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Andrew Arkley|September 21, 2023

How To Ask For A Promotion: Our Guide

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When it’s the right time, knowing how to ask for a promotion the right way increases your chances of success and reduces the risk of disappointment.

The reasons why you believe a promotion is well deserved, or long overdue, may be clear in your mind. But unless you articulate them clearly to the powers that be, they might disagree.

And it could be a long wait until you can ask again – some companies only review promotion cases once or twice a year.

How often should you secure a promotion? In the early stages of your career, every 3 years at the latest according to Ian Siegel, the CEO of ZipRecruiter. 

And at agile companies, you could earn a promotion much quicker than that. In the later stages of your career, when much more responsibility is involved, it really depends on how long you need to take the next step.

But in addition to knowing how to ask for a promotion, it’s vital to understand when the best time is to make your case.

When to ask for a promotion

Similar to asking for a pay rise, good times to ask for a promotion include:

  • Annual reviews: In the weeks leading up to your next review, if you think there’s a strong case to make, start preparing it
  • After taking on more work: Often employers expect to see you already taking on the role and responsibilities of the next rung up the career ladder
  • After a period of success: Sometimes it’s best to strike while the iron is hot – if you’ve just delivered a big project successfully, you may be able to capitalise on this

In contrast, think carefully about asking:

  • When you, the team, or the company aren’t performing well
  • During very busy periods when your line manager or boss are distracted
  • If there’s a company-wide freeze on things like pay rises, promotions and hiring

Additionally, while it depends on your type of work, good and bad times to go for it may also overlap with our calendar listing the best and worst times to apply for a job.

So when you think it could be a good time, what’s the most efficient way to make your case?

How to ask for a promotion in 6 steps

Follow a logical process and go through the right channels, to improve the chances that the efforts you put into a promotion case don’t go to waste.

It varies from company to company but sometimes, putting together your promotion case is time-consuming work. You may need to do research and collect evidence to support your application, so plan ahead and set aside as long as you need.

Step 1: Research the role

First make sure you have a good understanding of the responsibilities and tasks involved in the role you’re applying for.

If you’re not sure what they are, these details may feature in a company document or a job advert on LinkedIn. Otherwise you could ask someone who’s already in the role, HR, your line manager, etc.

Check that this is a role that you:

  1. Are a realistic candidate for
  2. Definitely want

After all, it’s not just about getting more money and a new promotion to add on LinkedIn. If there’s a risk that the role isn’t right for you, weigh up the pros and cons first.

Ending up in a job that isn’t a good fit can cause stress and dissatisfaction, so make sure you’ve thought about how the promotion would align with your personal and career goals.

Step 2: Check company policy

If your company has a strict schedule when they will or won’t consider promotions, it’ll be rare to see an exception to the rule.

For a company that has a stance of only reviewing promotion cases in December, you’re unlikely to succeed if trying in March. So plan ahead – it’s frustrating to realise you have a strong chance of promotion just after the deadline has passed.

Similarly, check whether the company has a stance on how long employees should be in their current role before moving up. 

Again, they could make an exception to this, but you’ll need to weigh up whether it’s worth asking for a promotion if you haven’t been in your current role for that long yet.

Step 3: Assess your performance

Based on the level required for the next role, carry out a self-evaluation. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

And how notable are the weaknesses? If you think there are still some CV skills you need to gain before taking the next step, now’s the time to work on these.

For a more objective assessment, you could ask a line manager – or your boss if you have a good relationship – to informally evaluate your readiness for the next role.

Step 4: Informal discussions

If you haven’t already spoken to your line manager or boss about your ambitions, now is the time.

Explain your ambitions and give a brief overview of the reasons why you’re ready for the next role. You may need to handle the discussion delicately, for example, if you haven’t been in your current role very long.

This is a chance for someone more senior to sense-check your logic so far. Is now a time when the company will consider you for promotion – and are you ready for it?

If your boss or line manager agrees, they could have a key part to play in your promotion case. You may be able to jump straight to Step 6!

But if they think you’re not ready yet, ask for some advice about what’s required to climb the ladder at the company.

Step 5: Fill any final gaps

Consider their recommendations around what you still need to do, before weighing up how to ask for a promotion formally.

Think about what your promotion case should look like and plug any key gaps. For example, if you need to show you can take on more responsibility first, put a plan in place for this.

Agree some specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based (SMART) goals with your boss or line manager. Check with them that these are goals which once achieved, will strengthen your promotion credentials.

Step 6: Prepare your case

When momentum is on your side and it looks probable that you’ll succeed, make the case.

Most companies will have a procedure to follow. For example, your line manager may have a meeting with key decision-makers to pitch on your behalf – or you may need to submit some formal documents yourself.

Familiarise yourself with the process and stick to it. No matter what the procedure is, outline the reasons why you’re ready for promotion and use evidence to back these up.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Don’t rest on your laurels by assuming it’s a done deal.

The decision-makers might not be fully familiar with your work, so if someone else makes their case better than you, they could get the promotion instead.

One of the best ways to demonstrate your achievements to someone else is by using the STAR method. Explain the situations you’ve faced, tasks you had, actions you took and the results you achieved.

Final thoughts: How to ask for a promotion

We hope this step-by-step guide helps you get promoted but don’t be disheartened if your case is rejected.

Seek clarity on what was missing from your application, then find out when you can next put yourself forward. It’s very common to need a couple of attempts before succeeding.

But also, don’t shy away from asking for a promotion because you’re worried about getting rejected. There’s no harm in asking if you think there’s a good chance you’d do well in the next role up.

And don’t wait to be offered a promotion, usually you’ll need to go get it yourself. Your boss is busy and may not notice how long you’ve been at the company for.

However, sometimes companies hold back great staff. If you’re convinced you deserve a promotion but your superiors disagree, consider applying for jobs elsewhere.

You could make the next step up quicker that way and perhaps receive a higher salary. Here are some of the highest paying jobs in the UK you can apply for.

If you need to put together a new job application, we can lend a hand. We’re CV writing pros and can also do personalised cover letters or LinkedIn profiles – please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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