Federal Careers

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Have you been applying for promotions and not getting picked despite the fact that you think you’re qualified? Here are some possible reasons why:

You may not have the skills you think you do. Perhaps you’re really good technically but haven’t exhibited the interpersonal or soft skills the next level requires. Or one of the technical skills needed for that promotion may not be your strength—even though you can perform that function at a basic level.


While you do everything asked—and do it well, you may not be seen as someone who takes the initiative. Do you proactively problem solve or look to management to help? Do you go above and beyond—all the time?

You may be seen as too casual or unprofessional. Do you gossip? Dress too casually? Sign off the minute you’re able? Again, you may get everything done but these other issues—or your reputation—may hurt your chances for promotion.

You’re not really known outside your work group. As you move up the ladder, people you do not interact with regularly may weigh in on promotion decisions. Do you the people above you—and do they know you?

You have communicated that it’s “your turn” to be promoted based on tenure. This never goes well; promotions need to be earned and it needs to be clear that you’re ready. Organizations need to be convinced that you can add value for them.

You haven’t communicated that you’re looking to move up. Have you spoken to your boss about your career interests? Actually applied for the job? Shown that you can “do more”?

Your organization doesn’t have higher level work. You may have simply reached as far as you can go in your organization. Are you competing with lots of high potential employees? Is your organization flailing or otherwise not doing well? Is the work you do fairly routine? Assessing whether promotion is possible in your current environment is important.

What can you do to better position yourself for promotion?


Sit down with your supervisor and share your short- and longer-term goals. Ask for feedback—and listen to what you hear. Show that you’re trying to implement suggestions.

Track your accomplishments. It is important for you to recognize and share your achievements. This does not mean being a braggart. But it does mean that you should know and communicate your achievements to your boss. You can do this during your performance discussions and in writing during your end of year evaluation.

Build and leverage your professional network. You need support to get promoted—and that support needs to come from more than your peers and subordinates. Make yourself known to leadership in a positive way. Use LinkedIn and other tools to stay in touch with colleagues outside your organization to stay current and understand how other organizations view your position.

Consider getting a coach and/or a mentor. It’s always helpful to hear another unbiassed opinion on your situation.

Remember, no one cares about your career more than you do. Take charge!

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2022 Federal Employees Handbook