How to Ask for a Promotion: Your Guide to the Corner Office

How to Ask for a Promotion Your Guide to the Corner OfficeThere comes a point in your professional life when you start pondering about career advancement. It’s as inevitable as the sun setting to the west (northwest if you’re that curious) every single day. And a common cause for concern, stress and general entropy in your daily thought process from that point on is the matter of approaching how to ask for a promotion. It’s widely perceived as more of a risky confrontation than an organic and expected point of your career progression. With employees everywhere always having that understandable, yet irrational fear when it comes to how to ask for a promotion.

But if people were always too afraid to push the envelope when the time and circumstances demand it, we would have never moved past the stone age.

Granted, today’s economy is about as stable as that DIY Dutch coffee table you somehow figured out without bothering to read the manual (which is to say, not very). And this obviously adds even more stress to your career advancement endeavours. But all that does is distort your plan when it comes to how to ask for a promotion. Breathe. Calm yourself down and lay out all the factors involved and you’ll have a plan for a promotion at work without the many mistakes that usually come with the bundle.


Asking for a Promotion: The Rationale

A promotion, in essence, is a deceptively simple form of career advancement. Likely into previously undiscovered territory when it comes to workload, type of work and/or responsibility. With that in mind, it makes sense that one should only contemplate asking for promotion once they’re sure of what they already have on their plate. There’s a lot of psychology at play when it comes to how to ask for a promotion. Naturally, you’re putting yourself at kind of risk. You’re afraid of coming off too cocky or too hellbent on getting ahead without first making sure that where you are now is where you should be for now. Too many bright and promising employees in any and every field make the simple mistake of assuming that promotion is something you gain over time. As if just putting in the hours and showing up is enough to convince your boss that you’re destined for greater things. Today’s workplace is not like it was a few decades ago, though. With much heavier workloads, a social and political framework that needs a fair bit of time and understanding to get a feel too, and the fast-paced competitive nature of the office adding a decent bit of difficulty to your career leaps and bounds.

What are you trying to achieve by asking for a promotion? Are you just ambitious and feel like going up every rung of the corporate ladder in as little time as possible? Do you want to get paid more? Who doesn’t, but is that your only motivation? Maybe you’re bored. Your current position doesn’t engage you enough and you feel like it’s time for a step up. Did you just see an opening become available somewhere at the top and thought to offer yourself up for consideration? There’s no telling when that might happen again. Or are you just dissatisfied with where you are right now, career-wise? Perhaps you think getting a promotion will somehow make your working woes go away. Knowing that a higher position certainly entails more responsibility.  These are things you should ponder more thoroughly before even thinking about how to ask for a promotion.

You’re bound to make mistakes along the way, everybody does. But now you have the option of learning about the do’s and the don’ts before you find yourself stepping on a metaphorical rake. So let’s meander through some of them and before you know it, you’ll have a more fleshed out plan for how to ask for a promotion.


The Do’s

These are just a few tips you should keep in your (hopefully) metaphorical crosshairs if you want to properly learn how to ask for a promotion. Of course, these simple instructions aren’t exactly the be-all-end-all of career advancement tips, but they’re pretty close. Try to find a nice piece of paper and take a few notes.


