Three Reasons You’re Not Getting Promoted at Work (for International Pros)

You might think you haven’t been promoted because you don’t work hard enough. Believe me, it’s not that. International professionals typically work very hard. So sit tight while I explain why your career in the US might not be moving forward.

Navigating the path to promotion can be challenging, especially for international pros in the U.S. workplace. The culture and the expectations here are very different, and hence, so are the ground rules. You have to present yourself very differently than you would have back home. Often, it’s not your technical skills or educational background holding you back in the US, but rather how you interact, promote, and make yourself visible within the organization. Or rather, how you fail to do these things.

Here are three key reasons why you might not be getting promoted and what you can do about it.

1. Lack of Participation in Meetings

This is a big one especially for young international professionals, but it affects nearly everyone from time to time. You’re simply not contributing enough in meetings. You might believe that you’re supposed to sit quietly and listen to your seniors. Of course, there is a place for active listening, but when it comes to getting recognized, you need to do active speaking as well. So ask yourself, how much are you speaking up in meetings? If the answer is “not much,” your valuable insights may be going unheard.

“Ah,” you might answer,” I have no valuable insights. It’s better that I don’t say anything and let people believe I’m a fool instead of confirming it by talking.” I hear this perspective a lot. But it’s totally wrong. If you were a fool or an idiot, they wouldn’t have hired you. So the culprit here is your mindset. You probably have some beliefs about the work environment and your relationship to it that are just false. Such common beliefs often include:

  • My Ideas Are Flawed or Incomplete: Many international professionals hesitate to speak up because they doubt the validity of their ideas. Remember, no idea is perfect from the start, and sharing even a partially formed idea can spark valuable discussions. I discussed this in another recent blog. Pt #6 here.
  • No One Is Interested in What I Think: You might assume your contributions aren’t valued. However, your unique perspective will provide fresh insights that others might not have considered. They didn’t just hire you for your technical skills. They’re building a product or service and they need new ideas in order to innovate. In the US, ideas come from all levels of the organization, even from the newbies.
  • Waiting to Be Called On: Proactively sharing your thoughts instead of waiting for an invitation shows confidence and initiative. It can be awkward at first, but again, it is the cultural norm here in the US, so make it a priority as soon as you can.
  • Lack of Clear and Concise Communication: Practice speaking with clarity and authority – a deliberate, calm speaking style can work wonders. You’ll also find that if you speak a little more slowly, you will feel less nervous. Work on projecting your voice and making your sentences and “paragraphs” more concise as you speak. Do not make the listeners work too hard to understand you.

2. Not Meeting Enough People Within the Company

Building relationships outside your immediate team is crucial for your professional growth. If you’re not networking, others in the company are likely not aware of your contributions and achievements. You might be waiting for your boss or supervisor to spread the word about you, but this probably not going to happen. You had to do some self-promotion to get the job; so just continue that trend once you have the role. Consider these recommendations:

  • Share Your Progress and Achievements: Regularly update colleagues and managers about your work. This not only keeps them informed but also highlights your impact.
  • Engage in Casual Networking: Attend company events and socialize with colleagues from different departments. Building a broad network can open doors to new opportunities and collaborations. You might feel uncomfortable speaking on casual topics. Many international professionals do. But the best way to get better at it is to practice. Go to a networking event for a short time – plan to speak for 2-3 minutes to a few people. Engage in some short banter and small talk. Practice makes perfect.

3. Not Taking Initiative

Volunteering to lead projects and work across teams demonstrates leadership and proactivity, qualities highly valued in the U.S. workplace. If you’re not taking initiative, you might be missing out on opportunities to showcase your skills. In some places (Japan, for example), the idea is that the nail that sticks out will get hammered down. That’s not the case here. In the US, we say that the squeaky wheel gets the oil, which means that the person who makes the most noise (and takes initiative) gets the attention. Here are some ideas on how to do this:

  • Volunteer for Projects and Presentations: Stepping up to lead projects or give presentations shows you’re willing to go beyond your usual responsibilities. It will also give you an opportunity to meet more people.
  • Work Across Teams: Collaborating on important ideas and projects across different teams can significantly enhance your visibility and influence within the company.
  • Be Proactive and Assertive: Again the U.S. work culture values individuals who take charge and assert themselves. If you don’t, someone else will, and they will likely receive the recognition and promotion.

As in every new habit, start with baby steps, expand your comfort zone, and soon enough, you’ll find yourself becoming a pro at navigating the U.S. workplace culture.

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You can have excellent technical skills and still not get the opportunities you need and deserve based on your experience.


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