Ask Jo: What Are the Steps for Asking for a Promotion?

Question: What are the steps for asking for a promotion, i.e. the research, prepping for the conversation, and practicing the conversation?

Answer: Your strategy for securing a promotion should start long before you make your request. Here’s a six-step approach for asking for a promotion.

1. Over-deliver
First, deliver results like a rock star, or making your request for a promotion could backfire. It should go without saying that if you ask for a promotion without having a well-established track record for knocking it out of the park in your current role, you’ll come across as having an over-inflated sense of self-worth.

2. Be loyal
You should also make it clear that your allegiance is to the business first, and that your own career comes second. If that line of thought grates on your nerves, it might be time to look for an organization that’s a better match, where you feel valued, and feel your values match theirs, and where being loyal comes easily. If you aspire to climb the ladder, it helps to know that your ladder is propped against the right building.

3. Identify the decision-maker
In some companies, the decision to promote is made by a person’s boss. In other organizations, it’s made by the boss’s boss or a management committee. In some companies, peers weigh in regarding a colleague’s worthiness for advancement.

When going for a promotion, it’s important to understand who the key decision makers are, and also who has the power to veto those decisions. Aim to make those peoples’ lives easier, starting with your boss. If you’re not sure how it works in your workplace, ask your mentors. And speak with any peers who have recently been promoted. Keep fact-finding until you’re clear who the decision-maker is.

4. Know the requirements
I have a friend, who, soon after she was promoted to manager, approached her HR business partner, thanked her for the promotion, and stated her interest in becoming a senior manager. “What are the requirements?” she asked. The HR partner replied, “It takes two years.” My friend thanked the HR partner, and returned to her desk.

But later that day she thought, “Hey, wait a minute! There must be more to it than that.” She returned for a follow-up conversation, in which she gently asked, “What would I need to achieve in those two years?” The HR partner thought about it for a minute, and then listed some more specific criteria.

My friend went on to achieve the requirements within six months and became one the youngest senior managers at her firm.

The takeaway? Know the requirements, whether it means asking your manager, a HR partner, your boss’s boss, or others who have been recently promoted (or even all of the above.) Express your interest in a promotion and ask what the requirements are, and be politely persistent if at first you don’t get specific answers.

5. Choose the right time
I once had a conversation with the head of talent management for a global financial firm, who said, “The right conversation can be held at the wrong time.” For example, it might hurt your chances by asking for your promotion when your boss is in bad mood, when the business is not doing well, when your company is going through structural changes like a merger or reorganization, or when the person you’re asking is not actually a decision-maker.

Before making your request, ask yourself, “Is this the right time?” Good times to ask are when your company is doing well and is growing and hiring. It’s also good to ask after you’ve achieved a big win or gotten a stellar performance review.

It doesn’t matter how good your case is if you do it at the wrong time. When it comes to asking for a promotion, timing is not everything, but it’s pretty darn important.

6. Make your request
Once you’ve met the requirements, it’s time to make your request. Here’s a script to follow:

“I understand the role requires…” (and list the requirements of the role, having made certain that they are clear, and that you’re met them.) Next, say, “I believe I am the ideal candidate for this role because…” (and list the reasons why you meet each of those requirements.

Now pause, and let the decision-maker respond. If they are in agreement, ask, “What are the next steps to move forward?”

If you sense that they are hesitant or not convinced by your argument, here’s a good follow-up question to ask: “Is there any additional information you need, in order to consider me as the ideal person for the position?” Listen carefully to their response, and consider this as your action plan to move forward. Discuss how you plan to meet those requirements.

When it comes to asking for a promotion, prior planning pays off. But don’t wait until you’re ready to make your request! Start planning in advance and you’ll boost your chances of success.

Have you ever successfully asked for a promotion? What worked?

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Jo Miller

A leading authority on women’s leadership, Jo Miller is a sought-after, dynamic, and engaging speaker, delivering more than 70 speaking presentations annually to audiences of up to 1,200 women. Her expertise lies in helping women lead, climb, and thrive in their corporate careers. Jo has traveled widely in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and teach workshops for women’s leadership conferences, women’s professional associations, and Fortune 1000 corporate women’s initiatives. Jo is CEO of leadership development, consulting and research firm Be Leaderly. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.net and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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