How to Ask for a Promotion: Tips and Strategies for Talking to Your Boss

Katie McBeth  | 

There are many difficult business conversations you might have throughout your life; from interviews, to notifying your boss that you’re moving to another company. They all require a level of poise and professionalism, and they all can be stressful in their own way.

However, not all of those difficult conversations will be about negative news; some will be about well deserved praise. If you’ve proven to be a valuable individual within your company, shouldn’t you be rewarded for your hard work?

Asking for a promotion can be just as awkward as asking for a raise, but that doesn’t mean it has to be. The value you’ve brought to the company through your work and dedication should be reflected in your position within the company. Additionally, if you’re doing a lot of heavily lifting, you should be accurately compensated financially for your hard work.

But first, how can you even broach the subject? How does one ask for a promotion or a raise without sounding self-centered, pompous, or grandiose? And how can you prove your worth to your boss if they don’t seem to notice the hard work you do?

Let’s dive into how to best pop the question to your boss, and what you should avoid saying, as well as the general “dos and don’ts” of asking for a promotion. You deserve to be recognized for your work, but first, you need to prepare for the conversation.

Plan Ahead and Do Your Research

Unfortunately, asking for a promotion is not as simple as meeting your boss and saying “I deserve this.” Asking for a promotion requires time, research, and preparation. In fact, if you’ve stumbled across this article on the internet, you’re most likely on the right track! You’re doing your research, and you’re ready to take on the challenge.

To start, it’s important to know why you need to prepare. Creator of I Will Teach You to Be Rich, Ramit Sethi, has an excellent answer for why you should research before you ask. He states on his site: “this is the #1 rule I’ve discovered about negotiation: 80% of the work in a negotiation is done before you ever walk into the room. That means the conversation is only a small fraction of what actually makes or breaks the negotiation. In reality, when asking for a promotion it’s your PREPARATION that will determine whether you succeed or fail.”

So, although you might have the guts to ask your boss, there’s still a slim chance that you’ll get the promotion if you don’t accurately prepare ahead of time. Your boss will want proof as to why you deserve the promotion, and you’ll need to provide them with detailed evidence of your worth to the company.

Here’s some steps you can take to prepare before asking for a promotion:

  • Collect all the comments from your boss and coworkers about how much you helped them with a project or how exceptional your performance was/is.
  • List all your accomplishments or any instances where your performance went above and beyond, and emphasize how this benefited the company. Consistency will be the key here; one month of excellent performance does not necessarily speak as loudly as many months of exceptional work.
  • Research the position that you’re interested in. For example, if it’s for an assistant manager position, research what the daily duties are and provide examples of how you’ve done similar work in the past, or how you plan to perform in that position. If it’s a leadership position, take notes on how you’ve led or worked in groups before.
  • Practice your speech, and prepare for any inevitable answers you’ll need for questions that they might ask. Expect some resistance, and prepare for it with persuasive evidence.

Know What You Want and Why You Want It

There could be a few reasons why you’re asking for a promotion, but it’s important for you to identify those reasons and explore your options. What are you hoping for with this promotion? Here’s some possible scenarios:

  • You’ve worked with the company for an extended period of time, but you haven’t seen much upward mobility (both in position, and in pay). If this is the case, asking for a promotion and getting it can help you feel more secure with your company. However, if you don’t succeed after multiple attempts, then it’s possible that the business doesn’t value you as much as it should. If that’s the case and you’ve tried everything, then it might be worthwhile to search elsewhere.
  • You work well in leadership positions, and you’re ready for the challenge. Perhaps where you really shine is in directing or overseeing people and delegating tasks. If you’re a natural born leader, then you need to demonstrate how you could succeed in that position, and tell your boss why they should take a chance with you. If you’re unsuccessful, then it’s possible you need to find a new job that would be more willing to give you that opportunity.
  • You’re bored with work and want a change. If you’ve been doing the same thing for years, then it’s understandable that you might get burned out from all the tedium. However, will climbing the corporate ladder give you reprieve, or simply be more of the same? Possibly consider your options — such as finding a new job in a new field, or exploring other positions within the company — before you decide to go for a promotion.

Be Sensitive With Your Timing

Preparing to pop the question isn’t the only step you should take. You also need to prepare your boss for the conversation. Plant the seed.

