7 Tips to Help You Land a Promotion

The time has come. You’re ready for the next step—a promotion, a new title, or a new employee to take under your wing—and the salary bump that accompanies that career growth. But doing the work and actually getting paid for it are two different things. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when it’s time to lobby your supervisor for the reward you’ve earned.

1. View things through their eyes.

As tempting as it may be to tell your supervisor that you’re bored or underpaid, that’s not likely to prove too motivating. Instead, frame the challenge through his eyes: Tell your boss you want to help the organization achieve even more, by pursuing bigger challenges.

Every boss wants to hear that his workers are anxious to take on more, which will make more clients happier, and contribute even more to the bottom line. Start there and wade into the topic of compensation once you’ve got the conversation well under way.

Photo from Shutterstock

Photo from Shutterstock

2. Be patient.

Recognize that in many workplaces, you’ve got to prove yourself in the position you want for at least a year before getting the title. Is it fair? Not at all. But it’s normal. So don’t ask too early. Start taking on some new roles gradually, THEN ask to be recognized for the results.

If you work in a bigger organization, where a dozen people are at your level, you’ve got to show that you’re the best candidate. But you won’t be doing that in the interview; you’ll be doing it throughout the year. So sign up for classes, read management books, offer to lead more projects, and take on new skills like public speaking. Show your supervisors that you’re ambitious, and that a promotion is the smart, logical thing to do, not a “gift” that you’ll prove you deserve after the fact.

3. Remember: Hope isn’t a plan.

I’m always surprised at how many people walk into their annual reviews with their fingers crossed, just praying they’ll get that big promotion or that juicy raise they’ve been secretly hoping for. It doesn’t often work out that way.

My supervisor isn’t comfortable asking for promotions for her staff, especially if two or three of us in the department are all holding our breath. And that’s not unusual. After all, she knows that lobbying for raises and promotions means spending some of her political capital—and her peers are all jockeying for promotions for their own employees.

So if I’m due for promotion, I let her know 12 months in advance, and I ask her what I need to do to get there. We plot out my annual development goals on the form that’s due to HR every summer, and I make sure I hit every milestone. And if my supervisor thinks I’m just not cut out for the role, or if she thinks the organization isn’t capable of rewarding my efforts, then at least I know that up front.

4. Take a look around.

Take a close look at your organization’s culture. Do most promotions come at the same time every year? Do they come after someone completes a high-profile project? Or only when an existing position opens up? It’s OK to take a calculated risk once in a while, but you don’t want to push for a promotion if you’ve got no chance. Study others who have had success, and try to forge a similar path.

5. Start gathering evidence.

“If you’re looking for a significant raise or a promotion, you need to build a good case for it,” says Yee-Ping Cho, owner of YPC Design in Los Angeles, and former in-house designer for American Funds. “It’s a good idea to keep a log of your successes—not so much to say, ‘Look at the pretty things I made,’ but to illustrate how you helped the company make money, save money, or bring on a new client.”

Cho suggests putting a note on your calendar to follow up with the marketing team, for example, three months after completing a project, to see if a campaign hit its numbers or accomplished key objectives.

At NPCA, our annual review process is pretty thorough, and includes asking two colleagues in other departments to comment on our work style. Your review process may be more open-ended, but you can still engage your coworkers. Ask some internal clients if they’d be willing to share a few thoughts with your supervisor regarding your talents or discuss your attitude toward your work. Nothing builds a case better than objective voices singing your praises.

6. Learn how to negotiate.

The biggest challenge when asking for a promotion or a sizable raise is knowing how hard to push. You don’t want to simply cross your fingers and hope for the best, but you don’t want to make idle threats either.

“Make your case, but be diplomatic about it,” says Cho. “Respect the person on the other side of the table, because they’re probably taking your proposal to someone above them. Approach the conversation as a dialogue. Maybe start off with, ‘I wonder if we can talk about something that’s been on my mind: I’ve been here for two years now, and when I was hired, you had said that after a year or two we could look at increasing my role in the department.”

Cho suggests it’s best to assume your supervisor recognizes your value, and is on your side, rather than approaching her as an obstacle to be overcome. Treat your supervisor as an ally, and let her prove that’s not the case.

7. If at first you don’t succeed….

It’s possible there simply are no funds to spare for raises, or your supervisor may be concerned that there’s no one else to tackle the duties on your current job description. If so, take the response calmly, and ask when you might be able to revisit the decision. It may take time, but good supervisors in good organizations will reward good employees to keep them around.

And if the answer keeps coming up “no,” then you can be confident that you did your best, and it’s time to move on.


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