Build Yourself Up

You don’t get any form of real recognition for simply doing as you’re told. Sure, you’ll be able to do it faster and with higher quality over time. Maybe even have a reputation for being the veritable best at what you do. But that isn’t enough to walk into your boss’s office and start asking for a promotion. If only it were that simple. What you should be doing to further your promotion asking skills is to go above and beyond the call of (non-combatant) duty. You need to start looking for side projects, corporate endeavours and bigger and more varied tasks, and just put yourself out there in your work environment. Consider gaining experience in an area that’s not your usual playing field. Maybe spend time with the sales department or human resources and learn whatever you can about your establishment. This will make your higher-ups give you more consideration when it comes to a senior position since higher positions usually demand more flexibility and know-how. Of course, it’ll only serve you well to keep a well documented and thorough record of your achievements and accomplishments in the company. You need to have proof that you’re a valuable asset to your organization and your bosses when you inevitably make a move towards asking for a promotion. Doing more around the office and documenting it all gives you more than just experience and much more honed communication skills. It’ll give you a better sense of direction when you want to figure out where you want to go. You’ll get a much better idea of the responsibilities involved with each position. And you’ll have empirical evidence that you’re capable of taking on all the caveats and complexities that come with whatever position you have your mind set on. The best thing about all of this is that you can talk to your boss about it. They won’t turn you down if you’re asking for ways you can work towards a promotion or a higher position, It’ll show them the initiative, dedication and above all, a willingness to learn.

The bottom line is that your bosses will appreciate the fact that you’re doing more than just the norm. They’ll appreciate how you’re trying to learn and do more for them and the company.


Plan Ahead

When it comes to how to ask for a promotion, there’s no concrete ideal time. Though there are times when it’s more effective than just jumping the gun. Most organizations already have a system in place where employees are reviewed for their performance so far. Appraisals, annual or semi-annual reviews and so on. These are times the company already has planned for you to potentially prove that you’re capable of handling more. It’s the best opportunity for you and your boss to talk things out about how well you’ve been doing and where you’re going. If you have your heart set on time either before or after your scheduled reviews, it’s always good to make sure that it’s an appropriate time for your boss and your company in general. Suppose your boss had a rough day, trouble at home, a lot of flack from the higher-ups. These are things that will negatively impact their mood, and almost certainly doom whatever chance you had of asking for a promotion. Consider setting a time for the meeting with an email requesting the appropriate time according to your manager, making sure to point out that you’d like to discuss your potential. On the company’s side of things, it’s good to figure out what’s going on in the clockwork. Are departments being merged? are people leaving? is there a company-wide freeze on promotions? It makes sense that companies can delay raises and such in order to keep cash flow in check. This is something you should inquire about with your superior beforehand to get a broader idea of what’s going on and whether or not it’s a good time to consider asking for a promotion. It also helps to make a formal presentation if you have the time and patience. A simple and straightforward account of your experience, performance and skills thus far, complete with a slideshow highlighting your achievements and emphasizing your aspirations towards a higher position.

You’re probably thinking about how weird the economy is. Although it might have an impact on your company’s general financial policies, it has no impact on you as an employee. In all cases, employers (the smart ones anyway) want to hold onto their employees because they know they’re the only valuable asset they have. So even in those trying times, your employers will see that you’re adequately compensated and still considered for higher places.


Know Where You Stand

It’s entirely too easy to fall into the familiar trap of settling. You managed to get a job in a tough economy and you make an “OK” wage. You’re content with this and didn’t put up much of a fight when it came to the initial job offer. Being in that state of mind will only be a detriment to you when you decide to tackle how to ask for a promotion. You should be doing research about your position in other companies, as well as the position you have your sights on. Working out your market value is always a good investment of your time. It’ll enable you to figure out whether or not you’re an asset to the organization. Are you costing them more money than you’re worth? Are they paying you enough for your time and contribution? Discussing your salary with your boss is a habit you need to cultivate. Be it after your initial job offer or when you’re going toe to toe after receiving your promotion and getting the details on their offer. It helps to pay a visit to or Payscale to get a good range of what your industry pays its employees. When you have the figures all sorted out, consider bringing it along in writing to your bosses when negotiations start happening.

Assuming all goes well and you managed to get through to the negotiation phase, you need to make sure not to sell yourself short. It’s a familiar game that anybody who’s ever been properly employed has played, and often failed. Naturally, your superiors aren’t going to want to give you more money without an argument. What you should do is to throw a (sensible) number, something higher than what you’re taking and higher than what other companies offer for the position you’re offered. Why? Employers have this habit of never wanting to give you more. But they have an equally strong habit of wanting to give you less. They’ll talk you down to something agreeable to them (and probably more than you thought you’d get) and seal the deal at that. If you’re going for the “I want this much or I walk” routine, make sure that you’re actually able to follow through with that threat. If you haven’t shown them that you’re an asset and you start laying down ultimatums, don’t expect that corner office anytime soon.


