Is it time to ask for a promotion?

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You’re in the zone! Your supervisor keeps on complimenting you and has tagged you her best performer for five years in a row. Your co-workers often say – “what will we do without you?” Even the big boss has gotten wind of your good work. You’ve seen that your accomplishments have consistently contributed positively to the company’s bottom line.

So why hasn’t your supervisor given you even a hint that a promotion is on its way?

Broaching this subject can be a scary prospect, especially if you’re a newcomer. You may be afraid to ask because you might lose face. What if the boss says no? That would be embarrassing! Or worse, what if you lose your job? Others might just be content leaving it to fate. They may think that “if I’m so good, surely the boss will offer it to me. I don’t need to say it.”

Grab the bull by its horns

Asking for a promotion is one of the scariest but most essential steps to growing in your career. Doing it will show that you are a goal-driven employee. It will also prove that you are serious about carving a progressive career path. To make this a win-win situation for both you and your employer, careful assessment, planning and timing are needed. You have to do the following three things to prepare:

  1. Make an assessment. Make a list of your achievements. Gather proof such as commendations and citations. Get exact numbers that show how you have added value to the company. For example, your X project increased company productivity by 50% or you’ve consistently exceeded sales targets by X dollars. List down initiatives you may have led and additional work you have assumed. Take note of the degrees or courses you have recently accomplished. You can also take into account the years you have served the company. Then (and this is important!), examine these achievements and credentials to see if they match the expectations listed in your performance evaluation. See if you’ve exceeded these expectations.
    If you are not sure how to go about this assessment or how to gauge if you have achieved enough, ask a mentor or someone in HR for advice.
  2. Know what to ask. Will you be negotiating for a higher position, salary increase and/or other privileges (for example, time off, a corner office or option to telecommute)? If you are asking for raise, would you be able to give a figure if your boss asks you? And more importantly, would you be able to handle the additional responsibility a promotion would usually entail? You may have to do some research to find out what exactly is appropriate to ask for.
  3. Timing can be everything. You also have to consider the current position of the company or organization: Is it downsizing? Is it in transition (merger or take-over)? Has funding been cut? These have a major bearing on staffing decisions. If the business climate is normal, most experts would say that the best time to broach the subject would be during your regular performance appraisal. It would be normal to discuss where your career is headed during a performance review.

Set a meeting

If you have gone through these steps and the time is right, set a meeting with your supervisor. Set an appointment personally or via email. Make sure to say that it will be about your performance so that your boss can prepare too.

In the meeting, make sure to:

  1. State your case clearly and decisively.
  2. Use tact and diplomacy. It can turn out to be a bragging session if you merely rattle off your accomplishments. It can sound like you’re saying “See, I did all these and you didn’t even notice!” Instead, make it more of a story about how happy you are that you have been given the opportunity to help the company/organization achieve ___ and ____ and now you’re ready to contribute even more.
  3. Most importantly, you should help your boss see what is in it for them too. For example, will your promotion involve taking on responsibilities that your boss can give you to free up some of their time?
  4. Show your boss that you have done your research and examined industry standards to back up your proposition. Also, think of possible objections your boss may have in advance. Come up with counter objections if possible.
  5. Always be respectful and don’t assume anything.

Make sure NOT to do the following:

  1. Be a bully.
    • Don’t threaten your boss if you do not get your way. If you say that you’ll quit if you don’t get the promotion, you may readily find yourself without a job. Remember that no one is indispensable.
    • Don’t complain by using other employees. For example, if you have been passed up for a promotion and a co-worker got it, don’t point out your co-worker’s flaws or compare that person to you (“I’m better and more qualified, why did he get the promotion?”).
  2. Don’t make it about only you and your needs.
  3. Don’t give up at the first sign of an objection.


If you get a yes, then congrats on the promotion! But if the answer is no, you still have options.

  1. Assess the given reasons why they can’t give you what you asked for. Perhaps the company just needs a little time, or maybe you just need to improve certain areas of your performance. Whatever it is, take it as constructive feedback.
  2. Negotiate. If they can’t give you the raise you were asking for, then ask what they think would be reasonable. For some people, it’s not even about the money. It’s the recognition that they are doing a good job and they’re ready for higher responsibilities. If this idea is your main motivator, then tell your boss. You may be given the higher position, with all the perks to follow at a later date.
  3. See the situation as an as opportunity to discuss your opportunities for growth with your boss. Identify skills, knowledge and attitude to get to your goal. Ask her when you can revisit the discussion.
  4. In certain workplaces, you also have to take into account that promotions are not only based on merit. It can also be based on seniority, or even politics. In this case, you have to decide if this is something that you can live with.

Even if you don’t get the promotion, you will now have useful information that will help you achieve it in the near future. This is infinitely better than being in the dark for a long time, waiting for something that may or may not come.

Source: Moving on up: How to ask for a promotion, Megan Halpern, The Muse. Accessed Sept. 18, 2017.

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