“When am I going to get promoted?”

A tricky question and one that has tripped up many of us. Here’s some advice, based on words of wisdom I’ve read, heard about, or been fortunate enough to hear.

Tread carefully
‘When will I get promoted?’ might not be the best way to start the conversation. There’s an assumption of ‘when’ not ‘if’; a suggestion that all boxes have been ticked and it’s only a matter of time before promotion is made. Don’t be surprised if the response is a put-down. Instead, ask a different question: ‘what do I need to do to get promoted?’ Even better: before asking anyone else, do your homework and see if you can answer the question yourself. The following steps will help you.

Assess yourself
Before you approach anyone about promotion, make sure you have an up-to-date job description for the job you have right now. Assess yourself: score out of 10 for each criterion, with examples of when you’ve demonstrated each of the behaviours listed. What results did you get? What difference did it make? Who says so?

Are you an asset?
Enlightened employers are always scanning their talent pool, assessing who’s got the potential to go further, who’s very valuable and someone they’d miss if they left. These organisations actively manage their most valuable assets, providing development to plug knowledge and skill gaps, helping people to grow and move up. When a gap opens up, there’s no panic hiring: someone already on the payroll is well on their way to having what it takes. How are you applying the training and development you’ve had? What are you doing differently as a result, that makes you an asset?

Get feedback on the job you’re doing
Only when you have these answers should you approach your manager and ask for their feedback. I’d like to think you have regular conversations with your manager, but if you don’t, now’s a good time to start.  Ask them to identify what you’re already doing well (and need to keep doing) and what needs to be improved. Make sure they’re specific and if they’re not, ask questions to get clarity. Agree the actions you need to take in order or priority. Then do them.

Learn about the job you want
Having been in this situation before, I recommend doing your homework. Is the job you (think you) want the role you really, really want? Get the job description and again, self-assess. There may be elements that inspire you and others that are off-putting. Note any knowledge or skills gaps you currently have.

Chart your progress
If promotion is so important to you, make it a project. Create a plan that maps out the steps to take and when. Record steps taken and results achieved. Reflect on what worked – and what didn’t – with lessons learned. Agree a schedule of brief 1:1 discussions with your manager to get their feedback and input. If you’re on track, ask for a new task or stretch assignment.

Don’t go it alone
While you’re making progress on your promotion plan, broaden your focus: it’s not all about you. Successful leaders have strong professional relationships that are mutually beneficial. Listen well to the advice of senior stakeholders in your workplace. Work with a mentor: you may find there’s a scheme at your employer or via your professional body. Consider buddying up with a colleague and supporting each other. Offer to help others and expand your network.


You may find this post useful: ‘Help! I’ve been offered a lateral move – but I wanted promotion’


Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’


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