For many people, asking for a promotion is right behind public speaking on the list of things that cause their palms to sweat and their vision to go bleary.
Yes, it can be intimidating, but knowing how to ask for a promotion can increase your chances of success. Focused preparation can help you feel ready to make the case about why you deserve a promotion. And that's the key — explaining why you've earned a promotion and why promoting you will be good for your organization.
While a supervisor may occasionally promote someone without any nudging, you're largely responsible for building your own career ladder and climbing onto those rungs yourselves.
So knowing how to ask for a promotion is a life skill most of us will need more than once.
Do you deserve a promotion?
One of the hardest things about asking for a promotion is getting your own thoughts and emotions under control. Because underneath the hope that you'll get the response you want is often the fear that perhaps you don't actually deserve it.
Only you know whether you're ready for an increase in responsibility (and hopefully, pay), but if you're really struggling with this question, take a minute and ask yourself another: are you suffering from impostor syndrome?
Many of us — especially women — have a hard time acknowledging our skills and successes, and that's a problem. Understanding why you may deserve a promotion isn't just about catching up on your self-esteem game. Being able to explain why you have what it takes to succeed is a critical part of asking for a promotion.
Answering these questions honestly will help you recognize whether you're promotion material while also building a case for the big ask.
1. Can you provide data that shows you've excelled in your current position and are ready for more responsibility or leadership?
2. Have you already taken on additional responsibility and performed well?
3. Have you received an offer of employment outside the company in a role higher than the one you currently hold?
4. Are you highly regarded among your colleagues?
You may not be able to answer yes to all these questions (especially an offer of employment), but seriously considering them will help you make an informed decision about whether you're ready to ask.
When to ask for a promotion
There's no hard-and-fast rule about when to approach your boss about a promotion, so you'll need to consider the context in which you work. Observe your organization — do people move into new positions frequently or are folks still carrying around the same business cards after 10 years? You don't necessarily have to follow in their footsteps, but it's helpful to understand the culture around advancement.
Even if you just recently started a position, it might not be too early to ask for a promotion. Sometimes businesses don't know exactly what they need when they place an ad.
For instance, let's say you took a job as an administrative assistant, but once your employer realized you were good with numbers, they also handed you all the bookkeeping. You've only been in the position for six months, but your job responsibilities have increased substantially from your original offer. It might be a good time to ask for a promotion that reflects your current role.
On the other hand, certain industries or organizations might have more rigid standards around promotions — like an employee can't move into a senior position until they receive a particular certification or have worked in the role for a certain number of years. You could always ask even if you haven't met the criteria, but you'll be in a better position if you ask for a promotion when you know you can back it up.
In any case, letting your boss know that you're interested in advancing — either now or in the future — can be a powerful way to demonstrate initiative.
The best method to ask for a promotion
So you've decided that you deserve a promotion and now is the time to do it. But how? Should you ask for a meeting? Should you put it in writing? A lot will depend on the formality of your work environment and the relationship with your supervisor.
The truth is, there's really no best way, but any of these options could be best for you.
Do some research
If the promotion you're looking for is into an existing role that's about to become available, you could benefit from talking with the person currently in the role. Get some intel about the responsibilities of the position as well as the things they liked and didn't like. Do some digging to make sure it's a position you actually want.
Then see if the current employee would be willing to recommend you for the role. Since outgoing employees know their position the best, supervisors often include them in the hiring process for their replacement. An informed recommendation could carry a lot of weight.
Set up a meeting with your boss and ask directly
Of course, the most straightforward way to ask for a promotion is simply to ask. If you work in a very formal, hierarchical organization, you may decide to put together a formal presentation highlighting your past successes and the reasons your promotion would benefit the company.
A powerpoint pitch deck could be overkill in some organizations, but even if you're not putting together a formal presentation, you'll want to be prepared with the same information — not just why you deserve a promotion but why your promotion is the best thing for the organization.
Casually mention the promotion
We're not talking about some awkward "cough...promotion...cough" moment here. That never works.
But sometimes planting a small seed of an idea is a great way to warm up a supervisor before you actually make the ask. So instead of scheduling a meeting with your boss, mention that you'd be interested in a position opening up when you see them in the conference room. Or tell them that you're excited about the new responsibilities you've been taking on and have been thinking about how to provide more value to the team.
Then send a follow up email a day or so later to remind them about the conversation and let them know that your interest is sincere.
Take on new responsibilities
A popular career mantra is "Do the job before you get the job." While that's not always possible, asking for a promotion may be a good time to try it.
There's no better way to demonstrate that you deserve a promotion than to show your boss that you've already accepted significant responsibility and are performing well. Of course, the potential downside is that you just have more responsibility with the same title, but hard work will eventually pay off.
Ask a trusted advisor
Sometimes the best advocate is someone else.
In fact, research shows that many people (women especially) are much better advocates for others than they are for themselves. So if you're not sure that you can tout your own gifts (though this is a lifelong skill that should be learned), reach out to someone else in your organization that might be able to put in a good word for you.
If the answer is no
There's no way around it. Asking for a promotion and getting shot down is a huge disappointment. But it's not necessarily the end of the conversation. If your supervisor is willing to provide feedback on why you didn't receive the promotion, listen to them. Take the steps you need to build a stronger case and ask again in six months.
If you left the conversation with your boss believing that a promotion at this organization will never be in your future, lick your wounds and use the loss as motivation to seek out a higher role at a new company.
No matter what happens, remember that no one is going to build that career ladder for you — and it's a good thing, because that means you have the power to ask for the positions you want.