6 Tips to Make Yourself Promotable

April 2, 2018

I work with a manager who has a solid employee who we’ll call Christopher. During Chris’s annual performance review this year, he broached the topic of receiving a promotion. Chris does a good job, but frankly, it isn’t anything out of the ordinary. He works 9-5, does what is required, but never really goes that extra mile. He isn’t a mentor to junior team members. He rarely works late. He doesn’t apply strong critical thinking to his work and has missed some key opportunities as a result.

The manager asked why he felt he should have a promotion, and Chris responded, “Well, I’ve been doing this job for a long time.”

An employee who thinks he deserves a promotion just because he’s put in the time is misguided. The challenge for employees is that managers don’t always provide exact guidelines to achieve a promotion, so the route can be unclear. Although every company is different, here is some advice to get you on the right track.

1. Avoid entitlement.

The biggest mistake people make when they’re trying to get a promotion is assuming they deserve it. An attitude of entitlement about receiving a promotion, even if it is deserved, is never going to work because a “give me” monologue, without any substance to back it up, will quickly become background noise.

Entitlement can also cause you to focus solely on the promotion instead of what you need to do to get it. When you think you’re so great that there should be no doubt that you would get a promotion, you are probably ignoring the feedback previously given to you about what it will take to get that position.

Another common misstep people make is bypassing their managers to kiss up to more senior leaders, all in an attempt to show off or demonstrate their value. This kind of behavior is always noticed, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Whether it’s by the direct manager, the senior leader, or both, this sneaky strategy will likely paint you as manipulative.

2. Know your why.

It’s common to feel as if a promotion is the next logical career step and to start moving blindly in that direction without thought to what the promotion will mean. Before you lock your sights on a position, take time to decide what you want and why you want it. If you don’t know the why, a promotion just for the sake of a promotion doesn’t make you a candidate and may lead you down an unfulfilling path.

Examine your motivation in this situation. Are you looking for a better title, more money, increased power, career advancement, additional responsibilities, team management, a learning opportunity, or something else? And how will the position satisfy these desires?

Then examine the position. Setting aside your desire for the title, consider the responsibilities of the job and how much time you will spend doing each of the tasks required. Is the job going to call for late nights? Spill over into weekends? Require you to be on call? What additional skills does the job require, and how many do you possess? What people and organizational skills will be needed in this position? Will you be comfortable with that responsibility?

Once you’ve taken the time to fully assess the position and your motivations, and if both fall into line, it’s time to take steps to get noticed.

3. Go the extra mile.

People who put in extra hours, take on additional responsibility without being asked and anticipate project needs will get noticed. If you don’t step on toes, you could even start doing part of the job responsibilities before you get the position. One of my clients had an aspiring young employee who wanted a promotion to a position that didn’t yet exist. When his boss pushed back and said he wasn’t ready, the employee came prepared to his annual review with a list of tasks he was already doing to fulfill that job. The boss couldn’t argue since he was doing most of the job anyway, so the new position was created and he got the promotion.

4. Do your current job flawlessly.

You’re going for as close to perfection as possible. If you’re functioning on autopilot or even neglecting parts of your job, you may be giving the impression that your work is sloppy or that you just don’t care. And if you can’t shine in the position you currently have, why would a manager choose you for additional responsibilities? Doing your current job well is part of proving that you’re ready for advancement. I have a client who was recently passed up for a promotion due to the perception of poor administrative skills in her current job—a problem that could easily be fixed with a little more attention to detail.  

5. Ask for it.

Make your intentions known! If you want the promotion, make sure your manager knows. Ask what you need to do to get the job and get to work on those skills. Even if you don’t get it this time around, you will be identifying yourself as a potential candidate for the future or even another position.

6. Don’t be afraid to use a little self-promotion.

Remind your manager of all the outstanding initiatives you’ve accomplished on the job. Don’t expect your boss to necessarily know how great you are. You can fill in some rich detail, which is also likely to offset any perceived weaknesses.

Making yourself promotable takes time, strategy, diligence and commitment. Define what you want so that you are crystal clear when you ask for the promotion. Don’t rely entirely on your own self-evaluation to accomplish this. Ask a trusted colleague or mentor for feedback and listen to what he or she tells you. A little self-awareness will go a long way.

Act as if you’re already in the job you want, not the job you have. Acquire the skills that you need. Take some of the load off your boss’ desk. Demonstrate creative problem-solving. And, remember to ask. It would be a shame to do all of this work and miss out because you didn’t let your intentions be known.

Related: 6 Signs It’s Time to Promote Someone​

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