Get Some Info

There’s no better source of information about the position you’re gunning for than the previous holder of said position. Whether they were bumped up to something higher or decided to leave for whatever reason, it’s a good idea to have an open and engaging conversation with them about it. The simplest bits of insight you can get from them are details about the position itself, what it entailed, what their likes and dislikes about it are and what to expect when you (hopefully) manage to swing it. Perhaps ask about their reasons for leaving (if they actually left on their own accord) so you have a better idea of the stress that comes with the position. And if your relationship with them is alright enough, you can ask them to give you a sterling recommendation for the position when they leave. Show them records of your progress and accomplishments so far if you both have the time and see their thoughts on whether or not you’re suited for the position, a bit of objective criticism never hurt anybody. It’s not always guaranteed but you have nothing to lose, especially if they think you’re alright for the position.

And it goes without saying that you should only go for the position if it actually sounds appealing to you. There is (arguably) no amount of money in the world that can compensate for a job you genuinely do not like. Especially if it takes its toll on you mentally.


The Dont’s

Taking what we’ve learned from the do’s and adding a few extra bits of insight, these are some examples of things you should never attempt. The road to greener pastures is usually lined with pitfalls and similarly terrible traps that are all too easy to fall into (not really but you get the point). So take heed and learn from these mistakes. Who knows? Maybe you’ll avoid them.


 Being Unprofessional

This encompasses a few examples of how disappointing and/or distasteful one’s behaviour might be when approaching how to ask for a promotion. In all cases, you want to appear presentable professional with your every action in the workplace. You want to have the credibility and reputation required for your peers and superiors to more easily see you in that position you’re hoping to get. So it doesn’t do your plans any good too, for example, suck up to your boss. Also referred to as “brown-nosing,” running around giving pointless flattery to your bosses in the hopes that they’ll be swayed by your sweet nothings to give you promotion is akin to stapling water to a tree (which is usually pointless). Yes, it’s important to build a sturdy enough bridge with all your coworkers, including your bosses. But that doesn’t mean you should compliment them for every little thing they do or say. No respectable manager is going to tolerate this sort of behaviour. And if they somehow do, you probably shouldn’t be working for them. Another example would have to be an entitlement. Nobody likes a whiner, and that rings especially true in the workplace. It does nobody any good to demand a higher position in the corporate ladder just because you’ve been in your current position for “long enough” and nothing else to show. Or if you bring up your own personal life in the hopes that it’ll appeal to their more “human” side. Everything in the office in relation to work and the established hierarchy is not inherently personal. It’s all just business. So the chances of your bosses giving you a pay raise or a promotion aren’t going to be affected in the slightest by your claims of an impending baby or your inability to pay your rent on time, and especially your umpteenth instalment on that Fiat Punto. The professional world, for better or worse, largely does not care about your life’s happenings. So try to avoid being tacky.

The key to being professional in the workplace is attitude. Harbouring a lot of vitriol towards newcomers or fellow coworkers in higher places only makes you look like a disgruntled child. And you can bet that no decent boss out there is going to want that sort of person sitting in a valuable position in the company. Things like threatening to leave if you aren’t “adequately” compensated for your work gives you an adversarial appearance. The chances of your boss even jokingly considering you for a higher position after that are lost somewhere between slim and none (closer to none). Another point worth mentioning is how you handle criticism and/or rejection. As previously stated, nothing in the workplace is objectively personal. All the remarks, constructive or otherwise, that you receive are aimed at making you a better employee. So taking things too personally and sending your mind into a spiral of self-doubt and sulking won’t aid you on your quest for the bigger chair. Similarly, handling rejection should it occur (and it will occur) is a valuable skill. Being resentful and unprofessional when you get a no is something you night to fight. Instead, inquire about the steps needed to get a promotion, then ask for the chance to revisit this chapter in a matter of months. You have to stay positive above all, this gives you the credibility you need to stay on top and figure out how to ask for a promotion.


