Asking for a promotion may well be one of the more nerve-wracking events in your career. Unlike a performance review, where your peers will also be judged according to a set structure, approaching your manager for a promotion opens you up to a new form of vulnerability.
While you can’t change what you have or haven’t achieved at work, you can increase your chances of success by going into the conversation prepared, as well as being strategic about your approach and timing. Follow these tips to create the best case for a promotion— when and how makes the most sense for you, your manager, and the broader organization.
It’s easy to say that you want to move up, but it’s important to ask yourself what that should actually look like—and to tailor your approach so that you achieve your most important goals. For example, if your end goal is more money, you’ll need to figure out the best way to reach that within your organization: Perhaps you need to manage more people, switch to a different team, or become the subject matter expert on a particular topic. You goal might be more responsibility, more power, more visibility, or something else—what matters isn’t what the goal is, but rather how you’ll use this promotion to get closer to it.
It can also be helpful to align your ask with organizational priorities. For example, if you’re craving more managerial responsibilities in a period of rapid business growth, this could be a great opportunity for you to step up to the challenge—but also benefit the company by reducing the need to hire externally. On the other hand, if you’re considering a lateral move, think about which teams have a need for in-house expertise that you could bring to the table.
Think of asking for a promotion like you would a job application: In both instances, you want to prove that you’re the most qualified candidate out there for the job, regardless of whether or not you’re already employed by the company.
When you’re interviewing for a new job, you likely spend some time thinking through which of your experiences best demonstrate your qualifications for the specific role. You should do the same when asking for a promotion: Compile a list of your measurable achievements and what value they brought to your team/company, as well as any qualitative evidence (such as feedback from colleagues) that you’re ready for a step up in responsibilities and challenges.
If you’ve received interest from other companies (including job offers), this may be the time to use it as a point of leverage, but be careful with this tactic; You don’t want to make your manager feel they’re being put in a hostile situation, particularly if your end goal is a promotion with your current company. That’s not to say this won’t work, but use discretion to decide if and when another job offer offers appropriate evidence of your value—or if you’re using it spitefully (in which case, you probably shouldn’t!).
The right answer to when and how to ask will depend on your specific situation, but consider factors such as performance review cycles, period of rapid growth (or layoffs), how your team is doing, and significant individual achievements.
If your company has a fairly structured process for reviews and promotions, it often makes sense to wait for the next cycle to present your case. However, don’t wait around until then to start building evidence: In the interim, focus on developing your case so that you’ll be in a strong position when the time does come.
If, on the other hand, your company’s promotion process is less set in stone (or you have another compelling reason to go off-cycle), you might consider approaching your manager when you’ve just closed a big deal or finished a large project—i.e. when the results of your hard work are top-of-mind.
Keep in mind that getting to an answer may take longer: Your manager might ask you to wait until the next review cycle, may need time to discuss with other relevant stakeholders, or might even ask for additional evidence from you. Regardless, don’t get discouraged if the answer isn’t an immediate ‘yes.’ There are a number of factors which play into promotion decisions, and the more understanding you can be, the more your manager is likely to value you as a team player—and as someone ready to move up in the team or organization.