Climbing The Ladder / Earning Money

5 Steps To Advance In A Company Without A Formal Review Process

By Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Ah, the beautiful holiday season, when the snow is falling in scenic everywhere-but-LA, and employers everywhere are frantically getting through year-end performance reviews!

Everywhere, that is, except for Silicon Valley Alley Beach.

Startups are great in a lot of ways, whether the amazing team environment, creative perks, or just the feeling of being a key player and building something tangible with your time. Some things startups are decidedly not great at are structured performance reviews and career progression planning.

While your company might not have performance reviews and well-deserved raises already scheduled for you, you’re not SOL just yet. Here are a few ways to keep moving forward in your company and in your career, even while you’re on #DatStartupGrind:

1. Track Your Wins

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: get yourself a weekly planner or a Google Doc and start writing down every time you’re moving the needle! If you hit a record number of bug fixes or sales, developed new materials or product lines, or delivered training for your team, it all deserves a spot on your list. Your boss may be the best in the world at giving feedback and props when you deserve it, but they’re not going to remember the details all at once. Mark down the things you’ve learned or done, and take a clear look at them when you’re ready to consider your next big step.

2. Gather Intel

What roles already exist within your company, or within your department? Are any of them suitable “next step” positions for you? For example, if you’re a marketing coordinator, is there a marketing manager or specialist you can learn from? Whoever holds the closest role to your next step can tell you a bit about the role. See where they differ compared to your skills and responsibilities, and decide whether that’s what you want to be doing.

If there isn’t a logical next-step role model in your company, talk to your network or look online. There are plenty of resources detailing career progressions across specific fields, or all-in-one tools like PayscaleOnet, or Salary that outline responsibilities and experience that typically qualify you in roles within your field. Talk to a friend in the industry, a mentor, or your boss — they’ll know a thing or two about potential next steps as well.

And if you really want to dig deep, reach out to a recruiter (hi there). Someone who specializes in your field will have a lot to say about the roles they’ve hired for. Just be sure to let them know up-front if you’re not looking to make the switch, but find their input valuable. And buying them coffee or tea as a thank you won’t hurt, either.

Added bonus: You’ve now made a positive impression on people who can place you in the right role in the future!

3. Think For Yourself

By this point, you’ve marked down your wins and figured out what next step is best for you. Now it’s time to think productively about where you’re falling short as well. Seriously — it’s not fun to do it, but think critically about the things you can improve.

Did you let a project fall off the face of the planet? Are you not as strong in Excel or do you lack a certification on AutoCAD? Start thinking about what separates you from your next-level peers or managers, and start working towards bridging that gap.

There are a lot of online resources available for training, whether paid certification programs or free tools like Coursera. It won’t hurt to make a list of the potential ways you can train yourself in your free time, and it’ll hurt even less to bring them to your manager for advice. Who knows? Maybe the course you want to take can even be sponsored by the company!

4. Have a One-on-One

If you already have regular one-on-ones with your manager, that’s great! Use the time, and come prepared!

However, if your manager hasn’t been consistent with their one-on-ones, or maybe it’s not something your startup does at all, that’s ok. Ask them if you could spend a half hour with them to discuss your long-term goals with the company, and set some time on their calendar for it.

Then I suggest sitting down and planning your discussion. The best formula would look something like this:

  • Let them know you enjoy working with them and are excited to move into the upcoming year/quarter.
  • Consider the time you’ve spent with the company, where you are now, and let them know that you want to be active in planning your career goals with them.
  • Share some of the big-ticket wins you’ve marked from the last year/quarter, as well as the things you’d like to improve — and better yet, how you’re already working towards them!
  • Share a brief overview of the research you did, and your ideal next step (title? responsibilities? pay?) — and ask for your manager’s input. If you’re in a startup, your manager may not have given ample thought to your career trajectory, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to be a great resource and advocate moving forward! While they won’t necessarily have a step-by-step outline for you right then and there, let them know that you’d like to brainstorm with them on opportunities for your growth, and keep the conversation going.
  • Take notes and start brainstorming if your manager is open to hopping in! Either way, suggest a follow-up meeting for a week out, so you two can solidify your game plan.

5. Set Your Goals, and Follow Up

One of the tricks to keep in your back pocket is the concept of SMART Goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable
  • Realistic
  • Timebound

I know, I know, but corporate lingo aside, this will give you concrete targets to hit! If you and your manager can pin down what you need in order to get to your next step, all you have to do is follow that game plan.

For example, don’t walk away thinking you need to “become a stronger email marketer.” How much stronger? In what way? And how? That’s vague as hell and doesn’t give you a path forward.

Perhaps instead, you and your manager can decide that you need to consistently raise the open rate by 5% (specific/measurable) within the next quarter (timebound) by A/B testing your subject lines (actionable). You know, if you both agree this is a (realistic)goal. Whatever it is, make sure it checks all five boxes.

Also, if your manager wants you to complete courses, set a goal for that as well! Track your progress on all fronts, and continue to check in with your manager. Then follow up with them to confirm each is complete.


So, there you have it – a clear path forward even when your company doesn’t have one established for you. Yes, it’s more work. It might even feel a bit awkward. Still, it’s worth it to be your own advocate and get the ball rolling! Don’t get held back because your company doesn’t have certain structures in place – you can have your Startup cake and eat it, too.

Image via Unsplash

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