Lacking Situational Awareness

Even though it sounds like a cool tactical term, situational awareness is a skill any employee anywhere should have on their utility belt if they ever hope to understand how to ask for a promotion. Take the company’s financial situation for example. Like we said before, sometimes companies put a hold on pay raises or promotions to keep money in the company’s best interests. Even though you’re one of the top assets any organization has, there are times when budget cuts are just a fact of life. So approaching your boss for a promotion or a pay raise, oblivious to the fact that the company doesn’t have the resources to make this happen, is kind of a no-no. Though you wouldn’t be faulted for it, it can still put you at risk of looking unfit for duty, seeing as you’re not up to snuff with the company’s current status. If you’re sure you’re being underpaid for what you do, approach the topic nonchalantly and ask to revisit the issue when the financial rainstorm ceases to exist. Another, more common mishap that aspiring employees make often is being oblivious to the higher position’s responsibilities. One should always make sure to understand where they’re going and how to manage expectations. One should also make sure one’s credentials and accrued experience thus far is adequate for the position in question. Answering how to ask for a promotion isn’t nearly as important as asking why you want that promotion in the first place.

It helps to be aware of the chain of command at your workplace. Know who to talk to and who to connect with, who you can supersede when it comes to negotiations and who you need to appease in order to facilitate asking for a promotion when the time comes.


Lack of Stamina

It’s a given that there’s an unreasonably high level of stress and mental distortion when it comes to how to ask for a promotion. A lot of people tend to shy away at the first sign of disapproval of their actions. Even if it was a false alarm. But being unnecessarily afraid of failure is not going to help if you ever want to properly learn how to ask for a promotion. Say you’re in a scheduled meeting with your superior(s) about your request for a promotion, you have your credentials all sorted out and an engaging and well-crafted presentation ready to wow the audience. But you spot a slightly bored facial expression or an eyebrow about to furrow. Immediately you start to slowly lose hope and ponder just giving up. That’s not going to get you anywhere. It takes tenacity, confidence and persistence above all to get to the corner office. Regardless of what you might perceive, go hard and do your best to convey your point. And don’t think that’s it. If you don’t follow up with your bosses afterwards, you and your proposal will just fade away from the picture. People tend to take the path of least resistance. If you don’t ask about what happens next or what their expectations are, you’ll lose a lot of progress.

On the topic of stress and fear, it’s entirely too often that an employee just gives up on the notion of how to ask for a promotion in the first place. Or they’re too terrified to ask for a promotion and start looking for a new job, ready to abandon ship if their needs are even slightly out of reach. This lack of persistence and premature bridge burning can quickly put you in hot water. It doesn’t make sense to abandon your history and tenure at a good work environment with a promising promotion in view because you’re afraid to confront your boss about it. And you never know how it can go to the new company should you decide to switch. Maybe their system is less rewarding than your previous job. Maybe the position you wanted there isn’t as challenging or pays less. And you’ll be new, so that’s a lot more work to put in towards asking for a promotion.


How To Ask For A Promotion: The Takeaway

Not that hard, right? Learning how to ask for a promotion isn’t exactly quantum physics (although it’s just as rewarding). It takes a lot in the modern world to hold down a job as it is, what with the constantly changing economy and the social and political impacts working in the backgrounds of many an organization. It takes, even more, to ask for a promotion in the competitive world of today’s offices. In all cases, these few tips and tricks should put you much further on the path towards learning how to ask for a promotion. Of course, this isn’t a bible. There are tons of resources out there that can also help you figure out how to ask for a promotion and much, much more. So doing your homework is key. Now go out there and work your way to the top.

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