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How to get promoted, the do’s and don’ts

June 17, 2021 - 14 min read

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10 ways to show you are “promotion-ready”

8 mistakes to avoid if you are trying to get promoted

5 signs you might be getting promoted

Many of us may have been raised to let our hard work “speak for itself.” Unfortunately, when you’re angling for a promotion, that may not be enough. While corporate ladder “climbers” don’t have a good reputation, the truth is that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be recognized for your performance.

If you have your eyes set on a better title or bigger salary in the future, being a valuable member of the organization is a critical first step. But if you really want to stand out as a future leader, here are several steps you can take to learn how to get promoted at work.

10 ways to show you are “promotion-ready”

1. Make your boss’ job easier

As someone who’s been in your role for a little while, you likely know what your supervisor worries about the most. Taking those concerns off their plate can help them see you as dependable and capable. It reinforces that you’re a team player and invested in the bigger picture. Try stepping up to cover their responsibilities while they’re out-of-office so they can enjoy their time away.

2. Work on your communication skills

Getting promoted usually means stepping into a leadership role. The more people you’re responsible for, the more important your communication skills will be. Spend some time now learning how to communicate with different types of people. Learning how to communicate goes hand-in-hand when learning how to get promoted. Investing in these relationships now will smooth the transition if and when you become their boss.

3. Ask how you can improve

You must already be doing an incredible job in your current position to show your superiors that you are capable of handling a promotion. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. Ask how you can get better. Take time to develop new skills and practice getting feedback like a boss. If you can receive constructive criticism without getting defensive, you’ll show that you’re ready for the next level.

4. Be nice

Develop strong relationships within your organization. For most bosses, the decision to promote someone also requires the input of others. Maintaining good relationships will encourage other colleagues to go to bat for you when it matters the most. Always treat everyone with kindness and respect.

5. Recognize others

Your promotion isn’t just about you. Companies promote those who can motivate and manage successful teams. If you’re trying to get promoted, you may be tempted to sing your own praises. However, by recognizing others, you’ll actually make yourself look good too. And who knows — the coworker you shout out might return the favor.

6. Communicate with your boss

Don’t be afraid to tell your manager that you want a promotion. They can help you develop core competencies and keep you in mind when the next promotion arises. You don’t have to start the conversation by demanding a promotion. Instead, ask them what it will take to get one. This will put your boss in the position of a guide or a mentor, and get them equally invested in your career success.

7. Bring in revenue

Every organization cares about its bottom line. If you can bring in revenue (or save money), you’ll be seen as a valuable part of the company. This will put you in a strong position to advocate based on your results — and justify the accompanying pay raise.

8. Pay attention to others that have been promoted

Has someone else been promoted recently? Ask them how they did it. Did they take on additional responsibilities over time, go back to school, or step into a newly-created position? See what you can learn from their experience. Ask if they have any feedback or advice for you.

9. Become more resilient

When your promotion does come, it’s time to celebrate — but it may bring its own stress, too. Leaders have more “stage time,” but they also deal with more people and higher stakes. Develop resilience now by working on your ability to manage stress and improving your work-life balance. These "soft" leadership skills will pay off as you advance to higher levels.

10. Create value wherever you can

Many people think that dominating every conversation is a leadership trait. Be intentional when you speak so that you become known for only contributing valuable input. Look for ways to streamline processes so you can be more efficient. Invest that freed-up time into developing your skillset or projects that deserve your extra attention.

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8 mistakes to avoid if you are trying to get promoted

1. Burning yourself out 

When working towards a promotion, it’s natural to want to look your best. But if you’re working long hours or over-committing to projects, this strategy can backfire. You may end up burning out or dropping the ball on an important task. Manage your energy carefully. No promotion is worth putting your health or career growth at risk.

