Most employees are faced with the challenge of trying to convince the powers-that-be at work that they are ready for, deserve, and should be given a bigger job: the grown-up versions of whining and/or “but so-and-so got it”; most of our kids do while growing up to get us let them do some things on their own, don’t work at all in the work environment. In other words, hounding your boss at every turn about how much you want a promotion, acting sad or disengaged when it doesn’t happen, making the case that you deserve a promotion based on tenure, or on peers having gotten promotions – these things won’t work, and will in fact probably hurt your chances.
So, how do you show your boss that you’re truly ready for a promotion? Assuming there’s a promotion available; these five things will set you up for success:
1) Demonstrate that you’re not overwhelmed –
Many people seem to think that looking totally slammed all the time makes them seem committed and hard-working — ready for something more. But it generally has exactly the opposite effect. Staying late every night, running into meetings at the last minute, talking about how much work you have piled up and how you haven’t taken a real vacation in x years – that just makes you look as though a) you’re not managing your time very well, and b) there’s no possible way you could do anything more. And that’s a problem. If you’re looking for a promotion, and you seem like you’re barely hanging on in this job, why would anyone think you’re capable of a bigger one? Instead, first stop talking about how overwhelmed you are. Then figure out how to streamline your work and/or make best use of your time, so that you can be calmer and more collected (especially when dealing with people at the next level up). And if your job truly is too much for one person to handle well in a reasonable number of hours per week, bring your boss a proposal for shifting, simplifying, or sharing your work that’s feasible and will support the department’s success.
2) Volunteer for things that help the whole company –
Once you’ve opened up a bit of time and aren’t feeling like the proverbial headless chicken, you’ll have the bandwidth to notice projects or initiatives that are being created to help move the company forward. Raise your hand to be included, especially if it’s in an area where you have passion, expertise, or both. For instance, let’s say you’re deeply versed in e-commerce, and there’s a cross-functional group being put together to figure out how to create a better mobile presence for your products. Offer to help.
3) Look the part –
This may seem superficial, but it is fairly important, for better or for worse. Every company has dress and grooming codes (usually implicit vs. explicit) and what’s expected changes as you move up the ladder. For instance, it might be OK for an assistant (male or female) to wear canvas flats, an Old Navy sweater, and hair pulled back into a pony tail; that’s probably not how a senior vice president shows up. Notice how people one or two levels above you in the organization (especially people who you view as having a lot of potential for further success) are dressing and grooming themselves, and evolve your style as needed. Don’t try to be somebody you’re not – just up your dress and grooming game in a way that feels like you, but more senior.
4) Make a business case for your promotion –
If you were trying to convince your boss to invest in a new piece of technology, you’d talk about how having it would improve the company’s service, or increase people’s productivity; you’d present the business case for making that investment. In the same way, when you’re requesting a promotion or expansion of your responsibilities, you’re asking your boss and the company to invest in you, and you need to be able to make a compelling case as to why it’s a good idea for them to do that. Too often, employees’ promotion requests are completely self-referential (“I’ve worked hard,” “I’ve been in this job for three years,” “Everyone who started with me has already been promoted”). Instead, focus on how your promotion will help the company, your boss and the team, and be prepared to explain that to your boss in a simple, logical way.
5) Do your current job astonishingly well –
If you do nothing else, do this. Many, many times over the years managers have told me about employees who are doing only a B or C job in their current position, and yet who come in to request promotions or more responsibility. When the boss says (legitimately), that he or she first needs to see that the person can do their current job well, too often, the employee responds with some version of, “But my current job isn’t challenging enough/doesn’t showcase my strengths/ doesn’t give me a seat at the table.” I have never known a manager to whom this makes sense. Trust me, he or she is sitting there thinking, Why on earth should I trust that you would be great at a bigger job when you aren’t great at this one? Doing an A+ job in the position you have now – not occasionally, but day in and day out – is the single best way of convincing your boss to take a chance on giving you a bigger job.
If you’ve been angling for a promotion and haven’t gotten one, and you’ve read through the suggestions above and thought, yeah, yeah – I know all this…. I’d suggest you stop for a minute and step back from yourself. Have you really been doing these things, or do you just agree with them in theory? You might want to ask someone you trust, who sees you clearly and will be honest with you. When it comes to something as important as our career and how we’re trying to advance it, we can all be a little myopic at times. On further reflection and with some outside input, you may realize you need to focus less on why a promotion would be good for you, and more on demonstrating why giving you a bigger job is a great investment for your company to make.