My Strategy for Getting a Promotion

I’ve spoken before about how my job isn’t exactly the most illustrious or high-paying in the world. I’m in an entry-level job at my company, in a title designed for those without higher education. I really like my job and company, but it is also imperative that I get moved onto a track befitting my skills and education level soon. It’s not only because I want more money—it’s also about respect. I make big contributions, I do good work, I am well-educated, and I deserve to be compensated accordingly.

Whenever I mention that I am enacting a plan to get promoted within one year of arriving at my company, friends and colleagues quiz me in tones of mystic reverence, as if I’ve somehow crossed some misty veil into an unknown world. “But HOW? How do you do such a thing?!”

Honestly, while I haven’t accomplished it yet, the steps to setting myself up for a promotion have not been that hard.

Ask For a Promotion, Long Before You Want It

You owe it to yourself to have a frank conversation with your boss about your ambitions. This is even more important if you are a woman. If you need convincing on this, or you have a barrage of “but buts” running through your head, I recommend you check out this fabulous post from Bitches Get Riches: You Need to Ask for a Fucking Raise.

So how do you have this conversation? Fortunately, my boss already set aside time each week for a one-on-one talk with his team members. If I didn’t have a scheduled time, though, I would do anything I could to get thirty minutes on my supervisor’s calendar.

You also need to have this conversation sooner than you think. First, your boss may point out some deficiencies you will need to address. You need time to do that. Moreover, some companies only process promotions on a rolling basis. We do promotions twice a year, and my boss has to turn in promotion recommendations in September for changes in January. If I start the conversation about a promotion in November, it’s too late. If you aren’t sure how your company’s promotion schedule works, ask until you find out.

I started these talks very early on, at three months or so with the company. My company has job descriptions for each type of title, so I printed off the description for both the title I have and the title I want, and brought them to my one-on-one meeting. From there, it was as simple as saying, “I’m here, and I want to be there. How do I make that happen?” My boss highlighted what he saw as the key differences between the job roles, effectively giving me a checklist of what I needed to do. Off to the races.

Do the Work

Once you’ve had that conversation, you should have a to-do list of some greater or lesser specificity. It is your job to take that to-do list and turn it into real projects. That means taking initiative. Do not expect your boss to hand you the projects you need to get it done. Go out there, find some stuff to do, and do it.

I work in Quality Assurance, so I mostly needed to show an ability to apply excellent problem-solving abilities in a way that protects our product. This meant revising many different types of procedural documents, then graduating to writing those documents from scratch. I also volunteered to help with an audit, wrote a training curriculum when a major change occurred, and basically did anything I could to gain new skills into how my company functions.

Promote Yourself

It’s not enough to just do the work. I needed to make sure that my boss knew it. Again, this was simple for me, because I already had weekly one-on-ones. Each week, I’d report in what I was doing to crush it. This also helped me to know that I was doing value-added activities. If you don’t have time with your boss, I’d encourage you again to regularly find a way to get on their calendar to present what you’ve done and ask about what you can do better.

You also need to personally keep a list of the things you have done. You will not remember what tasks you did eight months later. It’s unlikely your boss remembers what you did even two weeks ago—at best they might have it written in notes. I have kept fairly obsessive documentation on all the “extra” activities I have done. My personal tactic has been to literally cut and paste lines from the job description for the title I want, and include the relevant tasks I have completed relevant to that skill underneath.

When It’s Promotion Time, Be Really Noisy

I am about two weeks away from September, the month when promotion recommendations are turned in to HR. And I just encountered a curveball—my boss leaves September 1. He is awesome, and has already transferred his staff notes over to his boss. He has also emphasised in every meeting with his superior that we really need our promotions and raises to not get lost in the shuffle. For what it’s worth, my boss thinks I should be a shoe-in, as long as the info makes it to HR.

So what’s my plan? With my boss’s encouragement, Monday morning I am scheduling a one-on-one with my boss’s boss for early September to talk about the promotion. This will include some straight talk, but will also be another opportunity to get ideas on what else I can do to grow my skill set and become a top contributor to the team. I am far more nervous about this conversation than I was talking about it with my direct boss. Fortunately, I already have that list I mentioned to bring to the meeting. The dream in my heart-of-hearts is that he will simply say, “Oh, this is great. Let me just send this to HR now.”

Here is the thing, though, friends. Even if that’s not the outcome and I get a big fat “no,” I want that no. I am owed that no. You are owed one, too. No means that you tried. No means that you can ask “why,” and fix it next time. What is unacceptable is for my (or your!) accomplishments to simply go unrecognised because someone else spoke up. It is unacceptable to go year after year without feedback on how you can be better. Your workplace or manager may be so wildly different that my way of pushing for a promotion will not be useful to you. If that’s the case, though, you owe it to yourself to find the way that will work and get going on it.

Have you ever actively pushed for a promotion? What were your techniques, and the outcome? Do you have any advice?

6 Replies to “My Strategy for Getting a Promotion”

  1. Abby

    “My personal tactic has been to literally cut and paste lines from the job description for the title I want, and include the relevant tasks I have completed relevant to that skill underneath.”

    That made me go, “Ohh! Yeah!!” out loud to myself as I read it from bed. I am not sure how to find the job description for the title I want. I also have a longer timeline in mind because I’m still working on my masters degree, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be planning ahead.

    • Ms. Steward

      Woo! Hope it helps–it never hurts to start linking your accomplishments with a skill set. It will help you to get super prepared at interview/next step time, too!

  2. Steveark

    As a person who worked from entry level to being the top corporate boss before early retiring I can tell you from experience that you’ve got the one separating attribute that you need, ambition. I tried to encourage many, and a high percentage of female employees, to reach for the next level but most of the time they “didn’t see themselves” doing that. I would caution you on the concept of respect, what matters is whether you truly respect your ability and love yourself inside your own skin. If you see the value and capabilities you have then it really doesn’t matter if anyone else does and if you don’t then it also doesn’t matter what they think. You need the higher pay, the greater responsibility and the chance to lead. Respect is too intangible to be a main goal. And in fact when you do succeed it will come automatically from others like you but those who refuse to try to rise will be fueled by jealousy and won’t respect you. They may even hate you, comes with the turf.

    • Ms. Steward

      Your point about respect is a great one–you’re right that it’s the sort of other-controlled intangible you can’t really base goals or aspirations on.

      I suppose respect comes up so much for me now because I feel like my current role is one that people do not automatically respect at all. It’s very much considered an easy job (not the stuff I have done in addition, but what is actually laid out in my job responsibilities). You’re right, though, the progression should take care of that automatically inasmuch as it can be taken care of at all.

      Thanks for the great point!

      • Steveark

        I get that, but good people, all the way up to the CEO will show equal respect to the janitor as they do to the senior VP’s. And the other kind will only pretend to respect those who they can use to further their own success. I remember my engineer daughter interned at where I worked and was treated dismissively by one of my engineers, until he realized it was my daughter. Then he was all smiles and “can I help you?”. It really taught her the lesson that workplace respect can be very fickle and that people like that guy are to be avoided when possible. Good luck, but you really won’t need it, you’ve got this!

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