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Want a Promotion? Merit May Not Matter that Much

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TrophiesMost of us have grown up being told that hard work pays off in the end, and that if we want to get anywhere, merit is the way to go. Indeed, many of us have starry-eyed ideas that our careers will be based on merit. Many of us, though, get hit with the unfortunate reality that merit isn’t always enough — especially when going up against someone who knows someone.

Whether you are looking for a promotion, or applying for a new job, it may not matter how hard you have worked, or how qualified you are: You could be passed over. Here are some of the ways your hard work may not pay off in the end:

Your “Competition” Knows Someone

Sadly, I can admit that I have taken advantage of knowing someone. Just after I graduated from college, I needed a job. A baby was on the way, and my husband was trying to finish his bachelor’s degree. My “condition” was somewhat obvious, and no one would hire the pregnant lady who would take leave in a few months’ time. (One guy actually asked, in the interview, why my husband wasn’t applying for a job.) A new farm and ranch store, based in my hometown, was opening up a new location where I lived, and I happened to know the owner of the company. Do I know much about farming and ranching? No. But the owner of the company called the store manager, and suddenly my application was at the top of the pile. Sometimes, I look back on that experience and feel bad. There were surely better qualified candidates passed over because I knew someone they didn’t.

The Employer Doesn’t Want to Pay You What You’re Worth

You work hard, outperform expectations, and you expect to be rewarded. However, this might not happen. In some cases, your employer might not want to hire you because of what you would have to be paid. This happened to my husband. He worked for two years on a project as a student research assistant. He managed people, collected data and even approved grants. For two years, the muckety-mucks asked when he would be done, and told him how great his work was. Real professional quality work. When a job opened up as the study went national, just before he completed his Ph.D., they encouraged him to apply.

After going through two grueling interviews, and long applications, they hired someone without any experience on the project (or in the work that needed to be done), a lesser degree, and no supervisory experience. But they could pay the person they hired $15,000 to $20,000 less a year. My husband’s hard work had overqualified him for the job.

Someone Might Be Even More Qualified

And, of course, no matter how hard you work, you might run into someone who’s more qualified than you are. No matter how qualified you are, someone else might have worked harder, have better skills and talents, or just be a better fit. Especially now, when there is high unemployment, there are a lot of qualified people looking for jobs, which makes it more competitive. All your merit may not matter if someone has more merit than you.

(Photo: Snap)

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8 Responses to “Want a Promotion? Merit May Not Matter that Much”

  1. elloo says:

    After 30+ years of working, here’s what I think is the essence of career success…timing, luck and packaging.

    • saladdin says:

      I’ll add personality to hat list.

      Notice neither of us has mentioned job skillz.

      • Shirley says:

        Reliability tops my list, along with a willingness to learn. But maybe those could be considered a part of personality.

        • elloo says:

          I think personality is part of packaging (in addition to dressing the part, speaking articulately, etc.) Job skills are a bare minimum requirement. Just look at those who are running the corporate shows (and I do mean “shows”).

  2. Sinjin says:

    As a kid a painter I worked for told me “don’t wash the window sills, just paint of the dirt”.

    When I objected he told me his primary life lesson “appearance counts”.

    Now in my late 40s and for having resisted that idea on the basis of wnating to do a good job I concede. He was right. The ninnies that have got the job/promotion/big breaks have alwyas been those that looked best in the cheapest facade.

  3. Yarn Bomber says:

    I fought for years to get a job I thought I wanted. It took me a while to realize that I am too competent, reliable, organized and honest to work for this particular company. One time, I literally sobbed, “They’ll hire Joe Blow off the street, but they won’t hire me.” I just didn’t get it. (see also “The employer doesn’t want to pay you what you’re worth”)

    They did me a favor. I was able to cultivate a professional depth that even their long-term folk can’t touch. That depth got me my dream job. I’m also one of their clients now. That guy who wouldn’t hire me now kisses my butt: we’re one of his biggest accounts, LOL!

  4. diss_gusted says:

    I have 2 college degree (one in business, the other in computer science) and I have been laid off 3 times in the span of ten years. While co-workers with; no college education, disciplinary issues, poor work ethics, and/or lousy attendence, kept their jobs. One manager actually told me he was letting me go because I am “a smart guy, and wouldn’t have a problem finding another job”. Problem is, when you get laid off, other employers think you are a poor performer or have “issues”.

    I am sick of hearing that education is the key. Get real. Major BUTT KISSING is the way to success, and that’s part of the reason this country is losing jobs. Employees are forced, (by under achieving, do nothing managers) to play the games instead of doing their jobs. Costs go up, then jobs go overseas…

    Am I the only one who sees this???


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