The Wrong Way to Ask for a Promotion at Work

employee being selected for a promotion

Employee being chosen for a promotion | iStock.com

You’re ready for more responsibility on the job and a better title. But how should you go about asking for a promotion at work? It’s a tricky question. Rather than running the risk of hearing “no” from their boss, some people might choose to wait it out, silently stewing whenever a colleague is promoted instead of them. Others get pushy, demanding a promotion they may not yet have earned. Neither is a good strategy if you want to advance in your career.

To get ahead, you need to strike a balance between letting your manager know you’re eager to take on new challenges and proving yourself in your current position. You definitely need to be proactive to advance in your career, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Making one of these five mistakes could actually hurt your chances of working your way up the ladder at work.

1. You can’t prove your worth

If you’re angling for a better title, show your boss why you deserve it. Keep track of your accomplishments, volunteer for projects that are in line with your career goals, and learn new skills related to the position you want to have. When the time comes to ask for a promotion, you’ll be able to point to concrete evidence for why you should get a bump. Not only will having such evidence help you make the case for a promotion to your boss, but it will also help her sell her boss on why you should advance.

“When you can quantify performance on some level, you’ll be able to easily prove (to yourself and to your higher-ups) which employees have really gone above and beyond,” Avery Augustine, a manager at a tech company, wrote in an article for The Muse.

2. You’re asking at the wrong time

man talking to his boss

Man asking his boss for a promotion | iStock.com

You’re eager to get ahead at work, but don’t expect a promotion if you’re still wet behind the ears. Workers in their 20s and 30s are more likely than older employees to feel that raises and promotions should be offered more than once a year, a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found. Yet asking for a title bump after just a few months on the job may make your boss think you’re entitled. And if your company only promotes at certain times of the year (say, after annual reviews), you’ll likely hit a brick wall even if you are a rock star employee.

You also want to assess what’s happening internally before asking for a promotion. If your company is hemorrhaging cash and clamping down on raises, now may not be the best time to ask for a fancier job title. If possible, you also want to time promotion requests around your own big successes.

“For example, suppose you just launched a marketing campaign that resulted in double-digit increase in revenues for the last quarter,” Roberta Matuson, CEO of Matuson Consulting, told Career Bliss. “This would be an excellent time to present your case to your boss as to why you are deserving of a promotion and raise.”

3. You think you don’t need to ask

Well-dressed man on computer

Businessman on computer | Thinkstock

Automatic promotions might happen occasionally, but if you really hope to advance in your career, you need to make it clear to your boss. Expecting a better title after paying your dues for a few years is a recipe for disappointment. Instead, sit down with your boss and have a frank discussion about your career goals and opportunities within the company. If you don’t, you run the risk of being overlooked when other positions do open up. The same goes for annual raises, which may no longer be a given.

“It used to be the norm to expect an automatic annual raise, but after the economy took a nosedive, that has become less and less common,” Alison Green of the Ask a Manager blog told Fast Company. “Now you have to ask for more money.”

4. You think talent is all that matters

businessman working on computer

Businessman working on computer | iStock.com

Yes, you need to be good at your job if you want to be promoted. But the tough truth is, you also need to know how to play the game. At many companies, career advancement may not be based on merit alone, but also on your relationships with your colleagues and higher-level decision-makers. If you aren’t known to the higher-ups, your request for a promotion may fall flat.

“If you’re career-minded and want to climb the ladder it’s important that you analyze your corporate culture to determine what you need to focus on besides a job well done,” Amy Hoover, president of Talent Zoo, told Forbes.

5. You don’t lay the groundwork

Employee in a meeting with bosses

Employee meeting with management | iStock.com

Don’t wait until your annual review to let your boss know you’re looking to advance. Instead, start laying the groundwork for the promotion months in advance.

“The absolute worst mistake you can make is to simply show up on the day of your performance review and ask for a promotion and raise,” Ramit Sethi wrote on the I Will Teach You to Be Rich blog. Surprising your boss with a request for a promotion is more likely to result in a knee-jerk “no,” Sethi wrote.

Instead, find out from your boss what it would take to get a promotion and make it clear you plan to work toward that goal. Then, when you ask for a promotion during your next sit-down with your supervisor, he won’t be blindsided by your request.

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