Asking for a promotion can be an intimidating prospect, but successful employees must learn how to advocate for themselves—and there are a couple tips from experts to help initiate the conversation, Rebecca Knight writes for Harvard Business Review.
How to ask for a promotion
Knight outlines eight key do's and don'ts from Sabina Nawaz, a global CEO coach, leadership keynote speaker, and writer, and Joseph Weintraub, founder and faculty director of the Babson Coaching for Leadership and Teamwork Program.
1. Reflect on what you want. According to Weintraub, the first step is assessing what you want out of a potential promotion, whether that be more money or responsibility or perhaps a newly crafted role and set of responsibilities. This step, Weintraub adds, also includes "think[ing] about your skill set and how it aligns with the objectives of the organization," as that will help you position your request within the company's overall strategic goals.
2. Do some research. It shouldn't just be self-reflection, Nawaz adds: It's also important to solicit feedback from your peers and other colleagues about your performance. "The more senior you get, the more likely it is that your promotion is not the sole decision of your manager," she said. "Your manager's peers have input as well." Checking in with colleagues can also provide insight on how others navigated similar requests, Nawaz adds—and help you discern whether others see you as a leader.
3. Build a case. Once you know what you want, you have to build a case for your promotion that anticipates a "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mentality," Nawaz says. She recommends putting together a short memo that uses "concrete metrics" to "outlin[e] your proven track record" and demonstrate "that you're already working at the level you're asking to be promoted to." Weintraub also recommends thinking of who might be your successor both to demonstrate your leadership and reassure your manager "that there is someone who can fill your shoes."
4. Consider your timing. You should pay attention to your timing when asking for a promotion, according to Weintraub. He recommends asking "after something good has happened," and Nawaz agrees. "When there's a lot of churn happening, it might be the best thing to jump in, roll up your sleeves, and simply do the work to stabilize the organization," she said. However, it's important to not become complacent, and if you believe that your promotion will help the organization, you should push for it, Knight writes.
5. Plant the seed. According to Nawaz, asking for a promotion isn't a single discussion—it's multiple continuing ones. She recommends that "your early words should be something along the lines of: 'I am excited to be here and to make an impact. Here is the impact I've already made. I would like to have ongoing discussions with you about what it would take for me to get to the next level.'" Weintraub agrees, adding that you should "demonstrate your willingness to grow and learn" by seeking feedback from your manager on how to ensure he or she thinks you're ready for the next professional step.
6. Nurture the seed. Once you've had that first conversation, Nawaz says you need to "nurture it over time." She says that you should ask your manager for feedback "not so often that it becomes an irritant, but, say, every month or every quarter"—and be specific when it comes to your accomplishments and discussions about how to advance. For instance, according to Weintraub, you can come to your manager "with ideas of how you would spend your first 90 days on the job," as a way to "sho[w] you've done your homework and that you're serious about" the promotion.
7. Don't be careless. Be smart about your negotiating tactics, Weintraub and Nawaz caution. While using an offer from another company to get a promotion can—and often does—work, it's dangerous. "Promotion by hostage is not a good way to win friends and influence people," said Weintraub. "People generally don't respond well to ultimatums."
8. Be patient—but not complacent. Promotions are a process, Nawaz says, so it's important to "be realistic," and in the meantime, "continue to do good work, sincerely look for ways to increase your impact, and elevate the level at which you operate." However, be aware of signs that you might not be in line for the promotion. "If you look around and see others getting promotions that you're not getting, talk to your boss," Weintraub said. "Say: 'Will you recommend me for a promotion when one becomes available?'" And if you figure out that it's not likely going to happen, "think about whether you want to stay in your organization or look for a job elsewhere," he said (Knight, Harvard Business Review, 1/29).
Learn more: 7 conversations managers must have with employees
For the past seven weeks, the Daily Briefing has dived deep into the most important conversations managers should have with employees. Now, read the full series—and download tools, templates, and best practices to help you have these critical conversations:
- A behavioral-based interview with your job candidate
- Your first check-in with your new hire
- 30, 60, and 90-day check-ins with your new hire
- How to give employees regular recognition
- Conduct a performance review
- Perform a goal-focused mid-year check-in
- Encourage high-value staff to delay retirement