7 Tips On How to Get a Promotion From “Show Your Worth” Author and Former IBM Executive Shelmina Babai Abji

UPDATED: April 1, 2024
PUBLISHED: February 28, 2024
Woman shaking hand with her boss smiling humbly after learning how to get a promotion at work

All we want for 2024 is to make enough money to offset inflation, right? This calls for two steps—inflation to decline, which could happen, or for salaries to increase, match or exceed it. Let’s be real, those expensive groceries aren’t going to buy themselves.

While we don’t have control over inflation, late November 2023 reports showed there was potential for inflation to fall below 2.5% in 2024. Since that factor is out of our hands, we should focus on something within our control, like our personal career trajectories and the best timing and method to seek a raise or a promotion.

Shelmina Babai Abji climbed out of poverty one promotion at a time

Former IBM vice president and TEDx speaker, Shelmina Babai Abji, has a loud and clear style tip for everyone to know as they consider asking for that promotion this year: The work starts much before the ask. She also recently wrote a book titled, Show Your Worth: 8 Intentional Strategies for Women to Emerge as Leaders at Work. She has lived her advice and is ready to share it with others.

Abji sure didn’t start out as a major company’s vice president, but rather, living in poverty in Tanzania. At 15, she left to pursue higher education, driven to lift herself and her family up. As an underrepresented woman in the technology field, her economic status, language skill struggles and cultural differences were working against her. However, she eventually became one of the highest ranking women of color at IBM, while raising two children as a single mother. 

How to get a promotion according to Show Your Worth author Shelmina Babai Abji

Here’s what Abji wants others to know about putting in the legwork to ensure you are met with a “yes,” so you get a promotion and a raise that will offset rising costs, no matter what the economy decides to do next.

1. Consider your own worth

Given her history, when Abji was making $40,000 per year and renting a one-bedroom apartment, she felt “hugely successful.” Therefore, she got comfortable with “small success,” she says. 

“For me, the internal conviction took 10 years, as I did not see anyone that looked like me in leadership roles, so I inadvertently settled,” she says. But, for those who want a promotion, it starts with looking inward at your own worth and potential.

Pyramid of Success offer

“You must know deep within you that you are worthy of and ready for a promotion—and know why. You will need this kind of conviction and trust in yourself not just to get the promotion, but also to succeed once you receive the promotion so you can keep rising higher,” she says. “Once I got my first promotion and sat on the other side of the table, I deeply understood what it took to earn a promotion.” 

From there, small success wasn’t an option anymore; she got a promotion or moved to a role that would set her up for one every two years.

2. Stand out from your peers

This isn’t the time to hang back and blend in, Abji says. Instead, if you want to be seen for the work you are doing, you have to stand out.

“Gain visibility by creating higher than expected, unique [work] consistently and predictably,” she says. “This will enable you to be recognized as one of the highest performing individuals by your line of management, as well as your teammates. It will make you essential to the success of your organization, as you cannot be replaced by anyone else easily, which means your boss will be motivated to keep you.”

3. Talk like a leader, act like a leader

Do others see you as a leader before you ask for a promotion? If not, you can intentionally control the narrative so they do. “Build a leadership brand so when someone talks about you, they use attributes associated with a leader,” she says. “Your brand includes business expertise, as well as your personal attributes, such as your ability to motivate people, remain calm in chaos, your effective listening skills and cultural competence,” she says. If you aren’t talking about your own work in these terms, why would others?

Abji advises, “If your current position doesn’t offer you opportunities to demonstrate leadership, look for situations that do, such as taking the initiative to lead a task force or tackling any other project for your boss that gives your boss and many other decision-makers and influencers a front row seat to witness your leadership capabilities. An added bonus is to take on additional responsibility in your current position, so you can start operating at the scope of a leader even before getting promoted.”

Finally, get a bit loud about sharing this intention with others. She says people should associate you with the word “ambition,” after you’ve shared your intentions to become a leader with others. “Everyone should know you’re ambitious and are working hard to get promoted to a leadership position,” she says. 

4. Show you are comfortable in the uncomfortable

That promotion will involve to-dos in which you may not be immediately competent. Instead of showing you can do those things now, show instead what you do when you aren’t sure of something.

“Demonstrate your ability to step outside your comfort zone to learn new competencies, and ask for help when needed. This proves that you trust yourself and are taking a chance on yourself,” she says.

5. Rally your network of supporters

We can all brag about how great we are, but it won’t go nearly as far as others doing it on our behalf. So, Abji says to make a list of people you believe can help you get a promotion, including past or current bosses, mentors, sponsors and others who are decision-makers or leaders in your organization.

“Narrow this down to the top three to five people you believe can help you the most to get promoted,” she says, “and set up meetings with each with the objective to:

  • Ask what you need to demonstrate to be picked for the role.
  • Ask how they got their promotion.
  • Ask what leadership attributes helped them the most once they were in that role.

Listen, learn and implement their guidance to make yourself the best possible candidate.”

6. Prepare for a promotion request meeting

You don’t just show up at a potential promotion request meeting without some serious prep work. “Go into the meeting with the intention of making your boss your partner for this important milestone in your career,” Abji says. “You must express the desire to learn how to earn your promotion, and you should never come across as having a sense of entitlement. It is a balance of confidence and humility.” 

You should plan to highlight the work you’ve done to become the best candidate, focusing on concrete evidence that shows your leadership attributes and growth potential, she adds.

Here’s what to ask:

  1. When do you expect there will be an opportunity for me to be considered for a promotion?
  2. What are the decision-making criteria?
  3. What is the decision-making process?
  4. What do I need to demonstrate in order to be considered for a promotion?
  5. Are there any skill gaps I need to fill?
  6. Who else will be the decision-makers for the role?
  7. What do I need to demonstrate in order to become the best possible candidate?

In a recent interview with New York Living, Abji explains that this should not be a “transaction” but rather a “process.” It shouldn’t be the first time your boss is hearing about your desire to get promoted. “Unless you express your desire, they don’t even know,” she says.

7. Don’t stop at a “no”

You might be met with a “no” or a “not right now.” But that doesn’t mean it will always be a “no.”  

“If you compete and don’t get a job because someone else was more qualified, so be it. The most qualified person should get the job, just as you should when you’re most qualified. Don’t be disheartened,” she says. “Instead, get feedback if possible, on what you could do differently, and set yourself up for the next promotion.”

But, if it seems your boss isn’t supportive of you moving up at all, it might be time to think about your choice of companies. 

“You need to start thinking about taking your talents elsewhere, where you will be valued,” Abji says. “Your boss’s support is critical for you to get promoted, and if you don’t feel your boss is on your team, then moving up within your organization will be incredibly difficult.” 

As Abji proved, the key is to remain persistent and determined about your goals, so you can fully realize your potential. It won’t be the last opening for a promotion, and the right fit is still to come.

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