For many workers, getting a promotion means putting your head down, working hard, and letting your hard work speak for itself. But the reality is, it takes a lot more to be considered for a promotion than just hard work.
While there's no one-size-fits-all formula for how to grow professionally, there are certainly many ways to make sure you're able to make an impact in your position and be recognized for your growth potential: from doing your research so that you're prepared for your annual review and voicing your career aspirations to your manager, to doing some due diligence to find out what others in your position and industry are making. There are plenty of ways you can position yourself for not only a pay increase but also an increase in responsibilities (if that's what you're after!).
To gain some more insight into what exactly it takes to get promoted, we spoke with 10 managers, C-suite executives, and founders to hear exactly what it is they look for when considering someone for a promotion. Read on to learn some new ways to prepare to make—and win—your case.
"When asking for a raise or promotion, one of the first pieces of traditional advice that I think can be abandoned is letting the employer throw out the first number, also known as the 'anchor' number. What happens if you wanted to ask for $80,000 but they anchor the conversation at $50,000? Now you have to work all your way up to your original number of $80,000 and a $30,000 difference is much more challenging to close.
"I also advise people against going and getting another job offer to then show your current employer what you are worth. I don't love this because it's a pretty big slap in the face to the employer. If they pay you more, what stops you from using company time in the future to interview and negotiate an offer again?
"Instead, talk to workers in similar industries, companies, and roles to learn what their salary is or even try a free tool like Career Contessa's anonymous salary database, The Salary Project, to start creating a competitive salary range. This way you can then approach your employer with an informed number and begin your negotiations for a raise or promotion in an open and transparent way, with real life comps to refer to, which makes the employee's case for advancement stronger and makes the employer feel like the employee has done their due diligence.
"I also discourage people from asking for a raise or promotion during reviews. It's usually too late for any big changes to happen by the time you're having your review. Instead, start planting the seeds beforehand. Meet with your manager to review your accomplishments over the last year. Let them know that you want to start salary discussions and your research is telling you that the market value for your skill set is X. Have a few conversations like this before your review."
—Lauren McGoodwin, CEO and founder, Career Contessa
"If my employees want to be promoted at work, they need to be able to prove that they are ready to take the next step forward. Promotions, while they do include a nice pay bump and title change, also mean an increase in workplace responsibilities.
"They'll need to be able to show me examples of moments when they took initiative and it paid off to benefit their department and the overall company. Promotions also help groom employees for leadership roles, so they should be able to demonstrate moments where they helped lead or guide a team too."
—Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation.com
"High performance and bravery are the winning combo for a promotion on our team. High performance means more than being good at your job. It means looking around the next curve and helping our team prepare for it, no matter which level you're at.
"Many people think high performance is enough, but it's not, at least not here. Bravery is essential. We expect open communication all year long, not just at performance reviews. The review should just be the summary of what we already know—no surprises from either side.
"If you are reaching higher and you're open with your ideas and expectations, you are on a fast track at our company."
—Lindsey Walenga, Co-founder, Siren PR
"Valuable employees are worth promoting in order to keep them around. But what makes someone valuable? What I look for first and foremost is a team player. It's obviously important for the employee to be good at their job, but I also want my workers to work toward the greater good of the company.
"So, if there are occasional small tasks that do not fall exactly within the parameters of the employee's job but they accept the work without complaining, that signals to me that they have the best interests of the company at heart and are dedicated to making us a success.
"I also consider whether someone points out not only problems, but also solutions. It's easy to critique someone or something, but it's another thing to propose a way to improve the situation, and it's even more impressive when the individual takes the initiative to carry the plan out. To me, it shows that someone is a critical thinker and can think outside of the box, and that is the type of person that I want climbing their way up in my company."
—Nate Masterson, CEO of Maple Holistics
"As COO of a national commercial real estate franchisor, I have given a number of promotions and objected to a few at all levels, from entry to C-suite. Upon reflection, promotions are earned through the combination of attitude and aptitude.
"Attitude means that respect is earned, not demanded. An individual ripe for a promotion is one who has earned the respect of peers as well as senior management. The former is almost more important than the latter. You want to hear applause for the employee when the promotion is announced, not groans. The individual also needs to view the promotion as a growth opportunity, not as a checkbox on a resume.
"Aptitude means the employee has mastered everything at their current job and successfully taken on leadership roles in their area and/or outside their area. The individual must also have demonstrated the ability to look beyond their current job or department to supporting the company in its entirety and taken the time to self-educate and learn the industry as a whole."
—Diane K. Danielson, Chief Operating Officer, SVN International Corp.
"There aren't magic words but 3 simple actions that work almost every time: Ask your manager for help, do what they say, and follow up.
"Managers are looking for employees who demonstrate self-leadership, accountability, and take initiative. When an employee takes the initiative to ask their manager for help getting to the next level, managers want to help employees who are committed to improving, so take advantage of that.
"The second step can be harder. Then it's on you to follow through and deliver on their suggestions. What I wish every employee understood is that to succeed professionally, your manager's perception is critical whether you agree with it or not. If you disagree with the feedback, let your boss know you are working to internalize their feedback and could they provide specific examples to illustrate.
"Then follow up. Every few weeks or so, check in with your manager and ask them for more feedback about the steps you have been taking. Ask specifically what is going well and what is not. Inviting a manager to give negative feedback lets the manager feel comfortable enough to get the criticism off their chest. Even though it may be hard to hear, you need the information so you can continue to improve your perception in their eyes.
"It's this last step that imprints upon a manager that you are promotion material even more so than actually delivering on the feedback. When an employee is brave enough to ask for negative feedback, the manager feels this is an employee they can trust, who listens to them, and has great potential."
—Carol Wood, Director of People Operations, Homebase
"One of the most important key traits that I look for when colleagues come to me to get promoted is strong emotional intelligence, particularly how they manage and regulate themselves and their teams.
"This is so important because it shows to me that they can respond instead of react and as they grow into the next role. They need to have the emotional intelligence to step back and create space to consider the situation strategically from all angles and decide how to best approach and handle scenarios.
"Another specific trait I look for is how they socialize with coworkers. This means observing if they attend office gatherings, company events, and meetings because this shows me their commitment to learning and mentorship."
—Kathy Osborne, Account Director, BAM Communications
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