Q. Dear Zenagos, I am 43 years old, and I think I deserve to be a VP. Other people who were hired after me have been promoted, and my boss always says I do terrific work. Why won’t they promote me to VP?
To start, the odds are against you. There just aren’t a lot of VP jobs available. Depending on the source, there are somewhere between 100,000 and 250,000 VP jobs in the US. There are 133 million people employed in the US (BLS, 2022), which means that somewhere around one-tenth of one percent of employed people hold the title of VP. That’s about one in 1,000 employees. The salaries are high, so most companies cannot afford to support many many VP roles. Bottom line: VP jobs are really competitive.
However, if you are feeling that your promotion is overdue, then there is probably some feedback that you need to hear in order to improve enough to be considered for the promotion. The jump from Director to VP is a large one. Performance that is good for a Director may be completely unacceptable for a VP. You may need to improve your skills, change your behavior, or improve your personal presentation. In order to figure out what you need to improve, you will need to find someone you trust and ask for that feedback.
Ironically, the fact that you “do terrific work” may be making it harder for you to get the feedback you need in order to win the promotion. If you are thinking that you deserve a VP job, then you are probably a very productive employee. Your work as a Director would be hard to replace, so your work is critical to your boss. This will make your boss afraid to upset you, since your departure would mean a lot of hassle for the company. If you ask for feedback, you are likely to get something general and mild, like “these things take time” or “you need to be patient,” sandwiched between some kudos for your good work. Compliments are nice, but they aren’t going to help you make the changes you need to make in order to satisfy your ambition. You may need to (politely) press for what you can do to improve your skills.
Unfortunately, not all bosses are good at providing feedback and specific steps for improvement. If you just can’t get the feedback, then you will need to look outside the company. Invest in an executive coach or find a business mentor and talk about your challenges. Make sure that you are working with someone who has hired, trained, and managed quite a few vice presidents. You need a real expert who can help you problem-solve.
When a job is really competitive, “fairness” won’t be your company’s primary decision factor. It won’t matter how old you are, how much seniority you have, or how nice a person you are. Winning a VP job is a complex challenge. It is also a promotion that is usually best accomplished inside your current company. CEOs promote internal people whom they trust into VP roles. When they hire an outside person for a VP role, it is almost always someone who has already been a VP somewhere else or who brings a very specific skillset. It may be possible to job-hop from a Director role into a VP role when the job market is great for employees, as it is now. However, even in a terrific job market, VP roles are coveted and are typically filled internally.
So, get some feedback, work to improve your skills, and evaluate how invested your current management team is in your development. In order to make it to VP, you may need to invest quite a few years of very hard work. Make sure that you are spending those years in a company that you really like and with a management team that really trusts and wants to invest in you.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022, August 5). The employment situation – July 2022. [News release]. Retrieved on August 16, 2022 from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf