10 Tips to Help You Score That Big Promotion

Doing a great job is step one, but you have to make sure your bosses know you’re ready for a new challenge—and a bigger salary.

You want to get ahead, but you’re not sure how. You think you’re really good at your job—you’re great at it, in fact—and yet that big promotion always seems to elude you. What gives?

Well, working hard and being good at your job are good foundations for getting a promotion, but they’re not the entire ballgame. You have to make sure that your bosses understand your value and your career goals. A promotion isn’t a reward based on what you’ve already done, it’s a bet on what you are going to do moving forward.

We asked a number of employment and HR experts what their best advice was for people looking to score that big promotion. Here’s what they had to say.

1. Show your worth

Doing good work is always a good step towards being promoted. But crushing a project isn’t going to help much if no one actually notices how well you did. To that end, Steve Pritchard, HR consultant for The London School of Make-Up (@londmakeup) recommends that you make your worth known:

“Never expect that what you do at work will be instantly recognized by staff higher up in the system, if you’re doing nothing out of the ordinary,” says Pritchard.

“Make a point of your goals for the company and what it is you are doing to help your company achieve great results. Don’t let your hard work go unnoticed, but at the same time, don’t force your opinions or work achievements on your boss/managers.”

Make sure you do this strategically and professionally, setting pre-established values and pointing towards how your efforts have tangibly helped the company—and doing all of this within an appropriate setting, like a quarterly review. This is all to say, don’t just walk around your office loudly proclaiming about how you crushed it. Please.

2. Learn new skills.

According to Dr. Timothy G. Wiedman, Professor Emeritus of Management & Human Resources at Doane University (@DoaneUniversity), you can make yourself more valuable to your company—and make yourself more promotable, by continually learning and adding new skills to your repertoire:

“Make yourself more valuable to the organization by keeping your skills up-to-date.  Take courses, attend seminars or webinars, and/or earn job-related certifications. Many organizations will contribute financially to your continuing education, but you may have to ask.  And don’t keep your self-improvement activities a secret. Don’t brag, but do keep your boss informed about those activities.”

3. Manage your time and stay busy.

Sure, everybody would love to add some extra skills? But who has the time? Well, VitaMedica (@vitamedica) Chief Marketing Office Stuart Ridge has a great recommendation. Avoid downtime at work and use those extra hours to improve your skill set and take on new projects:

Always find work for yourself. While you shouldn’t be constantly stressed and overbooked, be sure to fill your slower times with additional projects, supplemental trainings, or assisting another team. This not only shows your superiors that you take initiative and work hard, but also helps you develop the skills needed to advance.

4. Help your boss.

Simply put, your boss is one of the most important people in your life when it comes to getting a promotion. Either they’re the one giving you the promotion, or their the one whose recommendation will seal the deal.

Are you looking to get a promotion? Make sure that you are helping your boss achieve their goals, and take pains to make sure they understand just how valuable you are. According to Pritchard:

“The boss is your priority when it comes to getting a promotion; they need to know that you’re willing to go above and beyond. Set up a meeting with your boss to find out exactly what it is they want to achieve out of a particular task, or their overall goals for the end of the month and suggest ways in which you can help to achieve them.

You want to show your boss you’re in your job for the long run; by suggesting new ideas and strategies for your company to thrive, you’re showing your commitment to the job, which will not go unmissed.”

5. Show professional courtesy.

If your bosses don’t see you as a professional, then they are less likely to think you’re worthy of a promotion. While no one wants to be bland automaton at their job, there are many ways that you can let everyone know that you are serious about your job.

Professor Wiedman has four tips in particular:

  • Be punctual.  Always get to work on time and get to meetings and appointments early.”
  • Participate in discussions at meetings and ask relevant questions (but do not go overboard—respect others’ air-time).”
  • Meet all deadlines.  Always get an early start on projects so that the unexpected will not trip you up: Procrastination ruins careers!  (And keep in mind that this is doubly-true in a team-based environment where colleagues rely upon your contributions!)”
  • Spell-check and proof-read all written communication (including e-mails) sent to bosses, colleagues, and all outsiders connected to the business.  Your written communication reflects upon your competence, so punctuation and grammar do matter!”

6. Prove you’re ready.

There’s a reason that people don’t go up to their boss on their first day and demand a promotion: They haven’t done anything to earn it yet! If you want to get promoted, you not only have to show that you’ve done the work, you have to prove that you are ready for the added responsibility.

“If you want to be promoted at work, you’ll need to be able to prove that you are ready to take the next step forward,” says Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com (@MyCorporation).  Promotions, while they do include a nice pay bump and title change, also mean an increase in workplace responsibilities.”

“You’ll need to be able to show your employer examples of moments when you took initiative and it paid off to benefit your department and the overall company. Promotions also help groom you for leadership roles, so you should be able to demonstrate moments where you helped lead or guide a team too.”

7. Ask questions and admit mistakes.

You’ve heard advice already about learning new skills, and the same goes for general work-related knowledge. If someone says something you don’t understand, ask them what they mean! Don’t worry about feeling stupid or uninformed; it’s much better to get the information you need and use it than to avoid a momentary bit of awkwardness.

“If you do not know something that’s job-related, ask!” says Wiedman. “A question that should have been asked—but wasn’t—can have catastrophic consequences that may never be forgotten.”

The same goes for making mistakes. If you screw-up, don’t hide it. That will only make things worse. People admire the character of people who immediately admit their mistakes. And character can go a long way towards getting your promoted.

“When you have made a mistake, admit it.  Immediately.  Do not wait to see if the boss has noticed.  Most bosses are more observant than you may think they are,” says Wiedman.

8. Manage expectations early on.

“Set the foundation for an eventual promotion from day one of a new job by making a solid first impression,” says Ridge, “but don’t maximize your successes straight from the beginning.” You’re much more likely to get a promotion if your boss doesn’t see your request for one as a huge surprise.

Ridge also advises that setting concrete goals, and finding the right balance between impressive goals and reachable ones—is a great way to set you on the path to a promotion:

“When setting goals with your boss, identify what your true “reach” goal would be, and then set the expectation slightly lower. This makes it easier for you to guarantee that you will hit all your goals, and makes it far more likely you will exceed them, giving you an excellent reputation come promotion time.”

“Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean setting overly simple goals for yourself. Find goals that your boss will see as in line with the requirements of the position, but that you know you will be able to exceed.”

9. Look for feedback.

Have you ever played pin the tail on the donkey? Can you imagine how difficult that game would be if you had no one directing you? The same logic applies to your performance in the workplace. If you aren’t getting feedback, how are you going to know what you need to improve!

“Tell your boss and your colleagues that you welcome constructive feedback so that you can continually improve your workplace performance,” says Wiedman, adding, “And then, use the feedback that you receive!”

That last bit is crucial. Listening to feedback is one thing. Acting on it is another. It’s something that a lot of people have difficulty with. Showing that you can use feedback to improve your performance will definitely make you stand out from the pack.

10. Be prepared.

This last bit is important. If you want to get a promotion, be prepared to ask for one. And if you’re going to ask for one, you should also be prepared to, well, to be prepared! You don’t want to go in and ask for a promotion without a plan for the conversation that’s going to follow.

HR expert and consultant Laura MacLeod (@FTIOProject) breaks the whole thing down into three steps.

  • “Do your research. This means: Document what you have done for the company, how it has benefited- culture or bottom line. Check out HR policies on promotions and talk with trusted colleagues who can shed light on when/how workers have been promoted in your department and company-wide.”
  • “Make an appointment to speak with your boss. Practice at home how/what you will say. Be clear, concise and direct. State facts on how you benefit the organization and are valuable. Your seniority, loyalty, etc. Give examples. Know your career trajectory and explain why and how the promotion makes sense both for you and the company.”
  • “If you don’t get the promotion, ask for an explanation. Frame it as: I’d like to know how to improve my work- understand expectations so I can continue to benefit the company. ALWAYS gear your pitch toward the company—How have you helped the company grow/improve/profit? That is your value.”

There is no perfect way to receive or ask for a promotion. But follow the tips laid out in this article, and you’ll be well-positioned to start getting ahead.

If you decide you’d rather work somewhere rather than get a promotion, you can check out these related posts and articles from OppLoans:

What are your best tips for scoring a promotion? We want to hear from you! You can email us or you can find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Laura MacLeod created From The Inside Out Project® (@FTIOProject) with all levels of employment in mind to assist in maintaining a harmonious workplace. Laura is a popular professor in graduate studies at the Hunter College Silberman School of Social Work and is published in Social Work with Groups Journal. Laura leads training sessions and staff support groups at Housing Works in New York City and speaks at conferences across the country.  
Steve Pritchard is an HR consultant who seeks the best from employees, striving to always take an original, innovative approach. Having previously worked in business and marketing, HR was a natural step to progress even further his career. Steve has now been working with The London School of Make-Up (@londmakeup) for over three years, handling HR and introducing new ideas to combat sensitive situations, with an aim to put both the employer and employee at ease in even the toughest situations.
Stuart RidgeStuart Ridge is the Chief Marketing Officer at VitaMedica (@vitamedica), a physician-formulated nutraceutical company that supports people in achieving optimal health. He has over 20 years of experience in marketing and managing high-performing marketing teams.
Deborah SweeneyDeborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com (@MyCorporation). MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Google+ and Twitter.
After completing 13 years as an operations manager working at two different ‘Fortune 1000’ companies, Dr. Timothy G. Wiedman spent the next 28 years in academia teaching courses in management, human resources, and quality control.  He is a member of the Human Resources Group of West Michigan and does annual volunteer work for the SHRM Foundation.  He holds two graduate degrees in business and has completed multiple professional certifications.

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