How To Ask For A Promotion (Step-By-Step Guide)

By Maddie Lloyd - Oct. 11, 2021
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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On the list of The World’s Most Nerve-Wrecking Activities, asking for a promotion is right at the top. Putting yourself out there to your boss can be extremely stressful, especially in a competitive field. Plus, you’ve got to deal with the anxiety of possibly getting “No” for an answer.

Here’s the deal:

While asking for a promotion or a raise can be anxiety-inducing, it’s also one of the most important steps you can make for your career. If you want to move forward in your field and climb that corporate ladder, promotions aren’t just going to be handed out — you’re going to have to ask for them.

We’ll cover the seven steps to asking for a promotion, give tips on how to get promoted more quickly, and explain the common mistakes employees make when trying to advance in their careers.

1Be Prepared to Show Why You Deserve a Promotion

The most important part of asking for a promotion is being able to give proof that you actually deserve it, and that you’re ready to take on more responsibility.

Make a list of your most impressive achievements so you can show your boss exactly what you’ve brought to the table. These are going to be your biggest talking points, so you’re going to need to use them to showcase your specific strengths, how you’ve gone above and beyond, and how you want to move forward in the company.

If you have a particular position in mind, tell your boss what it is and why you’re ready to take it head-on. For example, if you’re looking to be promoted from Lead Technician to Project Manager, give examples of times where you’ve managed smaller projects or other workers.

Getting a promotion takes some convincing, so you’re going to have to use those storytelling skills to show your boss that you deserve it.

2Plan to Discuss It at the Most Optimal Time

The most obvious time to bring up a promotion would be at your annual or semi-annual performance review. This is an easy opportunity for you and your manager to discuss how you’re doing and your potential opportunities for growth.

If you’re asking for a promotion outside of the annual review time, send an email requesting a meeting, and make it clear that you want to discuss your progress and potential.

You don’t want to blindside your boss, and giving them advanced notice gives them time to reflect on your performance and what they can offer you.

Just try to make sure that you actually deserve the promotion, and that you’re not asking for one just because you have a review coming up. To earn a promotion, you’re going to have to put in the time and the work. Opportunities aren’t just going to get handed to you all willy-nilly — you have to really work for it.

3Make It About the Company, Not About Yourself

Let’s be honest, your boss probably isn’t super concerned about you as a person, or what they can do to help you specifically — their sights are set on how you perform as an employee and what you can do to benefit their company.

When you ask for a promotion, don’t make it all about yourself. Show your manager that you care about being successful for the company, and how you can benefit them in a higher position.

Say something along the lines of “I enjoy working here, but I really feel as though I could make a more significant impact on the company in a higher-level position,” and, as we talked about before, back it up with examples of your accomplishments, and how you can benefit the company in your next role.

Whenever possible, use quantifiable data points to show how you’re adding value to the company (and ready to make even more significant contributions).

4Talk Results

You can’t just come into your boss’ office asking for a promotion or raise without a good reason. And a good reason involves past results, not future promises.

Look back on major accomplishments you’ve achieved during your time in your current position. Look at processes improved, positive feedback and performance reviews, and any other metric by which your performance at work is measured and evaluated.

If you can directly point to how your actions have positively affected the company’s revenue, that’ll almost always be the most convincing argument.

What’s really important through all of this light bragging, though, is that you demonstrate an awareness of your job’s priorities. If you’re talking yourself up by mentioning how you always keep the fridge clean, but you’re asking for a promotion to senior accountant, you’re doing it wrong.

Not only should you show that you appreciate the most important elements of your current job, but that you already understand what your priorities would be if promoted. Just like applying for a job at a new company, you have to help the “interviewer” be able to see you already performing the role comfortably.

5Don’t Compare Yourself to Your Coworkers

One good way to get turned down for a promotion is saying something along the lines of, “Well, Johnny got a promotion and a raise — where’s mine?”

Asking for a promotion because one of your coworkers got one is not a compelling argument. Johnny got his promotion like the rest of us — through good old-fashioned hard work.

Plus, demanding a raise just because your coworker got one makes you look like a big whiny baby. You’ll find much more success if you focus on your achievements and what you can do going forward.

6Get Ready to Negotiate

It’s important to know your worth when asking for a raise or a promotion. In fact, one of the biggest career mistakes you can make is to not negotiate your salary.

Don’t bring numbers into the conversation until you’ve actually been offered the promotion, but you should be prepared with a number on hand when the topic comes up.

Do some research to determine your worth. Don’t sell yourself short and don’t be afraid to ask for too much. Your boss will almost always offer you less than what you ask for, so it doesn’t hurt to aim high.

7Research the Involved Parties

As you move up the ladder, more and more stakeholders will be involved in hiring and promotion decisions. Have a plan for convincing not only your supervisor, but also their supervisor about why you should get a bump in responsibility (and pay).

To that end, it’s important to get a feel for how you’re perceived at those higher levels — your corporate grand-supervisors, so to speak. If you’re able to speak with them directly, try to solicit feedback about how you’re perceived and where you could use improvement.

Even the gesture of gathering this information will show that you care about meeting and exceeding everyone’s expectations.

