There’s always a lot of nuances to getting a promotion, and there’s a mix of circumstances from the company you work for combined with your personal expertise and skills that will allow you to get promoted faster. My tips are probably good for someone early or middle of their career where there’s plenty or room to grow and an openness to change.
I’ve been fortunate to be promoted almost every other year in my career. Only one of the four promotions was granted by my manager without me asking or applying for the promotion. In my experience, the best way to get ahead is to change positions, departments, or companies all together. If you’re not comfortable with that and are just looking to remain in your vertical or company, I actually completely understand as there are pensions and other factors that may contribute, but this is probably not the article for you as this will focus on change.
Before we begin, you need to understand your company and industry and know whether a promotion is even possible for you. Unions and government regulations do limit some professions, and this article cannot surpass those constraints. So, before we begin, ask yourself if you can get a promotion. If you’re company is going bankrupt or is too small, then keep reading. I’ll help you get out.
Tip #1 What do you want?
I know you’re like “a promotion” that’s why I’m reading this article. I want you to be more specific. Do you want the title or the money? Do you want the power or the responsibility? Do you think you will enjoy your day-to-day a bit better or do you need the money because you’re trying to save for a house? It’s important to know your “why” because you can earn the money, the power, the responsibility, the flexibility, the title, without the rest of it. So pick one, or rank them. What are you truly after?
For me, I wanted a specific job. I wanted to do certain things during the day. I caution against management type positions if you don’t actually want to be helpful towards others. As a manager, you should enjoy making your employees successful, watching them grow, and helping in general development of others.
Now that you know your motivator, be specific about your immediate next move. What title are you after exactly? What salary do you want or total compensation? What vacation time or work schedule are you looking for? It’s best if you can be specific about more than one factor, so that you know the job when it’s offered.
This is a key factor in any goal. If you don’t know your destination, how do you know you’re there? Write it down in your notes in your phone. That’s where I keep my goals. I can always update, take notes, or read them for affirmation. You should also be comfortable speaking it out loud. I’m so glad I did this work because I was ready in my last conversation with my current manager and make exactly what I asked for. So, speak out loud in the present tense how much you want to make and the position you want to be in.
I am a ______ making $ ______. I work for _____ and my annual income is _____.
If you do affirmations, this should be part of your affirmations. If you don’t, have something remind you to say this to yourself like driving to work or drinking coffee. Something that you do almost every day. If you hate your job, say this phrase every time someone pisses you off.
BONUS TIP for my ladies
For the money piece, it was hard for me to get to a specific number. I mean, how do you just decide how much you want to be paid? As a Latina, I’ve always heard the statistic about how women get paid less than men, and specifically Latinas are paid the least of all. So I took that percentage (different sites will give you different numbers), use the one that speaks to you that allows you to stretch your imagination, but still maintain within reasonable and believable bounds. The key here is for you to have an amount that is justified. If you are a woman, know that this number is being paid to some man for doing the same job and work that you are currently doing.
Tip #2 Just Do It Now
In the beginning of my career, I wanted to get into strategy work. I was a project manager and I felt it wasn’t strategic at all. I spoke to a mentor who said, “Incorporate strategy in what you do. Everyone should be doing strategy work.” If you want to be developing new designs for your advertising firm or involved with decision making or analysis, just do it. Put a presentation together and share it with your manager or a key stakeholder who is willing to listen. If this is not an option, look for volunteer opportunities in or outside work to promote your skills and get it on your resume.
The way I see it, you should always be performing at a level above you. If you are not a manager, but want to be, you should be mentoring your peers. You should constantly be taking things off your manager’s plate. People don’t promote you until they see that you are already doing that job. In a way, there’s a type of lag that happens with promotions. You actually have to be in that position before someone pays you or gives you that title. However, that doesn’t mean you stop doing your current responsibilities.
I’ve had great mentors in my career. One of them said “never say something is above or below your pay grade”. I’ve held on to this. If the company doesn’t have someone to create an enterprise strategy for something, I’ll do it. If the company doesn’t have someone to put up posters or throw away the trash, I’ll do it. Nothing is above or below me.
