If you’re waiting for your manager to hand you a promotion, you may be waiting a while. For most people, earning a promotion requires planning, communication and persistence over time.
Your path to a promotion may vary depending on your profession, but Ziprecruiter CEO Ian Siegal has said early-career employees should expect to get promoted every three years. His claim is in line with a 2018 study by people analytics platform Visier, which found that employees are most likely to earn a promotion in their third year with a company.
How to Get Promoted
- Set career goals.
- Talk to your manager.
- Build a network of strong relationships.
- Understand your strengths and weaknesses.
- Seek out learning and development opportunities.
- Track your accomplishments.
- Take calculated risks.
- Take on added responsibilities.
- Lead with solutions.
- Maintain a positive mental attitude.
How to Get Promoted at Work
If you want to get promoted, you need to take control of your own career development. That means setting goals, charting a path to reach those goals and taking on responsibilities that will give you the skills and experience needed to excel in a higher-level role.
1. Set Career Goals
You can’t get to where you’re going without a map. Take some time to do some self-reflection about your skills, interests and personality traits, and then draft some short-term and long-term career goals.
People sometimes assume that advancing their career means a management role, but that path is not a good fit for all people. Before you set your sights on management, you may want to take stock of what a management role would look like and whether a leadership role appeals to you, said Dan Marcus, manager of enterprise software sales for Wolters Kluwer.
Marcus said he made the decision to transition from sales representative to sales manager, because he enjoyed the strategic work of developing a playbook that would help his team scale and grow sustainably.
2. Talk to Your Manager
The work you put into setting career goals and identifying steps to advancement won’t mean anything unless you articulate these aspirations to your manager.
You could ask your manager for ideas about potential options for advancement, but they would probably prefer you come to that discussion with a sense of your own interests and ambitions.
Tejal Wagadia, a technical recruiter who blogs about career topics, suggests employees get a sense of their next steps by identifying a senior employee performing a similar job at a higher level and asking them about the skills and requirements of their job. By comparing the requisite skills of the senior-level position against your own job responsibilities, you can identify gaps in your skills and experience.
This will allow for a more productive conversation with your manager about what types of projects will give you the experience you need to reach the next step of your career.
“Nobody wants to do all of the work for somebody who hasn’t done any of the work themselves,” Wagadia said.
If you don’t already have a standing one-on-one meeting with your manager, Wagadia suggests sending your manager an email recapping your discussion and then scheduling a follow-up meeting at a time that gives them enough time to talk to their manager or the human resources department. You may not get promoted at that next meeting, but Wagadia said it’s important to keep the conversation going with your manager.
“Don’t let the ball drop,” Wagadia said. “Nobody should be more invested in your promotion than you.”
3. Build Relationships
Your success in your role doesn’t necessarily have to hinge on your relationship with your manager (although that’s always helpful). You should also be developing a network of relationships on your team, within the company and in your profession, said Lulu Rufael, the chief human resources officer for HR software company Atlas.
Whether it’s a friendly relationship with your teammate or a mentoring relationship with a senior colleague, you will want supporters in your corner who can offer advice in challenging situations, suggest ideas about professional development opportunities and help you shape the narrative of your career. When the right opportunity opens up, these people can also advocate for your promotion.
4. Understand Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Self-awareness is a key part of career growth. You should know how to make use of your strengths and how to improve the areas where you need development.
If you’re having trouble identifying your strengths and weaknesses, you can ask your manager, colleagues or mentors for feedback. It’s up to you, though, to identify these areas of improvement and target them with professional development training.
5. Seek Out Learning and Development Opportunities
You should constantly be learning new skills and staying on top of industry trends.
Whether it’s through reading industry blogs, attending seminars or taking online training courses, continuous learning will put you in a position to offer new solutions or introduce new tools that could help your team be more productive or strategic in its practices.
6. Track Your Accomplishments
Making the case for a promotion can be a lot easier when you are tracking your wins. Wagadia suggests keeping a “brag book” that lists all of your accomplishments and any positive feedback you may have received from clients or coworkers.
Wagadia’s brag book is a folder on her computer that stores screenshots of complimentary emails and her own written summaries of projects that exceeded expectations or were completed ahead of the deadline.
“Having a brag book is going to be helpful because we tend to forget all of the things that we have done...They will likely ask for this when they go and talk to their supervisor or the HR person about your promotion,” she said.
7. Take Calculated Risks
Sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone to round out your skill set and propel you to the next level. Rufael, for example, started in human resources, but a mentor told her she might have to get experience in other areas if she wanted to reach the leadership level. After receiving a project management certification, Rufael left the HR team to become a process improvement leader, then a director of an IT team before going back to HR operations as a vice president.
“When the promotion opportunities came up for me, it wasn’t just because I had this expertise in HR,” she said. “It was because I had this learning and expertise in all these different areas. Those were calculated risks.”
8. Take on Added Responsibilities
This is a tough one. You want to show your boss that you are able to handle extra responsibilities, but you don’t want to add unnecessary stress and hours to your day. After all, there’s no guarantee that your extra responsibilities will be rewarded with a promotion. If you really want a promotion, though, there’s no clearer way of demonstrating your abilities than doing the work.
“If you can show that you already have done the work and the position even before you got the job, that will really set you apart from the other candidates,” Marcus said.
To avoid being put in a position where you are taking on extra responsibilities without the recognition, Marcus suggests employees regularly talk with their managers about their career goals and the progress they are making toward reaching their career goals.
9. Lead With Solutions
There’s no better sign of a future leader than someone who is able to solve the most pressing challenges facing the team.
By introducing a new solution or best practice, you are demonstrating more than business acumen. You are also showing that you will be able to navigate the team in the right direction if given the opportunity to lead.
If you have built up your credibility and won the trust of your team, Marcus said the team is more likely to see you as a leader and respect you if you are promoted to manager.
“I think a lot of times we as professionals feel like we have to be in a formal management position to demonstrate leadership,” Marcus said. “What I’ve learned from my own personal journey, and what I've seen from others, is that anybody can really step up and be a leader within a group setting.”
10. Maintain a Positive Mental Attitude
Work can be stressful, but how you handle that stress is important. If your team falls short on a goal, it’s important that you be able to learn from your loss without letting it drag you down.
“Such a core part of leadership and getting promoted is to show how you overcome challenges and obstacles,” Marcus said. “It’s critical to always look at the bigger picture of things and not get too focused on the negative.”