Many people are uncomfortable with surprises, and a natural reaction to being cornered can often be defensiveness. Avoid this with your boss by asking questions such as “What do you recommend I do to get a raise or promotion?” or “What does success for individuals and our team look like to you?” Once you get an answer, you can inform them that you are planning on achieving that, and hope to provide evidence soon. Be sure to remain enthusiastic, and reflect on how excited you are to prove yourself.

Asking these questions will also give you an opportunity to learn what they see as impressive work, and possibly further prepare you for presenting the evidence. Your boss is going to be your biggest hurdle to overcome (even if they’re not the one interviewing you, they’re still going to provide a letter of recommendation), so learning to identify what your boss expects or wants from their employees will be beneficial.

Once you’ve built up your argument and spoken with your boss, you can take the opportunity to let them know that you’ve worked hard over the past few months, and you believe it’s time to discuss a promotion in a meeting. Your boss will know that you’ve been eager to prove yourself, and will possibly be more inclined to listen to your request.

Using Your Annual Review

Sometimes the best time to bring up the question is when you already have a meeting planned with your boss. For example, if you have semi-annual or annual reviews, then you can prepare your boss for the conversation to happen at that time.

Your annual review is a built-in time for you and your boss to go over your achievements and discuss your plans for the year. Why not use it to your advantage?

Asking For the Meeting

However, your annual review might still be months away, and you might be itching for that new position. If that’s the case, then be sure to set up a meeting with your boss under the pretense that you would like to discuss your position. Maybe even bring up that you’re interested in an internal job posting (if there is one), or would like to discuss your career growth. This will give your boss the opportunity to ruminate on your achievements prior to the meeting.

Once you’ve set up the meeting, you can start practicing your speech. Bring all your evidence to the table and get excited about your achievements. Your boss will hopefully be receptive to the effort.

Be Prepared to Negotiate Salary and Benefits

However, before you finalize your presentation, be prepared to talk numbers with your boss. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is forgetting to talk about salary and compensation. Unfortunately, many women struggle with negotiating salary or a pay raise, and much of it could be due to imposter syndrome: the idea that you’re work isn’t that valuable and that you’ll eventually be “found out” as an imposter within the industry.

No matter what internal demons might be trying to keep you down, negotiating a pay raise alongside your promotion is vital. There are ways to combat imposter syndrome, including:

 

  • Pretend you are advocating for someone else. Does your friend work within a similar field, or is one of your coworkers a real inspiration to you? Consider how you treat their achievements, and turn that same positivity toward your own work. You wouldn’t say negative things about or to your friends, so why not treat yourself in the same way?
  • Look at your achievements through someone else’s eyes. Perhaps you’ve put in extra hours at the business, and have received multiple accolades or praise from coworkers and your boss for your dedication. Instead of selling yourself short and invalidating your hard work, look at their comments as if it’s about someone else’s work. Obviously the person they are referencing has worked hard and is deserving of recognition and accurate compensation.
  • Remind yourself that learning is good, and it’s ok to be uncertain of what you’re doing. Learning and growing is something that should be praised, not shamed. Remind yourself of how far you’ve come — whether in terms of education and upbringing, or in terms of your career. Imposter syndrome might make you feel like you’re faking it till you make it, but really you’re just learning and growing. A year ago you didn’t know the things that you know now. Celebrate that.

 

Additionally when negotiating your pay, you need to do your research about what someone in that position is paid. This always varies based on geographic region, years of experience, and the budget of the company, so be sure to do thorough research. Once you’ve decided on a number, come up with a range that provides your boss and the business with an opportunity to negotiate.

For example, if you’re applied to be a Project Manager with a marketing firm, and the general wage in your area with your experience is around $85,000 a year, offer them a range of between $90,000-$80,000. If you want additional benefits or perks, include that in the total range (such as an extra $5,000 for your retirement savings, or something similar). Ranges are much more acceptable to present than hard numbers, as it allows both the company and yourself to discuss options. Often times if you offer just a singular number, you’ll be met with a hard “no.”

Follow Up

Once you have the discussion with your boss, there are a couple of potential outcomes. Either you’ll get the promotion, you’ll be told “not yet,” or simply told “no.” If you do get the promotion, congratulations! Enjoy your new position, and don’t let your boss down on giving you this opportunity.

However, if your answer is negative, that doesn’t mean your road has ended. Ask for feedback, and then be patient. A “no” simply means that your boss or the business isn’t ready yet. It’s possible that you need to spend more time with the company, wait for a new position to open up, or that your evidence wasn’t convincing enough to convince your boss.

