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Want a Promotion? Merit May Not Matter that Much

Most 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 [3], 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 [4].) 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 [5] 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 [6])