As a startup leader and now a coach, I often get asked this question: “Summer, how do I get promoted?” Usually, this also includes a question about a raise as well. I love this question because there is a lot of exploration that can occur in understanding why a person wants a promotion and how they can go about achieving it. While not always a linear path, in my experience, following these 7 steps can be a helpful starting point for beginning a dialogue with your manager about a raise or promotion.
Step 1: Examine why you want a promotion
Before you march into your boss’ office demanding a promotion and raise, it’s important to get introspective. First, ask yourself why you want a promotion. Notice I didn’t ask why you think you deserve a promotion. Before we get to that, simply sit with what is exciting to you about the possibility of promotion.
Are you doing it because you want to brag to your friends and family? Is it because you’re excited to put your new title on your LinkedIn and make an announcement to everyone you know? Or are you genuinely interested in the role and learning what will come with the new responsibilities?
Try the following exercise. Write down all of the reasons you want a promotion in one column. In the column immediately to the right, write down if this reason is external (meaning you’re excited by how other people will validate you when you get this promotion), vs. internal (meaning you are validating yourself when you get this promotion).
While there is nothing inherently wrong with seeking external validation, notice if your list is leaning heavy on the external validation side. If this is the case, ask yourself how you’d feel if you didn’t receive any of that external validation. If you knew that your friends wouldn’t care and no future recruiter would look at this on your resume, would you still want the job? If the answer is a resounding yes, then let’s go for it! If the answer is a maybe or no, spend some more time on this step to see if there are other internal reasons for why you may want the new job.
Step 2: Notice gaps & ask for feedback
Now that you’ve determined why you really want this promotion, it’s time to get strategic about what it will take to get yourself ready for one. Again, it’s time to get introspective and be really honest with yourself about where you’re at. Many times, we might think we’re doing an amazing job, but when we stop to think about it, we realize there are areas where we could be improving.
Spend some time looking at past evaluations and notice if there are specific areas that you’ve been told you need to focus on. Ask your colleagues and past managers for feedback on your performance while working with them. Are you noticing any trends? If you’re working with a coach, you can ask them if they’d be willing to conduct a 360 review on your behalf. If you’re not, it might be worth considering working with one while you navigate the promotion process.
This can also be a good time to look at the job description for the role that you’re looking to get promoted into. Are there any skills required for this job that you’re currently lacking? If so, create a plan for how you’re going to build towards those required skills. Depending on your relationship with your manager, now might be a great time to have an initial conversation with them about your career path and where you want to go. Be candid with them about where you think you’re at and ask for their help as you craft a plan to fill the gaps.
Step 3: Leverage your voice internally
While there may be specific skills you need to acquire in order to get promoted, one other way is to ensure you have a voice within the organization. In my experience, employees who share their opinions, raise their hands to spearhead projects and share feedback are often the ones who are first to be considered for promotions internally. If you’re struggling to find and leverage your authentic voice, start by reading a guide I created here.
Once you’ve found your voice, make sure you’re also respecting your own boundaries and not biting off more than you can chew. Yes, when going for a promotion, it can be a good idea to put in extra effort. At the same time, make sure that the extra effort you add is sustainable. The last thing you would want to do is get the promotion you’ve worked so hard for only to realize that you’re burnt out as soon as you get it.
Step 4: Know your worth
If you’re counting on a raise to go with your promotion, this step is crucial. Even if you’re not, this can be an important step in understanding what other opportunities exist within the industry you’re working in. You can use tools like Indeed and LinkedIn Salary to gain information on what others are making in your same industry and role. This can also allow you to look at the salary of the title that you’d like to get promoted into.
If you feel comfortable, I also recommend talking to your colleagues who have been promoted and asking them if they’d be willing to share their journey. If you have a relationship with them, you may also ask if they’re comfortable sharing their salary information so you have a benchmark to go off of in your negotiations.
If you’re serious about the new position and you’re open to looking at roles outside of your current organization, it can be a good idea to look at what other positions are available on the market. I personally don’t think it’s a good idea to go out seeking offers if you know you’re 100% committed to staying where you are. This can be damaging for your reputation at the other firms if it seems like you’re just looking to get an offer so you can get a raise. It can also hurt your relationship with your current organization if it appears you are simply trying to strong-arm them into a raise or promotion.
That said, if you are genuinely pursuing other options and are considering leaving your current company, having another offer can be an excellent tool in negotiation. We’ll go into this in further detail in step 6.
Step 5: Build your case
By this point, you’ll have already spent the past weeks or months implementing the feedback and filling the gaps you uncovered in step 2. Make sure to document this and share progress with your manager on a regular basis. If you haven’t already broached the subject of promotion with your manager, make sure to do this now. This doesn’t need to be a formal conversation, but can simply be a head’s up that this is something you’ve been working toward and would like their support in order to accomplish this. Find out from them who would need to approve the promotion and what information they would need in order to build your case. It’s also important to ask how the promotion process works - is it typically only done during certain times of the year? The same goes for salary increases.
Depending on what your manager tells you, you may need to tailor your case to their specific requests. If your boss is not as forthcoming, compile your reasons for why you think you’ll make an excellent [insert new job title] and be sure to include data to back this up. For example, if you’re a CSM (customer success manager) and are looking to be promoted to a team lead or people manager, make sure to document your success as an individual contributor as well as examples of your abilities to lead and manage other people. Perhaps you mentored a new hire and got great feedback from them - include a copy of the feedback in your case file.
Step 6: Determine your BATNA
In negotiation, a BATNA, or a Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement, represents the best option you have if you’re unable to reach an agreement with your current employer. As discussed in step 4, an offer letter from another company with a higher salary and title would represent a strong BATNA. Before approaching your employer and asking for a promotion or raise, make sure you know what your BATNA is.
It’s also important to know what your reservation value, or the lowest value you’re willing to accept. This value should also be higher than your BATNA. Let’s walk through an example. Say you’re currently making $50,000 and have an offer from another company for $55,000. This other offer is your BATNA. However, your reservation value is what you’re looking to get from your company in order for you to stay. For a number of reasons, that value for you is $60,000. If your company won’t match that, you’re willing to go to the other company.
Once you’ve determined your reservation value and BATNA, make sure you prepare all of the information that you’ve acquired from the other steps. You know exactly why you want this promotion, you’ve documented the progress you’ve made since step 2. Additionally, you’ve networked internally, sharing your opinion and speaking up in meetings. I recommend documenting any positive feedback you get as you go and including it in your case file that you compiled in step 5.
Step 7: Be direct and ask for what you want
The last thing to do is to set up a more formal discussion with your manager and share your case with them. At this point, you should have already given them a head’s up so they’re not surprised when you bring up promotion. Additionally, you should already know what the timeline is for promotions at your company based on your questions in step 5. Make sure that this meeting aligns with that timing. For example, if your boss tells you promotions happen on January 1, but the budgeting process happens in November, make sure to set up a meeting with them in October to get ahead of the decisions.
Be clear in your discussion and let them know exactly what title and salary you’re looking for. Remember that this is a negotiation so allow them time to think about it and come back to you with a potential counter-offer. Again, if you’re working with a coach, make sure to practice this discussion with them ahead of time. If you’re not, ask a colleague or friend to stand in for your boss as you state what you’re looking for with confidence.
The process of asking for a promotion can be daunting. Leveraging a coach while you navigate these steps can be a fantastic way to help you prepare. Don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or want to discuss this topic further!