If you keep working hard and collecting evidence, you can follow up in a few months. Broach the subject with your boss again and ask if you can sit down to review your work.

Be sure to let your boss know that you took their feedback to heart, and show them how you’ve improved since the last meeting. You can either request the promotion again at that time, or wait a little longer before you make your case again.

No matter what the outcome — positive or negative — it’s always good to follow up with your business after asking to make a transition. It can help you remain in check, and it shows that you respect the company and are grateful for the opportunity.

Dos and Don’ts: What to Say When Asking for a Promotion

There are infinite scenarios that might occur prior to asking for a promotion and during the meeting with your boss. However, there are some general rules you should follow, and they are listed here. Here are some of the most common “dos and don’ts” of asking for a promotion:

Don’t Make Threats or Offer Ultimatums

Just as with any negotiating scenario, coming off as too aggressive or assertive can often provide you with the opposite desired effect. If you enter the meeting and state something like “I will leave if I don’t get this promotion,” then chances are you’re not going to win over your boss.

Essentially, this tactic will cause a negative impact on the relationship with your boss. Even if you do plan to leave the business if you don’t get a promotion, you don’t want to burn that bridge with your employer. You want to remain positive, enthusiastic, and grateful for the opportunity.

You can, however, look for an outside job offer that is similar to the promotion you want, and (using that information carefully) you can use that to justify getting a higher salary with the promotion or for additional benefits. Outside job offers can be tricky to bring up with your boss, but they can also work on bolstering your argument for negotiating a bigger paycheck. Just be careful not to make it seem like you’re planning to leave.

Don’t Assume It’s a One-And-Done Conversation

As mentioned earlier, asking for a promotion is not a simple act of cornering your boss and popping the question. Asking for a promotion is a series of conversations, meetings, and sometimes off-hand remarks about your performance.

Additionally, you won’t always get a promotion with the first ask. You have to be patient, and might even need to ask multiple times before you succeed. Although it can be frustrating to have to wait and prove yourself, the character you show after receiving a “no” will leave an impression on how your boss views you. So be sure to make a good impression, and don’t be too discouraged if you fail the first (or the first couple) time.

Do Update Your Resume or Prepare a List of Accomplishments

Although you’re applying for a new position within the same company, it’s still good to update your resume. It can help you remember the various duties you’ve performed while with the company, and it can also help you collect your thoughts about how far you’ve come since working there. Consider all the goals of the company and how you’ve achieved or met those goals. Additionally, you can throw on a list of accomplishments that include awards you’ve won, major projects that you’ve completed or led, and notes of praise from fellow coworkers and your boss.

Once you’ve updated your resume and collected your list of accomplishments, you can bring a copy of that information with you to the meeting. It is always recommended to have written documentation of your work and your accolades to help strengthen your negotiations.

Do Ask for Feedback

Feedback is crucial for almost any aspect of a career. Both before and after you’ve had the discussion about a promotion, you should request feedback from your boss.

Prior to the discussion, feedback can help you understand what your boss expects from you, and what the company is hoping to achieve. That feedback can help you angle your argument to show how your work aligns with the goals of the company.

After the discussion — whether you get the promotion or not — feedback can help you stay in line with the company’s goals. Additionally, your boss will be grateful for the fact that you’re checking in and eager to continue to improve and grow.

Climbing the Ladder…

Asking for a promotion can be tricky, and — as it turns out — there’s a lot of different factors to keep in mind. However, if you’ve been working hard since day one and deserve recognition, then asking for a promotion is a worthy task to take on. Do your research, build your argument, plant the seed in conversations with your boss, and hold your head high as you pop the question.

There are many difficult conversations you’re going to have throughout your working life. This conversation might be awkward to start, but it certainly is well deserved. Even if you don’t get a “yes” on the first try, putting yourself out there will pay off in the long run!


Image Sourcehttps://depositphotos.com/

Katie McBeth is a researcher and writer out of Boise, ID, with experience in marketing for small businesses and management. Her favorite subject of study is millennials, and she has been featured on Fortune Magazine and the Quiet Revolution. She researches SEO strategies during the day, and freelances at night. You can follow her writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter: @ktmcbeth

This post was updated March 17, 2018. It was originally published March 20, 2018.