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How to navigate a job promotion outside your comfort zone

A work promotion can feel uncomfortable due to expectations and uncertainty, but that's also a sign of career and personal growth. Here's how to navigate your new promotion process.

If your company's leadership taps you for a promotion, clearly they're confident that you're the right person for the job. And just as obviously, if you accepted that promotion you believe you can deliver, too.

Still, taking on a new position is likely outside of your comfort zone, which can lead to uncertainty and possibly feelings of inadequacy. Fortunately, there's a lot of things you can do to make the promotion transition easier.

Feeling discomfort? That's natural with a promotion

Any promotion should feel a bit uncomfortable, according to Carlos Garcia Jurado Suarez, a tech career coach and software engineer based in Redmond, Wash. He has held positions at several big tech companies as well as startups, with a current focus on machine learning research, and has been both an individual contributor and a manager.

If a developer feels discomfort when transitioning into a promotion, that's a positive sign of growth, he said.

"To get promoted [means] you're getting recognized for something you're already doing or know how to do," Garcia said. "But in general, I think promotions are best when you stretch a little bit."

Lay a solid foundation for a successful transition

Headshot of Flatiron Software president Kirimgeray KirimliKirimgeray Kirimli

Developers who transition into a promotion must adopt the right mindset and proactively pursue growth, said Kirimgeray Kirimli, president of Flatiron Software Co., a software development firm headquartered in Miami. He encourages those newly promoted to take the following actions:

  • Accept challenges as opportunities for advancement, both personally and professionally.
  • Establish a clear set of objectives for this new role.
  • Participate in continuous learning.
  • Take advantage of any coaching or mentoring opportunities that are available.

Also, be ready to ask others for help. Feedback from colleagues and superiors is another chance for skills development, he said.

Reflect on past achievements to combat impostor syndrome

Headshot of tech career coach and software engineer Carlos Garcia Jurado SuarezCarlos Garcia

For many, the discomfort that accompanies a new promotion boils down to impostor syndrome: Do you really have what it takes to succeed? Again, this is a sign of growth, Garcia assured.

To work through impostor syndrome, a developer should examine other times throughout their careers where they weren't sure how to execute certain tasks, he said. Chances are, eventually you figured it out, got the job done, and learned from the experience. "[A promotion] is just something on a slightly bigger scale, but it's similar," he said.

Negotiate details of your promotion with management

Before you jump into a new role, clarify what it is you're getting into. When negotiating your promotion, Kirimli advises developers to discuss the following aspects of the new role:

  • Specific responsibilities.
  • Compensation.
  • Opportunities for growth.

Developers should advocate for training and development initiatives that will support their transition into the new role, which also demonstrates a commitment to continuous improvement and long-term success, Kirimli advised.

Prepare for the promotion before it's offered

Developers interested in pursuing a management track can also consider more informal technical leadership roles to develop their managerial skills, Garcia suggested. A technical leader might remain at the same level as peers, but also take on responsibilities such as the following:

  • Solve more complex problems.
  • Set technical direction.
  • Mentor fellow team members.

This provides an opportunity not only for personal growth, but also sets the tone among team members if you take on a more formalized leadership role. "People already see you as their leader, so it doesn't feel foreign to take direction from you because you've already given direction," Garcia said.

Don't cling to your old job

Those who transition into new roles with new responsibilities, particularly developers who are promoted to management, should resist the temptation to continue performing the tasks associated with their previous position. It might feel familiar and comfortable -- and in the short term, more productive -- to continue to write code and fix bugs, versus unfamiliar territory to conduct one-on-ones with team members and design career paths for them.

Nevertheless, a manager must resist this temptation and focus on the new responsibilities, Garcia said. Instead, developers who are promoted into management should appreciate the new contributions they now make to the organization.

He speaks from personal experience. In his early days as a first-time manager, he didn't feel productive because his activities weren't as cut-and-dried as the tasks he performed as an individual contributor.

"I went to a bunch of meetings, I created clarity for a couple of employees, and I gave some input to the product manager," he said. "All of the sudden the day is done, and I didn't write any code. It feels like you're not doing anything."

However, when you engage with those who report to you and require your feedback, that is an important and necessary part of the job. "It's a bit of a mistake not to realize how you're providing value," Garcia said.

Carolyn Heinze is a Paris-based freelance writer. She covers several technology and business areas, including HR software and sustainability.

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