Post-qualification: when and how should I ask for a promotion?
“How can I get promoted?” is one of the most asked and answered questions in employment literature, and volumes of prefabricated answers have been offered. To get to the heart of the matter, however, you need to try and look at the issue from your employer’s point of view.
You may be asking yourself, “How can I get a promotion?”, while your employer may be asking, “How can I better integrate this employee into the goals of this firm?” The best way for you to solve your problem is to solve your employer’s problem, or at least prove that you’re willing and able to do so.
Know how much you’re worth
You wouldn’t sell your home without getting it appraised first, right? At work, you’re selling your services. How much are they worth on the open market? With three to five years of experience, your appeal to other firms may peak, because you’re experienced enough to work independently but not yet prohibitively expensive. Knowing this, and finding a way to make sure your employer realises that you know this, can greatly enhance your bargaining power.
You don’t get promotions for hitting par
You were hired to render a certain level of performance. Meeting these expectations is like hitting par on the golf course. Just as you wouldn’t expect to win a golf tournament simply by hitting par, you shouldn’t expect a promotion for simply meeting expectations—“seniority promotions” are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Go “under par” by exceeding expectations at every turn.
Do you really want the job, or do you just want “a promotion”?
Ultimately, it makes a big difference why you want a promotion, even if it remains unspoken. Do you want it because of the corner office and the impressive-looking business card? Or do you look forward to an exciting challenge that will squeeze the best out of you? You cannot fake it—employers can sense the difference, and they respond to it.
Without knowing the exact nature of your work, it’s difficult to provide milestones that could qualify you for a promotion. Instead, ask your firm to set you a road map for promotion. The ideal time to make this request is during a periodic (probably annual) performance review. Ask for specifics and get it in writing—then keep your end of the bargain to the letter. Whether it’s written down or not, one of your milestones should be to complete a project independently or under your direction.
Aggressively seek performance feedback
Feedback, including any form of constructive criticism, is your greatest ally, no matter how hard it may be on your ego at times. Don’t accept vague feedback—dig deeper until you’ve carved out your own pathway to excellence. As counterintuitive as it may seem, focus on your weaknesses, not your strengths. Let “positive thinking” mean a positive attitude towards correcting your weaknesses.
• A bad economy is a bad time to ask for a raise, let alone a promotion. Wait until times are good, at least in your industry.
• There’s a rationale behind the old saying, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” If you don’t ask for it, you probably won’t get it. Yes, you may be offered a promotion out of the blue, but it’s far less likely than if you actively seek one. When the time is right, don’t be shy—let your ambitions be known.
• Once you've met your milestones, ask for a formal meeting with your direct supervisor or whoever will make the decision on your promotion. There’s no need to keep the purpose of your meeting a secret—if your request is denied, you will want your firm to have prepared a thorough analysis of the reasons why.