Asking for a Promotion

While it might seem like asking for a promotion should be a straightforward process, it's pretty easy for your manager to reject a request too.  Competition for scarce jobs increases as someone moves up the corporate ladder.  Whenever asking a boss for a promotion, make sure you're prepared for that conversation.

In this article, we're going to talk about the correct way to ask for a promotion.  As part of that discussion, we're going to break down the process into three distinct phases:  preparing for the meeting, asking for the promotion, and post-meeting follow up.

Getting Promoted

Even when the economy isn't cooperating, there is always a chance of landing a promotion.  As companies downsize, they sometimes inadvertently eliminate essential positions, or look to manage lower performing associates out of the company.  This leaves behind the opportunity for other individuals in the organization to assume more responsibility, or even be selected for a promotion.

Unfortunately, working hard every day doesn't automatically qualify someone to move into a role of greater accountability.  To maximize the chance of being selected, it's a good idea to run through both short-term as well as longer-term planning activities.

Preparation and Documentation

Asking for an increase in pay is accomplished in two related, but different phases.  The first phase has to do with the longer-term perception of your ability to handle increasing responsibility.  This will be an ongoing effort to build credibility.  Activities associated with this preparation phase include:

  • Working Hard:   if you're hoping to get promoted, then distance yourself from the rest of the workgroup when it comes to work ethic.  Keep in mind that working harder means working smarter too.
  • Self Promotion:   don't be fooled into believing that if you work hard the management team will automatically take notice and reward you with a promotion.  Subtle self-promotion of your skills and accomplishments will help to ensure your name comes up during the next meeting to discuss advancement opportunities and candidates.
  • Career Discussions:  even if your company does not have a formal schedule for career discussions, make sure to schedule a catch-up meeting with your manager at least twice each year.  As part of that meeting, make clear the interest in advancing your career, and taking on additional responsibilities.
  • Success Journal:  keep a written log of accomplishments.  Include important facts such as dollars saved, individuals that were part of the effort, outputs, analyses (white papers, presentations, or spreadsheets), and any expressions of thanks received from clients or customers.

A short-term effort is required immediately before any discussion with your manager or supervisor.  This step allows you to make a compelling case for a promotion.  The documentation to assemble before the meeting includes:

  • Job Description:  compare your current day-to-day responsibilities versus what's written in your job description.  If you've been assuming a greater role in the organization, then point out you're already demonstrating successes when given additional responsibilities.
  • List of Accomplishments:  pull out the success journal (mentioned above) and make a list of some of your greatest accomplishments.  Whenever possible, quantify the impact of your work.  For example, dollars saved, workload eliminated, or even the cycle times reduced to complete an assignment.
  • Benchmark Pay:  whenever asking for a raise in pay, you're going to need to provide some objective data on the appropriate compensation.  If you're company has an internal job posting board, then use an internal salary benchmark.  We publish a list of High Paying Jobs that provides average salaries for nearly 800 position types.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a wealth of information on national and regional compensation too.

The output of all this planning should be a fact-based, logical explanation that provides your manager with the information they need to gain the required approvals for a promotion.

Asking for a Raise in Pay

The pre-meeting preparation will help you to organize thoughts, and remain confident during the discussion.  Establish a time and place for the meeting, and make sure your manager knows the agenda - no surprises.

  • Cover Important Points:  by now you should have a list of added responsibilities, significant accomplishments, and a target salary based on benchmarks.  Organize your thoughts so that each point is covered during the meeting.
  • Provide Copies:  work from a written document that contains all of the important points, allowing your manager to retain a copy after the meeting.  The document will also serve as a formal record of the conversation.
  • Remain in Control:  keep emotions in-check during the meeting.  If you lose control of your emotions, then you lose control of the meeting as well as credibility as a candidate for a promotion.
  • Threats / Ultimatums:  the meeting should be non-confrontational.  Making threats or issuing an ultimatum is counterproductive, and will hurt your chances of ever getting promoted.
  • Be Prepared:  unless a promotion was already in the planning phase, it is very unlikely your manager will approve your request during the meeting.  Don't put your manager in the awkward position of making a decision on-the-spot.  Even if you get a "no" during the meeting, then you've gone on record as an individual looking to do more for the organization.
  • Expressing Disappointment:  if done in a constructive manner, it's acceptable to let your manager know you're disappointed with their decision.  Simply stating "I'm disappointed in that decision.  What can I do to change your opinion?" should bring out some constructive feedback.  At this point, you should be listening, not talking.

Post Meeting Follow Up

If the request for a promotion or increase in pay is rejected, then your manager will be looking to see how you react.  Acting in a professional manner will increase the chance of success in the future.  There may be a number of very good business reasons (budget cuts, pay freezes) you were turned down.  Don't take it personally, and don't assume the "no" is permanent.

After the meeting, you're going to want to follow up immediately on any outstanding questions.  In the event your appeal is rejected, you'll want to institute a longer-term plan.

  • Agree to Meet Again:  it's acceptable to request a follow-up discussion at least once a year.  Many companies have performance reviews every six months, which may include a review of an employee's development plans.
  • Seek Feedback:  if performance is holding you back, then make sure you clearly understand the steps needed to improve that perception.  Seek feedback from your manager through regularly scheduled meetings to see if there is progress in closing any perceived performance gap.

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