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How to Ask for a Promotion: What the Experts Say

The do's and don'ts of moving up the ladder

Stephanie Olsen
Contributor

It’s a good time to ask for a promotion. Not only are more employees being promoted, but the salary increases that go along with those promotions are higher too.

The reasons for this trend seem to be two-fold: Employers seem to be responding more positively to career progression desires by employees, and there’s an increasing number of positions available due to retiring Baby Boomers, writes employee benefit specialist Stephen Miller at the Society for Human Resource Management.

In fact, research shows that nearly half of company across the US are budgeting separately for promotion salary increases, which increases an average 9 percent for management-level employees and executives.

So, if you’re thinking of asking for a promotion at work, check your timing, do your research, and get into the right mindset. You’ve got this.

When to ask for a promotion

Even if you hit the ground running and take ownership of your job immediately, the rule of thumb is that you should wait a minimum of six months before seeking a promotion. If a performance review is scheduled during that first six months, however, you can certainly use the meeting to set up another to discuss a promotion.

Make sure you know the organization’s standard procedures: some may promote throughout the year while others only during annual performance reviews. Speak to your manager or human resources department to determine the usual practice regarding promotions and how long employees tend to remain in one position.

Make sure you’re ready to be promoted, advises recruiter Maureen Lynch. “If you’ve only been in your role for a year, there may be areas of your current position that you’ve yet to master. Revisit your job description and check that you’re fully competent in each area. This is an ideal time to reflect on any feedback your boss has given you in your annual review and any other regular check-ins. Next, you need to ask yourself if you’re mentally prepared. If you only joined a year ago, you might not be ready for more change.”

Read more: 6 Badass Ways Women Have Asked for a Raise

How to prepare for your meeting

You should be documenting your job from the day you start.

Make note of the responsibilities that were in your job description and the additional ones you’ve taken on. Document thoroughly (you’ll forget specifics over time) in order to prove how you consistently over-deliver and that you are ready to take on a more senior role. This includes client testimonials or emails from customers noting their appreciation, as well as memos from colleagues and higher ups at your organization that make note of your initiatives and efforts that were helpful to the company.

Anything that makes you more valuable to your boss and to the business overall should be mentioned. Do make note of all professional development seminars or work training sessions you’ve either given or attended and any community events you took part in representing your company.

Also, make sure you know industry salary averages for the position you’re aiming for. PayScale is a great tool for this. These will vary of course between national and local, with global companies able to pay more than small businesses. What matters most, though, is that you would be satisfied with the compensation offered with your promotion.

Read more: How to Negotiate Your Salary (For Career Newbies & Industry Vets)

How to ask for a promotion

Because the stated purpose of the meeting is to discuss your future at the company generally, and a promotion specifically, you can get right to the point. Be clear about the role you want and the accompanying increase in salary.

This is when your research and documentation comes in. You can readily prove your value to the company, demonstrating your work ethic, dependability, initiative, and career ambition.

If your request is denied, make sure you understand the reason why. It may be that your company is too small to accommodate another upper-management or executive position at the time of your ask. Find out exactly what is standing in your way. If your boss believes you’re not ready, use the opportunity to discover what would merit the promotion.

Sometimes the promotion itself is not a problem, but the company has a set budget and is unable to meet your requested percentage increase in pay. Expect that and be ready to negotiate. You can bring a number of benefits to the table in lieu of salary, such as more paid vacation, better health insurance, or a company car. If you know that your company has funds earmarked for high performers, you might be able to obtain a spot bonus.

Before you end the meeting, make another to revisit any unresolved issues in three or six months.

Read more: Why Having a Personal Leadership Philosophy Is Important (Even if You’re Not the Boss)

What not to say when asking for a promotion

There are certain approaches that can hurt your chances of getting a promotion, even if you have the requisite skills and can handle the additional responsibilities.

Management consultant Etika Katabi advises not to downplay your unique accomplishments and skills. Look at yourself objectively, and make a list of those attributes you know are valuable to the position you want. And don’t be too casual in your approach, she says. Treat the meeting with the same thoroughness you’d bring to a job interview at another company.

Don’t compare yourself to colleagues, adds LinkedIn’s Paul Petrone. Even if you think other people who have been promoted are not as qualified as you or don’t work as hard, steer away from criticizing them (and by extension, the boss who gave them the promotion). Stick to the benefits you bring to the company.

Remember to present your request for promotion in terms of solving a problem. Don’t go into the meeting with the mindset that you’re asking for a favor. For example, if a department has high turnover, which you think you can solve if promoted to department head, make your case in terms of how much money you can save the company. It costs an organization $10,000 to replace an employee making $30,000, writes business management consultant Patricia Lotich. Presenting undeniable facts and figures can bolster your position.

Much of the advice Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran gives in a talk about how to ask for a raise can be used when asking for a promotion. And she’s very firm on one point: never negotiate a promotion on the basis that you have another offer. That approach only proves you’re not loyal, and she’s found that money doesn’t buy loyalty.

You can, however, tell your boss that you turned down an offer for a lot more money, because you want to stay at your company, says Corcoran. Then ask about your future prospects in that company. It’s a useful technique because it’s not insulting or threatening.

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