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Written by Paul DruryPaul Drury

How to ask for a promotion

16 min read
How to ask for a promotion
Artwork by:Jacopo Riccardi
Sensing that you are close to a promotion is an exciting feeling that too many people do not act on early enough. Here is how you ask for a promotion. And get it!

The word has been on your mind for a while. It flits into your head after every success and retreats (slightly) after every setback: Promotion.

You know that you can take on more responsibility, but when the time comes how do you ask for a promotion? Shouldn’t your employer be promoting you when they think that the time is right? Is it a conversation that you should be leading? How to ask for a promotion should be at the front of your mind.

Any ambitious professional will be thinking about their path to the “next level” for most of their career. Everything they do is intended to move them onwards and upwards. But when they get there, it all gets a bit scary. The potential for rejection suddenly becomes very real. What was once a dream could become a reality - if handled correctly.

In this blog, we look at the following considerations when seeking a promotion:

  • When should you ask for a promotion?
  • How to ask for a promotion?
  • Mistakes when asking for a promotion
  • What if you don’t get promoted?

 Back yourself to take the next step. If not you, then who? 

How to ask for a promotion
How to ask for a promotion

When should you ask for a promotion?

When you take the plunge to make your play for a promotion, you need to be sure that you have a compelling case for it. Have you got a positive answer to the following questions?

Prepared the ground?

Asking for a promotion out of the blue won’t end well. Flag your ambition well in advance and ask those around you for advice about what you might need to work on to take the next step one day. If your work is visibly impacting the business, others will enjoy being involved in your personal journey.

Already doing the job?

If you have already grown into many of the responsibilities of the senior role, asking for a promotion is a no-brainer. If the company has the budget and the job fits into the organizational structure, your case is clear. Assess your performance. The transition to a higher level should be smooth. You know what it takes. Promoting you is less risky than taking on someone external. You can also time your bid for a promotion to perfection.

Secure in your relationships?

The ability to do the job is often not enough. Do you have the interpersonal skills and relationships to influence at a higher level? Ask yourself not only whether you enjoy good relationships with senior management, but also consider who else may be influencing them. Pursue a promotion when you are secure in your broad network of supporters who will help you to make the inevitably tough transition. Ask for their endorsements.

Compelling arguments for promotion

If you tick the following boxes, your request for a promotion has every chance.

  • Your boss is a raving fan and supports you every step of the way.
  • You have taken on far more than expected – without being asked.
  • Senior management knows who you are (and like you).
  • You strive to make a difference to people across the organization.
  • Positivity is your go-to setting and you never shirk a challenge.
  • You are a trustworthy and respected manager and communicator.
  • Reliability – others know they can give you a job and forget about it.
  • You aren’t afraid to ask questions and resolve conflicts.
  • And (obviously) you are smashing every one of your targets.

You might use some of these arguments in your promotion discussion and others may be there in the background, but it is important that the people making the promotion decision are aware of all of them. Like any other sales situation, you need to build your case.

How to ask for a promotion

The act of asking for a promotion is often more awkward than it needs to be. Ultimately, it is a business decision. If your boss is on the same page, it is likely only a matter of time (and maybe budget). If you don’t ask, you don’t get. However, be sensible in how you manage the conversation.

Analyze your situation

If you ask for a promotion, is there a decent chance of your case being considered? Too many people wait until they consider the answer should be a definite (objective) “yes” only to be disappointed because certain undercurrents are getting in the way. Ensure that you have both enough experience and enough support.

If your ability dictates that you deserve a promotion and no one has had “that chat” with you yet, then there is something not quite right. Begin your promotion campaign by trying to understand the hidden obstacles that are holding you back. Maybe do a career aptitude test to check that you are where you think you are.

If budget is an issue, you might consider going elsewhere. If there are aspects of your personal approach that concern the management team, decide whether you want to address them. Maybe there is an influential person who doesn’t know you as well as they might. Understand the factors that are feeding into your individual situation.

Understand the role

Depending on the circumstances (someone might be leaving the company, for example), you should seize any opportunity to understand the nuances of the role that you are seeking. Sound out a diverse range of people, including your future boss, but try not to be overly obvious about your interest until you understand that you are ready for it.

Your request for a promotion will only be taken seriously if you can demonstrate that you understand what you are getting yourself into and that you have what it takes to succeed. These conversations are where your internal influencing campaign begins.

