Asking for a promotion ranks high on the list of life’s most anxiety-inducing activities. Putting yourself out there to higher-ups can be intimidating, and competition can be fierce, especially in the current economic climate. And, of course, what if they say no?
But—it’s also one of the most important things you can do for your career. If you want to move forward in your company or field, promotions are part of the game, and they won’t just be handed to you—you have to work (and ask!) for them.
Ready to take that next step? Here’s what to know before the big conversation.
1. Do Your Homework
The most important part of asking for a promotion is preparing ahead of time. When you make the ask, you’ll need to prove (with specifics) that you’re ready for the next step.
First, you’ll want to emphasize to your manager what you’ve brought to the table so far—it’s a good measure of both your contributions and your future potential. Make a list of all of your accomplishments to use as your talking points. Have you taken on a side project that grew into a new revenue stream? Doubled your sales goals in less than six months? Doing a great job in your position isn’t enough to make your case—you’ll need to show that you’ve gone above and beyond.
Next, identify the specific position you want, and why you’re ready to take it on. If you’re asking to become assistant manager, know what that entails and then demonstrate that you’ll be able to fulfill the position. Want to be a team leader? Give examples of how you’ve successfully managed smaller projects or groups of people, like coordinating your department’s internship program. Find concrete examples that prove that you’re the right person for the job.
2. Plan the Timing
There’s no “perfect” time to ask for a promotion, but sometimes are definitely better than others. The most straightforward time to ask is your annual (or semi-annual) review—it’s a built-in opportunity for both you and your manager to discuss how you’ve been doing and where your career is headed. (Just be sure that you’re not asking for a promotion solely because you’re up for review—you still need to demonstrate that you deserve the bump.)
Also consider your position in the company and what’s going on within your department or team. Are people around you leaving or moving up the ranks? Is your department merging with another, or repositioning itself within the company? When there’s a lot of overall change going on, it presents a great opportunity to step up and ask your boss where she sees you fitting in as the organization moves forward.
Finally, don’t be scared off by the dismal economy. Even in these tough times, smart employers understand that their employees are one of their most valuable assets, and they’ll want to retain (and reward) the best of them. You might get a smaller salary bump than people did in years past, but a promotion isn’t just about the money: It’s also about increased responsibilities, and hopefully you’ll be fiscally rewarded when the economy starts to turn around, even if you aren’t now.
3. Ask for the Meeting
If you decide to ask for a promotion when it’s not annual review time, plan ahead before you approach your manager. Send an email requesting a meeting, and make it clear that you’d like to discuss your performance and potential. You don’t want to show up to a meeting and catch your manager off guard—by giving her advance notice, she’ll have time to reflect on your performance and what the company will be able to offer you, position- and raise-wise.
4. Know Your Numbers
One of the biggest career mistakes women make is not negotiating their salary. According to a 2008 Carnegie Mellon study, men are four times more likely to negotiate a first salary than women, and 2.5 times more women than men said they feel “a great deal of apprehension” about negotiation. That’s not a good thing!
You shouldn’t discuss numbers until you’ve actually been offered a promotion, but you should be prepared to have the conversation if it arises. So, do your research and know what you’re worth, both within the company and outside of it. Check out Pay Scale and Salary.com, and see if you can find out the norms for your industry and company, too.
Then, when negotiation talks begin, don’t sell yourself short—it doesn’t hurt to ask for too much. That’s the nature of the negotiating game: they can always offer you less than what you ask for, but they’ll never offer you more.
5. Follow Up
If you get the promotion, great! Go out and celebrate—you deserve it! But if not, know that it’s not the end of the world, and more importantly, don’t just close the conversation just yet.
Make sure you leave the meeting with an idea of what will happen down the road. If now is not a good time for the department to be offering promotions, ask your boss when you can revisit the conversation. If he or she said no based on your current qualifications, get feedback on steps you can take to gain experience and be considered for a promotion in the future.
Above all, know that if you’re in the right position, your manager will be glad that you’re looking to advance. Nobody ever gets fired for asking for a promotion (trust me!). But if you don’t ask, you’re only hurting yourself.