#3 Ask For It
This one is hard especially for women, but please know men do this all the time. I didn’t know this until I became a manager. You have to make it clear to your manager and potentially your manager’s manager that you want to get ahead. You may even need to tell your manager’s peers or maybe other key stakeholders. You probably should only be explicit to your direct reporting structure, but don’t be shy when someone else asks about your career goals. If you don’t say anything, people assume you are happy where you are because many people are.
I currently work with two mediocre employees and one great employee who all have asked for more money indirectly. They are all males, but they know I have influence with telling their managers whether they deserve a promotion. Ladies, please know this happens all the time, so bring it up. Your annual performance review is way too late to bring it up. You must bring this up 3-6 months in advance to give your manager time to give you feedback on areas that may need improvement or if this is a big jump, they can help you with a development plan and also socialize the opportunity with his/her boss and peers. This is not a one person decision.
On that note, make sure you have a good relationship with the extended group above you. If you have a boss who either doesn’t believe in you or would not support your development or promotion, you really have to do your work with an extended group. I guarantee you can find someone who believes in you talent. Always be asking for feedback, be a great partner, help others. You truly don’t know who will be your next boss or who you will be the next boss of.
Before you directly ask your boss for a raise or promotion, you should have a list of things you have accomplished, people you mentored, programs or initiatives you launched, results you helped drive, etc. I keep a list on my phone so I can always reference or add to it. I mentioned this in passing to a girlfriend over drinks and her jaw dropped. She asked, “isn’t my manager keeping track of this for me?”. The answer is a huge, “No!”. You must keep track of your own progress. Not only for a promotion, but for your resume.
#4 Get Ready to Leave
I’ve had four promotions in the last five years. Two of those promotions skipped a level. Yeah, you heard me right, I went up two levels in one promotion. Two of those promotions were due to moving companies, both companies sought me out, and one of the skip-level promotions was within the same company.
Before my first company move, I was sending out resumes to other companies before the recruiter from this specific company reached out to me. It’s hard to get a response when companies don’t know much about you. That’s a different topic about networking and all. However, my point is that when you move, you can really ask for anything. I suggest being very open to moving companies. If possible, be mobile. Many times people move for their company and end up there only a couple years, so it is not a “forever” move.
I’ve always been open to moving geographically, but have made so many excuses why I shouldn’t move companies. Primarily that I know the current company so well. It’s going to be so hard to learn everything I know somewhere else. What if I’m terrible somewhere else? What about my benefits? What about everyone I know here?
It’s hard. I know. But go back to your “why”. It really can’t be about money. For me, I’m a hyper-growth type person. If I can learn and grow from an experience, I’m willing to endure it.
#5 Resume Tips
This is and isn’t specific to getting a promotion, but always keep your resume up to date. I look at my resume at least twice a year. If you do it too often, you won’t see anything you need to change. But every 6 months, you’ll have information to add and you’ll look at your historical information with fresh eyes.
Some general tips from looking at so many resumes is to ensure you have a summary of who you are and what you’re looking for at the top. This can be titled an objective, summary, or simply a body a text at the top. Secondly, add results and your specific contributions. If I can google your job title and it’s a copy of what you have in your resume, what does that tell me about you? Nothing. Assuming I know what an analyst or project manager or designer does, what did you specifically do during this time at this company?
Some super basic advice is to make sure it’s cohesive (same font, size, etc.), no spelling errors, there’s contact information, your education and experience is listed, you don’t have anything too personal mentioned, and that it’s appropriate for your field. For example, if you are a designer, your resume should look pretty awesome. If you are a financial analyst, your resume should have no color at all.
I’m going to be super cliche, but the most important advice I can give is to be fearless. I think the biggest issue I see with those who have not excelled in their career is because they play it safe. Their goals is to not be fired, and they won’t be, but they won’t be promoted either. Almost every week, I find reminding myself that I don’t care if I get fired. I am here because I love what I do, I enjoy making a difference, and I love to see change. I push boundaries, I am honest, I give feedback, I sometimes step on toes, take risks, trust people, and make decisions on the spot. All of those things can get me fired, but I would get fired knowing I did the best I could. I trusted myself and those around me. I did what I thought needed to be done for the success of my team, project, and company.
I wish you all the courage to be your true self at work, reach for your goals, and achieve your plans.
Let me know what advice you have for getting promoted. I still need tips for my next move!