Shape your story

Storytelling is as important while asking for a promotion as it is when looking for a job. Your boss and everyone around you will see you through the lens of your old role, so you need to shift the narrative. Polished presentation skills are central to success.

Explain how the new role fits with your personal ambitions and paint a picture of how you will impact everyone around you in your new position. Titles aren’t everything and, hopefully, people will already value your impact on this higher level, but it doesn’t hurt to engage in some subtle self-promotion every now and again. 

Everyone is wrapped up in their own issues – believe it or not, they aren’t all obsessing about the details of your merits. Don’t be afraid to push your story to the front of their consciousness for a while (and tell them why it matters to them).

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Follow the rules

Asking for a promotion is rarely a deal made over dinner and a drink. Most promotions will have to undergo a formal process of approval, so make sure that you do everything by the book. There can be no suggestions of impropriety or favoritism.

No matter how certain you are of your chances, make sure that you put every effort into your promotion bid. Taking your time to produce a stunning presentation will reflect well on your future boss if they are championing your cause. Failing to make a solid case may simply open the door for an outsider. There is nothing worse than showing that there is a need for someone to step up and do this job, but not quite be considered up to the task.

Make sure that any promotion discussions happen in person rather than over email. Reaching someone on an emotional level is so much easier when you are sitting in front of them. By all means, record anything that was discussed in a confirmatory email afterward.

Expect a gradual progression

You can’t expect to ask for a promotion one day and get it the next day. Play the long game and be patient. If the timeline turns out to be slightly different from what you might hope, make a decision on how realistic the prospects may be and whether it is worth waiting.

If the promotion isn’t going to happen tomorrow, agree on some intermediate next steps with your boss and make sure that you review to ensure that you are making progress. If the promotion process seems to be so gradual that it is forever disappearing into the distance, maybe consider looking elsewhere to further your career ambitions.

Mistakes when asking for a promotion

In the excitement of asking for a promotion it is easy to overstep the mark on a couple of issues. Any hint of negativity or any misplaced emotion could harm your chances.

Don’t hint that you are unhappy

Saying that you are bored and unmotivated in your current role is not a springboard for a promotion. Swallow your inevitable frustrations. Build on the positives from what you have achieved and convey excitement about the possibility of taking on more responsibility.

Also, don’t compare yourself to others. A colleague may have been promoted in similar circumstances a few years ago, but their circumstances will be different. If you come across as entitled during your request for a promotion, the door will swiftly slam in your face.

Don’t let emotions take over

It is easy to take a lack of promotion personally. Asking for a promotion is an objective discussion about what you believe you deserve. If your company management has another opinion, that is a business decision. Part of it may be linked to your character, but the majority of the reasoning will be work-related. 

Your employer doesn’t have any obligation to explain their thinking, so it is natural for a promotion seeker to invent reasons that may not be there.

Avoid external factors

Your arguments for deserving a promotion should focus exclusively on your workplace performance and your potential for further growth. Personal reasons for “needing” a promotion such as a new baby will not pull on the heartstrings in the way you think.

Every argument that you put forward will be weighed on its business merits, so you are diluting your cause if your sales pitch is too focused on your life outside of the office. External circumstances change - your track record of delivery on the job is your constant. 

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What if you don’t get the promotion?

If you feel that the promotion was deserved and there is no scope for other interesting upwards or sideways moves in the near future, your thoughts will inevitably turn to whether it might make sense to look elsewhere. 50% of people are considering this at any one time.

If you ask for a promotion but don’t get it, your employer will expect you to be unsettled anyway. If (for whatever reason) you feel that you deserve a promotion but are sure that you won’t get it, don’t rock the boat by asking. Back yourself to do a great job for another employer who values your talents. Life is too short to feel unappreciated at work.

Changing employers should always be approached with caution (take care not to be overly influenced by commission-chasing recruiters). Do your research and understand what you have to offer each potential employer. How you market yourself will dictate the sorts of roles that are in the mix. Moving jobs often brings a significant pay rise with the promotion.

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Key takeaways

Everyone has a few butterflies in their stomach when they walk into their manager’s office to ask for a promotion. If your request is justified, timely, and popular you should have every chance. Don’t forget the following considerations:

  • Have you thought through why you deserve it?
  • Does everyone around you think you should get it?
  • What difference will you make to your future boss?
  • Don’t get emotional if things don’t go your way

 Any promotion hunt often takes longer than you think. Stay the course.

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