Few things are guaranteed to make employees feel more disheartened and demoralised than not getting a prized promotion, especially if it happens time and time again and/or if an employee feels that he has given years of faithful service with nothing in return.

However, many employees fail to make it to that next step of the ladder either because they don’t understand that promotion isn’t a right that comes automatically with long service, or because they fall into the trap of thinking that doing an exceptional job in their current role is enough.

Whichever is the case, these people are doomed to remain where they are, simply because they are neither prepared to fill their boss’ shoes nor to demonstrate their ability to do so.

Most job seekers wouldn’t dream of applying for an external job without understanding what the role entailed, but many of those who apply for internal promotions don’t actually have much of a clue as to what the job involves, let alone what skills and qualifications are necessary to fulfil the role successfully. 

Consider the difference between the duties and responsibilities of an operational worker and his or her supervisor, for example. While the former might require a range of technical skills, it might rely little on communication or “people” skills.

The latter, on the other hand, not only requires at least some understanding of the technical side of things, but it might also call for management, leadership and reporting skills, not to mention excellent planning, organisational and communications skills, an understanding of quality, risk management and customer issues and the ability to think strategically.

Clearly then, no matter how well the operational worker does his current job, in no way will this make him prepared to fill his manager’s shoes.

Get a clear picture

So, what can employees do to ensure that they know what to expect from the next level up and what can they do to prepare for it?

The first thing to remember is that it’s never a good idea to just assume that you know what your manager does. Instead, either use your powers of observation to assess how his time is spent and the kinds of things that he is involved in, or ask him at an appropriate opportunity, such as during your own regular appraisal meetings.

Once you have a clearer idea of what the job at the next level up entails, you then need to consider whether you currently have the necessary skills and qualifications to fill the role.

If not, then before you apply for the position, you need to acquire the skills required. If formal training is required, then your company may be able to support you in a course of study, both in a financial sense by subsidising course costs and by granting study leave.

If the skills that you are missing are ones that could be obtained on the job, then you have several options:

* You could ask your manager if you can provide assistance in carrying out certain of his tasks as a means of contributing to your personal development. 

* You could volunteer for any projects or assignments that come up in your department that would allow you to acquire the relevant skills.

* If opportunities within your own team or department are thin on the ground, however, another option is to ask for or to volunteer to help out with projects or assignments in other teams or departments.

Another great way to get a feel for what happens higher up the organisation, and particularly at the strategic level, is through meetings.

If you want to get an invitation to attend these meetings, you will have to justify your attendance by demonstrating that you have something valuable to contribute. 

Start by finding out which meetings your manager is scheduled to attend and get a copy of the agenda. Then, offer to assist your manager in preparing for the meeting and in presenting your findings.

Doing a first-class job in your current role is, of course, important if you want to try for a promotion, because it helps to build your professional reputation and demonstrate your commitment and sound work ethic.

But it isn’t enough to demonstrate your readiness to take on a higher-level role. For that, you need to think ahead and factor in the additional work required to show that you are capable of doing the job and can hit the ground running.