around; this needs to be in private. Express your intent for promotion, why you want it (not for more money), and the most important question, “what would I need to have done by the time the review board meets, for you to stand up and support my promotion?”.
DO NOT let them wiggle out of this question. Get details and execute on them. At the end of the year, they will have to promote you. You accomplished everything they said and more.
Get Feedback Once A Week (If Not Twice) – Many firms require some type of formal feedback at the end of each engagement. Regardless of what the model is, you should be receiving feedback every single week.
My rule was that I should obtain feedback from my direct supervisor (typically a senior associate or manager) twice a week. Then I would ask for feedback from the senior manager one a month, and the partner, whenever possible (often times every two to three months).
Many of you may say: “Andrew, twice a week is annoying for your direct supervisor.” No, it is not. Here are a few of the scenarios where I would approach it at least twice a week:
Note: I know I mentioned this before but all feedback meetings must be done in private. The rules that apply to you do not apply to what your supervisor would say to everyone in the conference room.
- We happen to be having lunch alone
- We’re on the way to a meeting together and alone in the elevator
- We are the only two walking to our cars
- We are the only two in the conference room
Each time I would ask a combination of the following two questions:
- Can we do an update on where I stand and go through a few of my questions?
- Is there anything I can help you with?
- How am I progressing relative to my goal of promotion?
- How am I progressing relative to the engagements goals and timelines?
- How am I doing with the client? Any feedback you have on how we can make them happier?
As you can see by the above questions, you are framing the feedback in a way that shows you care about the team, deadlines, and client. At the same time, you are getting feedback your performance. If there is anything you are doing wrong, you will have time to take bold action before it is too late.
Before we wrap up part I, I want to address my philosophy in regards to the points above. Your goal with everything you do should be: to put people in a position where they cannot say no to what you want, or they will look like a fool. You have asked what they want to you to achieve, on a periodic basis made sure you are meeting those goals, and exceeded each one. Now, they must give you what you want. While I know that was a lot to swallow, we’re just getting started. Stay tuned for part II…