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posted: 3/23/2014 6:49 AM

Work Advice: If a dangled promotion goes nowhere

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Q: During my midyear review, my boss asked, "So, do you want a promotion?" I said yes. He told me I had been doing a good job and he'd love to get me a raise, but added: "I just don't even know what's possible. I'll see what I can do." He said he would talk to HR to see what the necessary steps were. I checked in with him over the next few months, and he reported back that the promotion would be something to discuss at my year-end review. I just had my year-end review -- no promotion.

He put it like this: Because I gave you an average review, I don't think now is the time to recommend you for promotion. Let's reassess in a few months.

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I wanted to lash out, but I calmly said OK. This is still bothering me. Why did my boss dangle a promotion in my face if he's not willing to go to bat for me? Is it possible that he doesn't think I deserve one? Should I just assume there is no room for me to move up in this company?

Karla: "Because I gave you an average review" _

*Trip* *Splat* Oh, look, a clue.

If your boss wants to promote you, why the "average" review?

Maybe HR told your boss that finances or politics make promotions impossible right now. Or there are unforeseen hoops to jump through. Or he wrote you a check the company won't honor. Or he was hoping to see more effort from you and is now having second thoughts -- hence the average review.

Unfortunately, he seems to have the communication skills of an agoraphobic bivalve, so it's on you to pry some clues out of him. Tell him you've been thinking about your career, and you're ready for new challenges (i.e., not just more money). Ask what improvements you can make to propel your reviews from "meh" to "Sha-zayum!" Ask him, point-blank: "What steps can I take to show I'm ready for the next stage?"

Then listen, with hackles down. (Make sure that "lash out" urge isn't showing on your face.) See if the obstacles to promotion are ones you have the power to remove. The boss doesn't necessarily owe you a promotion, but he can at least be honest with you about whether getting promoted is even feasible. If it's not, or if you get the impression he's dangling a tin carrot, it might be time to start making inquiries outside the company.

• Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office. You can find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork.

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