You’re six months into your job and doing well at your company. You feel you’ve already settled in, and you’re ready for more responsibility. So you schedule some time with your boss and ask,
“So, what can I do to get promoted?”
Many of the managers I coach have told me this scenario is becoming more and more common. In an era of ever-shortening job tenures, employees seem to be taking the initiative on advancing their own careers more than they used to. They’re less likely to wait for someone to give them what they believe they deserve.
That may not always pay off. Instead of admiring your initiative, your manager may find your request annoying, entitled, and lacking in the self-awareness it usually requires to earn a promotion. In fact, after reading my article on asking for what you want, one senior executive wrote to me to vent his frustration on precisely this point. Here’s how he put it:
“there’s a certain level of accountability that’s missing in our society today. Before you ask, I think you need to demonstrate a level of proficiency/impact … I have had people ask me for more when they haven’t finished their “current job”. One needs to be self-aware and assess where he is before asking for more. I am put off when folks ask for more too early. This is also the number one gripe managers have with millennials.”
He goes on to suggest that employees ask themselves (before asking their managers),
“What do I need to do before you say yes?”
To get the guidance you need without coming across entitled, consider doing the following before you approach your manager:
1. Master your current role
Doing your job competently does not mean you’ve mastered it.
In Joe Azelby’s book, Kiss Your BUT Goodbye, he highlights how what he terms “PSA”, or “Premature Self Adulation,” limits one’s career. The key point is that you want to have a clear picture of your abilities—specifically, one that squares with your boss’s view of them.
You may believe you’re doing a great job, but is that recognized by others and reflected in the less-subjective measures of your performance? If you’re in sales, for instance, are you the top seller on your team? If you’re in a service role, are your client-satisfaction scores the highest possible?
Before you ask for a promotion or more responsibility, crush your current job by doing every aspect of it consistently better than others. “Satisfactory” probably isn’t good enough.
2. Know your WHAT as well as your WHY
To make for the most productive conversation with your boss, know not just WHAT you want but WHY you want it. Sometimes your boss may not be able to give you WHAT you ask for at the time that you ask for it, for reasons beyond her control – office politics, market conditions, what have you. But she may still be able to meet your requests in other ways if you can articulate your WHY.
When you ask for a promotion, what is the real ask? Is it more engaging work, better access to key clients, developing your skills, earning more money, etc.? None of these is necessarily more valid than the others, but you need to be clear and honest about your rationale. Once your boss knows why you’re interested in a promotion at this stage, they’ll find ways to accommodate you as best they can if they truly value you.
3. Make it easy to say “yes”
Be ready to have something to show for yourself that proves your worth. Have specific evidence of your performance. Especially if you’re worried your boss will feel you’re not ready, you want to show that:
- You’re already doing what will be asked of you in the new role
- Your new role will help your boss or firm achieve their strategic goals
- Others, including those senior to you and your boss, will vouch for you
When you show how your promotion helps your boss and remove many of the risks, the decision becomes much easier to make.
The next time you want to ask for a promotion, remember to first:
- Crush it in your current role
- Understand clearly WHAT you want and WHY you want it
- Collect evidence that makes it hard to say “no”
One bonus tip is to pick the right time to ask. Know what’s happening around you – if you’re not in the right industry or your firm is experiencing tough times, there might not be any room for you to move up. If you’re in this situation, figure out what you want and why you want it. This will help you decide whether it’s worthwhile to stay or to go.
Adapted from Robert’s article at Fast Company.
Photo by Jason Hargrove