Should you stay in your current role in hopes of a promotion or make a lateral, internal job change?
That question will be familiar to many people who work at medium or large companies, where promotions aren’t always tied to internal role changes. Sometimes it’s worth staying in one role and scoring a promotion there; other times, it’s valuable gaining experience in a new part of the company — even if it comes with no additional money and no immediate advancement.
That’s how things work at Google, where I run a career development program called “Own Your Career,” and it’s why this is one of the most common questions I get. There’s no right answer; this is a personal decision that only you can make, and you can never go wrong by focusing on the work that makes you happiest. But still, many factors can help guide your decision.
Here’s a guide for how to think through this career conundrum. I call it P.R.O.M.O., which stands for: Proximity, Readiness, Offer, Memory, and Overcommunicate.
Now let’s break each element down — and we’ll start each with a question to consider.
How soon might a promotion be coming? Is it highly likely to happen in two months or have you not even had the conversion with your manager? If a promo is clear and imminent, it could be worth sticking around for — so you should be realistic about your timeline.
Here’s an example. A colleague of mine in sales became interested in an open marketing role. It would have been a lateral move, but it was one that excited her. She asked me if I thought she should pursue it. When I asked how close she is to a promotion, she said she’s 95% sure that she’d be getting one in her next performance review.
The choice there seemed clear: As long as she still enjoyed her sales role, she should stay and level up at the company. Additional marketing roles would surely be available in the future, and she’d be more strongly positioned to move around after the promotion
How happy are you in your current role? Think about the last time you described your job to a friend. Were you rolling your eyes about all the internal politics, or were you enthusiastically sharing how well you presented in your last customer meeting?
Moments like that say a lot about how ready you are for a change. If you’re happy, there may be little reason to switch. But if you’re miserable in your current role, you’ll only be more miserable if you wait around for a promotion. (And if your misery is impacting your job performance, you’re unlikely to be rewarded for it!) A change might invigorate you and lead to a promotion elsewhere.
What does the new role offer you? A great manager? A new network? An opportunity to learn something completely new? How valuable are these things to you?
People are often hesitant to make a lateral move early on in their corporate careers. I understand, but remember this: Not everything in your career will be up and to the right! Some of my smartest moves in my career were sideways and zig-zaggy. They broadened my business perspective, offered me amazing bosses, and created new partnerships. If what the new role offers is appealing, it could be worth the move.
A decade from now, what are you more likely to remember — the exact date you went from analyst to senior analyst, or the interesting work you’ve been doing for years? It’s likely to be the latter. That should tell us something.
In the corporate world, people often fixate on the short term. They worry about how a lateral move might set them back a year or two — and while that might indeed feel like an eternity at the time, it’s a rounding error when you consider that the median career is at least 40 years. We need to worry less about immediate gratification, and focus more on the things that matter in the long term.
But here’s something you definitely will remember for years: It’s working a job you’re unhappy in. If your current work feels like a sacrifice, and you’re doing it just to get a promotion, then you’re likely doing yourself a disservice. You will find more satisfaction by doing work that energizes you. Optimize for work you love and a role that makes you happy. The promotions will come.
How much have you communicated your intentions to both your current boss and potential future boss? Stating your intentions goes a long way, but many people don’t do it — or they don’t do it explicitly enough. That’s a miss.
If you feel that you are ready for a promotion, let your current and future managers know. Then work together on goals, development areas, and a timeline. Managers are not wizards behind a curtain who always have the answers before you do; we need you to state your intentions, so we can partner with you.
With P.R.O.M.O., you now have a framework to help guide your decision: When you’re feeling stuck between a looming promotion and an exciting new challenge, consider your proximity, readiness, offer, memory, and overcommunication. In many cases, you might increase your satisfaction by moving to a new role that offers fresh relationships, new skills, and an expanded network — but of course, there are times when you simply might hold out for the promo.