At my first job, I got a promotion out of nowhere. I was an assistant and struggled with keeping my demanding, powerful, and very busy boss organized. Every day, I was convinced I was one double-booked meeting away from being fired—but she had other ideas. After an associate editor quit, she surprised me with a promotion. Score, right? I wouldn’t realize until later that there was a serious downside to my good fortune.
Fast-forward a couple years: I’m at a different company and am convinced I’m ready for a promotion. I knew I’d worked hard and could handle more responsibility, but I had no idea how to start or steer the conversation with my manager. I can tell you now, giving your boss a hollow ultimatum (“promote me or it’s time for me to leave”) is not the way to go.
I can tell you now, giving your boss a hollow ultimatum is not the way to go.
Needless to say, I wasn’t given what I demanded. Instead, I got some much-needed tough love and a checklist of ways I could prove I was ready for the role I wanted. (It would take me a few more months to do so.)
To avoid making the same mistakes I did, here are five expert-approved tips—all ones that I wish I had back then—that will prepare you for everything from setting up the meeting to handling the best and worst case outcomes.
Read on to learn the 6 best things to do before you ask for a promotion.
Make a promotion checklist
Before you even approach your boss, set time for a long, heart-to-heart with yourself. “If you’re a good contributor and someone that people value, then you can easily make a case for yourself by touting your strengths, wins, and contributions,” says Liz Bentley, executive coach and founder of Liz Bentley Associates, a boutique life-coaching firm. To do that, sit down, take out a journal, and honestly answer these questions:
1. What are the successes I’ve had in my current position?
2. What are my strengths?
3. How do my strengths benefit the team and contribute to the larger organization?
4. If promoted, how will I contribute at the next level?
5. Have I been able to receive constructive feedback and understand where I need to grow to meet my manager’s expectations?
Find the right subject line
Don’t send your boss a calendar invite for a meeting called “promotion.” A subject line or title like “feedback” or “improving my workload” describes what you’d like to accomplish just as honestly, but with less chance of putting your manager on the defensive. Explain in the note of the invitation (or in an email) that you’re requesting this meeting because you’re focused on continually doing your best and would like to schedule some time to learn what you’re doing well, where you could improve, and how you may be able to grow.
Tell your story
Knowing the job you want is just as important as knowing what you’ve done to earn it. “Spend time learning what the new role you’re proposing will require, what skills will be demanded, and how it will not only be a great fit but will also challenge you,” says Nicole Lipkin, PsyD, organizational psychologist and CEO of Equilibria Leadership Consulting. “Know what you’re worth, why you’re worth it, and why you can rock this role.”
Once you’ve figured out the ins and outs of the role, identify your skill set and explain how your personality, experience, and goals align with what the new position requires. Next, compose your story. “Just like you would prepare for a speech, know what you want to say and get comfortable saying it by by practicing,” suggests Lipkin. “Fumbling over your words and coming off as unprepared diminishes your credibility, your influence, and your ability to sell yourself.”
Ask for constructive criticism
After you’ve presented your case, a natural conversation with your boss is likely to evolve. Stay focused on your accomplishments and don’t compare yourself to others, but go ahead and ask tough questions that put the ball in your manager’s court. “Push for feedback by asking along the lines of, ‘Do you agree with my assessment of my current and future role?’ Or, ‘Is there any reason why my request for a promotion would not be supported by you?’” says Tim Bennett, workplace expert and co-host of The Focus Group Radio.
Promotions are not just about you—they’re about the needs of the company at a higher level. “Leaders get the bigger picture and know how to contribute to it,”says Bentley. “It’s okay to ask how you should grow so your skills can be of the most value.”
Set a followup meeting
Know that “yes” may not come around for a while, but that’s okay. Good things are worth waiting for—and working towards. If you don’t get the position immediately, it’s imperative that you gracefully accept the news without huffing and puffing out of the office. After hearing the verdict, Lipkin recommends arranging for a time to sit down with your manager to find out why they made their decision. “Asking for the feedback and finding out how you can improve your positioning for the future demonstrates maturity and dedication—two factors that are rarely overlooked when future promotions are being considered,” she says.
And if you did get promoted (yay!), you should still set up a recap meeting. Going into your new position armed with ideas of how to prepare yourself for the new role and the challenges ahead is extra insurance for success.
Thinking about making your move soon? Schedule your meeting for one of these days—your luck is written in the stars. And try making this one simple change to your office behavior in order to boost your career.