One of the grave injustices of the working world is that raises and promotions aren't automatically awarded to smart, hardworking employees who are good at their jobs. As career expert Amy Odell—whom you may know as the former editor of Cosmopolitan.com and founding blogger of New York magazine’s The Cut—sees it, it's much more of a numbers game than you may realize. In this week’s Good@Work column, she breaks down the best way to make the case that it's time for you to move to the next wrung of the ladder.
I've been in my current position for two years now and I feel like I'm ready for a promotion. In the past few months, I've taken on more responsibilities and I've only gotten positive feedback from my boss. Considering annual reviews are around the corner, do you have advice on how I can make the best case that I deserve this?
Promotions are the result of a number of factors, some of which are directly about you and some of which have nothing to do with you. Yes, you need to be able to handle the responsibilities that come with advancing, and you need to have earned your place there by being a hardworking employee with a professional manner. But no matter how amazing you are, the company needs to have the resources to promote you. They’ll have to allocate budget for your promotion: They’ll need to give you a raise and possibly create a position for you, if there’s not one open above you already. They’ll also need to be able to spend money on a search for a replacement for your current role.
The question you’ll have to answer when you make a pitch for your promotion is not only why you personally would be able to excel in a more senior position, but also, why giving you that position will benefit your company. Because managers aren’t only thinking about your happiness and well-being. (Hopefully, they’re not complete monsters and are thinking about your happiness and well-being at all.) They’re thinking about making their budgets, achieving revenue goals, and other corporate pfaffiness you probably don’t even know about. They’re probably also thinking about their own promotions.
If your manager is accessible, you should try to meet with her before your annual review to find out what her priorities are for the coming year. Ask her how you can be helpful. It sounds like a simple, obvious, potentially useless thing to do, but remember: Managers spend most of their workday being asked for things – raises, promotions, money for X project, help mediating a dispute, time for Y nonsense meeting. Imagine how you would feel if you were in her shoes and spent all day giving, and one day, someone who works for you sat you down and said, I see you’re really busy with X and Y. How can I help?
Imagine how you would feel if you were in her shoes and spent all day giving, and one day, someone who works for you sat you down and said, I see you’re really busy with X and Y. How can I help?
Use this information to craft your pitch for your promotion. Start by writing down all of your accomplishments in your current role. Include as many numbers and measurable achievements as you can. By this I mean, note that “newsletter opens were up 20 percent” versus “I changed the tone of the newsletter so it sounds better.” The first point is hard to dispute, while something like “improved tone” is a matter of opinion. (Your opinion is probably correct, but more often than not, the people who control budgets are most comfortable speaking in numbers and figures.)
After you write down all of your accomplishments, take a moment to feel good about everything you’ve done. Now, write a separate bulleted list of what you could do in a higher-level position that would help your manager and the organization perform better. Try to anticipate which parts your manager will worry that you'll struggle with, and explain why you would be able to handle those things. Would you have to manage a team for the first time? Maybe you can point out that you’ll draw on your experience managing the intern program and undergo management training to ensure you’re an effective boss.
When you meet for your annual review, you can open the meeting by saying that you’re looking forward to your manager’s feedback, and that you want to pitch her on giving you a promotion. Bring two copies of your bulleted lists (don’t make them too long, a lot of people who fancy themselves busy and important don’t want to read long memos), one for you and one for your manager. Go down the page summarizing what you’ve written.
If your promotion is a possibility, don’t expect an answer right away. Expect to have to follow up and have this conversation a few more times. People often need to hear things more than once to be convinced of them. Your manager might tell you that you can’t have a promotion right now because there’s no budget or no open role for you. Most companies are cheap and don’t care as much about talent as they should and don’t create positions in order to promote people. If this happens, you have to decide if you want to stay and keep working for a promotion, or start looking for something else. If you decide to start looking for something else, you’re well equipped to do it because you’ve already written new bullets for your resume, practiced explaining why you’re great, and know what kind of role you want.
Amy Odell is a journalist and author living in New York. She is the former editor of Cosmopolitan.com, which became one of the most popular and award-winning sites for millennial women during her tenure. She is passionate about mentoring people starting off in their careers. She is from Austin, Texas.
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Have a career question for Amy? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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