2. Thinking “me vs them”

There’s room for everyone to be successful — and just because you want that new role that opened up doesn’t mean anyone else does. Don’t let your ambition or your insecurity cause you to act in ways that you’ll regret later. There’s no need to put your team members down to make yourself look better by comparison. Focus on how you can make everyone better in your new position.

3. Giving an ultimatum

Outdated career advice would tell you to leverage a new job offer for a better role or higher pay at your current job. While this could be a savvy move, be prepared to walk away if it doesn’t go your way. Without appropriate context, your manager could see this as an attempt to manipulate your way into a promotion. They likely won’t appreciate it.

4. Keeping your struggles a secret

We already know that staying quiet about wanting a promotion won’t get you noticed. But neither will stay quiet about what you’re struggling with. Letting your manager know how you’re stretching yourself opens communication and shows them your investment in the role. It also opens doors to talk about whether your team would benefit from creating a new role (hint, hint).

5. Selling your promotion with a sob story

You may have childcare to pay for or a sick family member, but that isn’t a good reason for your company to spend more money on you. Avoid using your personal life to make the case for why you need a promotion. Your company may care about your well-being, but they won’t see that as a compelling factor in their bottom line. Focus on the great work you've done instead.

6. Applying for roles that don’t suit you

If you’re really tired of your current role, you may think any ol’ job will do. While wanting a change is understandable, you should only apply for roles that you’re genuinely interested in. Throwing your hat in the ring for a variety of roles may make you look unfocused. The leadership team may look at you as a less serious candidate when a job description you really want comes around.

7. Blabbing about your promotion

Sure that you’re a shoe-in for that open role? Don’t print new business cards just yet. Telling the whole office about your new job is a great way to isolate yourself from staff and management alike. You’ll look like a bad sport and as if you can’t handle sensitive information — and of course, that’s if the job is even yours.

8. Posting the wrong thing on social media

Even if you’re applying for an internal opening, you’ll be the topic of discussion. The hiring team may want to look at your resume, your portfolio, or see what comes up on LinkedIn and Google. Refrain from posting or sharing anything that is out of alignment with the way you’d like to be perceived in your new role.

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5 signs you might be getting promoted

So you’ve been working hard and getting all the right kinds of attention. You’re a team player, your performance reviews are outstanding, and the timing feels right. How do you know if a promotion is headed your way? Here are 5 signs that you may be getting a promotion:

1. You’re getting more work

Have expectations increased or your role changed recently? While new responsibilities can add more stress, it’s a sign that your manager trusts you.

2. You’re being asked to train someone

Imitation — or duplication — is the sincerest form of flattery. If you’re being asked to train or mentor new employees, it’s an endorsement of your skills. It may also be a first step towards handing over your responsibilities to free you up for something else.

3. Your boss asks about your goals

Has your manager started asking you about your long-term career goals? This may be a gentle way of gauging your interest in new opportunities.

4. You’re being invested in

Maybe you’re being invited to new meetings, or a higher-up takes you out for coffee. If training opportunities or conferences arise, your manager suggests that you should go. Investments of time, resources, and money in your career development aren't made lightly. They are indicators that you’re seen as part of the organization’s future.

5. You’re asked to sit in on interviews

If your manager or HR department asks you to weigh in on new hires, this indicates that they trust your opinion and your understanding of the role. Don’t be afraid that you’re hiring your “replacement.” After all, someone will need to fill your position once you move up! 

When discussing or asking for a job promotion, write down and memorize a handful of key points that explain why you deserve it. These might include specific projects or tasks that you went above and beyond to complete on time with stellar results. Understand how your individual work fits into the organization as a whole, and make a case for why you would be the best candidate.

If you’ve done the work and put in the hours, approach your boss with confidence that you are the right person to be promoted. Your years of experience, work ethic, and knowledge of your organization are valuable assets, and when you have success, so does the company. How to get promoted at work is really just a matter of how you do your job — to the best of your ability and with the desire to get better.

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Published June 17, 2021

Allaya Cooks-Campbell

BetterUp Staff Writer

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