For years I've been a hard worker at a U.S.-based global IT corporation where I have earned top performance reviews, but I have never received a promotion. I spend my personal time learning new tools and have become the de facto teacher and mentor for new hires on our team.
This year I applied for an position on our team that was one level up, a job I could handle easily. I was denied on the basis that I am in Canada and our budget is different. The rest of my team is based in various U.S. cities. It seems that team members not located near our U.S. headquarters are being ignored for promotion or forced to move there.
I am at one of the lowest pay levels on our team, and my colleagues, team leader and manager agree this is unfair. But they are overridden by higher levels of management. I've approached HR about my pay but nothing has changed. What should I do? I love the job but it lost a lot of flavour when this brick wall was thrown up in my face.
THE FIRST ANSWER
Executive coach, Toronto
You're staring at the brick wall and inviting others to do the same; nodding in agreement at the tragedy of this limitation, and hoping someone will build you a door. The only tragedy here is that you underestimate your power. You have top performance reviews, cutting-edge skills, support from managers and colleagues, and a bent for putting in extra effort. The power is in the options open to a high achiever like you. Faced with a brick wall, you might:
Break through it. Be the exception to the geography rule by proving yourself more than a budget item. Target someone in upper management and participate in projects that make you more visible to him or her. Fly down to HQ to chat in person about your excellent work, your desire to contribute to the company's future and to request advice about expanding your career as a Canadian contributor.
Turn your back on it. Beef up your résumé and take it on the road. Create a list of target companies and roles and, in conjunction with applying for posted positions, boldly network your way in.
Hang pictures on it. Life is about tradeoffs. If your location limits your job prospects but you're otherwise happy, you might embrace the mantra "location, location, location." Celebrate being able to make a living in a place you love.
Walk around it. Remove upper management's excuse. Move to the HQ city and make it known that you're there for one reason: to take on a more senior role.
Take the energy you spend fretting and direct it toward actively managing your career.
THE SECOND ANSWER
Human resources executive, Atlanta
You write that, in all the years you've been in your current job, you've not been promoted. While you believe you received the highest performance scores, unless you have the records, you can't be sure. You believe you are ready for a promotion, but there may be valid reasons why leadership disagrees.
You suggest you are unfairly penalized for not being in the company headquarters. The truth is that proximity influences leadership decisions. The more that leaders see an employee, get to know them and their accomplishments, the more likely that employee will be "top of mind" when opportunities arise. Being visible figuratively and literally, will always be a career challenge for remote workers. Relationships matter.
Don't waste time guessing why you didn't get the job or let a little failure stop you from achieving your goals. Keep trying! Ask the hiring manager about what you can do to improve your candidacy for the next opening. Develop a plan and put the suggestions into action. Ask your manager to identify and sponsor you for projects that provide better exposure to headquarter leadership. Network with Skype and other visual media.
Continue to work as hard as you do, to learn what you can and be patient. Apply again when there's another opportunity for promotion. Most importantly, while you are building your path to the future, take time to enjoy doing a job you love right now.
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