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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Get Unstuck! 5 Steps to Landing That Promotion

You're a top performer, and you’ve got the numbers and praise to back it up. So, why aren’t you getting that promotion you so desperately want and deserve?

Unfortunately, this happens all too often—at companies both big and small. The good news? By being proactive with your boss and putting together a plan, you absolutely have the power to make a change.

If you’re feeling ready to move up but stuck at your current level, here are some simple steps you can take to get that promotion on track.

Step 1: Setting the Foundation

Your first step is making sure your boss knows you want a promotion. Sounds simple, but many people don’t do this—they look to their managers to bring the topic up instead. And if you have the world’s best boss, then maybe he or she will, but usually, it’s “don’t ask, don’t get.”

So, ask your boss for some time to “discuss your career.” Using this language (without going so far as to spell out that you want a promotion) will ensure that he or she isn’t caught off guard. No one likes feeling unprepared!

Step 2: Positioning

Once you sit down with your manager, prepare to lead the conversation (especially since you’re the one who asked for the meeting). But don’t go in saying “I'd like a promotion”—your manager will feel put on the spot and is more likely to respond negatively.

Instead, start by showing appreciation for your current job and boss. A little flattery never hurt anyone, right? Plus, the last thing you want is to come across as unappreciative or entitled. Explain that you want to have a long-term career at the organization, that your career progression is really important to you, and that you’d like some input on your future. There’s an important, yet subtle, hint in here for your boss: No long-term prospects? Sayonara. While you want to be seen as a loyal and committed employee, it’s also not a bad thing for your manager to worry about you as a “flight risk” once you have a strong track record at the company.

Next, say something along the lines of: “I’m not sure I’ve shared this before, but I’d really like to make manager level, and I feel I’m more or less ready for the challenge. I’d love to hear from you what skills I’d have to gain and what my performance would have to look like for that to happen.”

Step 3: Listening

It may sound obvious, but your next step is to listen carefully. You’ve just made it as easy as possible for your manager to give you really helpful feedback—something that a lot of people find difficult to give—so pay attention to the specifics of what he or she is saying. For example, even if you think you’re nailing your sales goals, if your manager says he or she would like to see more from you, that’s something you need to take note of.

Also make sure to read between the lines. “You might want to consider spending a bit more time on your relationships with the senior managers” likely means the senior team either doesn’t know you well enough to support your promotion or that you have some work to do to win someone over.

If you’re not sure what a piece of feedback means, ask follow-up questions to clarify and make sure you’re on the same page. Finally, take notes (and do it visibly). You need to keep a good record of what was said so that you can follow up.

When all’s said and done, thank your manager for the feedback and the discussion and mention you’ll set something up in a few months so that you can review your progress together. It’s a lot easier to set this follow-up meeting when your boss already knows to expect it.

Step 4: Over-Delivering 

Now that you know exactly what getting promoted is going to take, map out at least 2-3 actions you can pursue in the coming months that you know would make a difference to your boss. Whether that’s taking a management class to boost your leadership skills or spending more time building relationships with other departments, make sure that your activities are visible and that your manager notices. Depending on your boss, you may even feel comfortable sending him or her a periodic note saying, “I’ve been making a big effort to increase our marketing like you mentioned—here’s a quick update on a few new strategies I’ve put in place."

Now is also the time to reflect on who else has your back at work. Promotions often require a number of stakeholders to vouch for you, so put some extra effort into maintaining or building these relationships.

Finally, do some self-reflection. Are you already acting and delivering as if you’re at the next level? When you’re promoted, will your colleagues be surprised—or will they be surprised it took so long? To get to the next grade, you often have to perform, act, and even dress accordingly. Sometimes only then does the promotion follow.

Step 5: Following Up

Once you’ve been able to address some the areas of feedback your manager has for you, schedule a follow-up meeting. Bring out your notes, again leading the conversation, and remind your manager of the few areas you discussed. Be prepared to outline the actions you’ve taken, and ask for feedback in terms of how you’re progressing against your goals. It may take more than one follow-up meeting, but the persistence will pay off.

One of my previous team members took a similar approach to what I’ve outlined here—asking for a meeting, letting me know she was ready to get ahead, and taking active steps to implement my feedback. While she wasn’t quite ready for a promotion when we first had the conversation, she showed me she had what it took to move to the next level, and her promotion followed shortly afterward. Knowing that she wanted and expected to get promoted also put that bit of pressure on me as her manager to make sure I did the right thing and didn’t let her walk out the door.

Having these conversations isn’t always easy. But if you want that promotion, it’s crucial to take these steps. Remember, you’re in charge of your career, and if your job isn’t panning out as you would like, it’s up to you to take action.

Photo of boss and employee courtesy of Shutterstock.