At the same time, you can focus on stories of your peers that earned promotions. What was their trajectory and what sort of strategies did they use? Who did they perceive as the most important stakeholder to convince of your capability?

A smart employee learns from their own experience; a wise one learns from the experiences of their peers.

8Don’t Make Threats to Leave if You Don’t Get a Promotion

Threatening to ditch your job will probably only result in a bunch of eye rolls. To show that you’re ready for a promotion, you need to show that you’re committed to growing with the company and that you’re a mature adult.

Even if you’re being considered for a promotion in the future, mentioning that you’re not sure you can stay in your current position much longer could ruin your chances of moving up. Just accept it gracefully, and move on with your life.

9Follow Up

If you get the promotion, and even if you don’t, you should always send a follow-up email thanking your boss for taking the time to meet with you, discussing your performance, and ideally, thanking them for the promotion.

If you didn’t get the promotion, make sure to ask your boss when you could revisit the conversation. If you were denied your request based on your qualifications, ask for feedback on what you can do to get experience and improve your skills.

It’s good etiquette to always thank your employer for their time, especially when you’re discussing promotions. Do yourself a favor and send that email so you don’t appear ungrateful.

How to Get Promoted Quickly

The above steps will work wonders when asking for a promotion. But if you’re relatively new at your job or you haven’t had your eyes on a promotion in a while, follow these tips to speed up your career trajectory and earn a promotion more quickly:

  1. Find a mentor. It might not be your boss or supervisor (although it’ll help if it is), but look for a fellow professional who can help guide you toward the best way of doing things in your field.

    Hopefully, you’ll also have a supportive boss. If not, work to create and maintain a positive relationship with one or more of your superior(s).

  2. Take on more. If you start volunteering for more responsibilities or even doing extra stuff that nobody asked you to do, you’ll stand out. Go out of your way to make processes more efficient or effective and take the initiative on projects.

  3. Make yourself known. Start speaking up more at meetings, help out a wider circle of coworkers, and start initiating conversations with people you see around but haven’t talked to much. The more people that have a positive perception of you, the better.

  4. Don’t blame or complain. Be an accountable employee and own up to your mistakes. Always be looking for ways to improve and embrace constructive criticism as integral to your career trajectory.

    Also, don’t complain when more work comes your way or one of your peers doesn’t work as hard as you for the same pay. Work extra hard and highlight your own accomplishments, and good managers should take notice of who is rising to the occasion.

Common Mistakes When Asking for a Promotion

Asking for a promotion can be an emotionally-fraught event. Avoid these common mistakes to maximize your chances of landing a promotion:

  • Waiting to be recognized. It’s good to be humble and not brag about yourself or your potential too much. But it’s harder for your superiors to recognize your contributions if you don’t make it obvious for them. It’s your job, and nobody’s going to advocate for you more forcefully than yourself.

    Start bringing up your achievements more regularly to prime your boss for a promotion request. The more aware she is of all the extra effort you’re putting in, the better your chances.

  • Comparing yourself to coworkers. We covered this above in the context of talking about your coworker’s promotions and/or raises. But you should also avoid comparing yourself to your peers, with regards to either effort or results. This conversation is solely about you, your contributions, and your value to the company.

  • Taking things personally. You might think you’re a shoo-in for a promotion because you get along so great with your boss. Remember, your boss didn’t get to where he is today by making business decisions based on personality alone.

    Now, it’s a great thing that your boss likes you because you’ll be more comfortable floating the topic of promotion. Just don’t be arrogant about your chances beforehand or become bitter if you don’t get what you wanted.

  • Failing to read the room. While we don’t recommend bringing up the company’s success or finances during this conversation, it should be on your mind. If there’s just been a huge round of layoffs and the company’s stock is taking a nosedive, you’ll come off as tone-deaf by asking for a promotion in the midst of the chaos.

    To be clear, it’s okay to ask for a promotion when things are rough — as long as your promotion will serve to remedy part of the business’ problems. That’s why you should have a clear understanding of the issues your company is facing and the role your new position would play in resolving those issues.

  • Becoming emotional. Look, we get it’s an emotional situation and there’s nothing wrong with feelings. But your professional reputation is at stake in this conversation. Don’t come at the topic with your needs at the forefront, and don’t let your boss’ counterarguments upset or anger you.

    Instead, listen closely to what your boss needs from you to be considered for a promotion later. Be open to feedback and suggestions, and you’ll come off as a seasoned pro that’s next in line for a promotion if this one doesn’t work out.

  • Final Thoughts

    Asking for a promotion or a raise can be tricky, but if you never try, you’ll never know what opportunities could be awaiting you in the future.

    Make sure to focus the conversation on your accomplishments and how you can bring success to the company in a higher-level role. If you can prove that you’ll benefit the company more in a new role, you’re sure to win over even the toughest of bosses.

    Now it’s time to get out there and ask for that promotion — we know you deserve it.

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Maddie Lloyd

Maddie Lloyd was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog focused on researching tips for interview, resume, and cover letter preparation. She's currently a graduate student at North Carolina State University's department of English concentrating in Film and Media Studies.

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