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How Do I Know When to Ask for a Promotion?


Dear Aelyn,

I’ve been working at my current job for almost a year and my friends told me it’s time to ask for a promotion. I know a lot of people push for an annual promotion or raise, but since I’m still relatively new at my company, I’m not sure how they usually handle promotions. How can I know when is the right time to ask for a promotion? 


I know this won’t make us very popular at your next happy hour, but we’re here to tell you your friends are wrong. Promotions are not a given and there’s no set amount of time you can put in at your job to guarantee you’re ready for one. You need to not just wait for the right moment to ask for a promotion, you need to work for it. 

We’re going to break down how to know when you’re ready to ask for a promotion and you’ll need to be honest about where you’re at and if you’re truly ready. If you’re not ready, that’s okay. Identifying where you need to improve will help you find your path towards a promotion. 

When You Met Your Milestones

Ideally your boss will have already outlined what you need to do to earn a promotion. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen unless you push for it. If you haven’t had an open conversation with your boss about what your future at the company looks like, it’s time to have that conversation. You need to tell them where you’re hoping your career will take you and if that involves a promotion, you can ask them what they need to see from you in order to make you eligible for a promotion. If you don’t meet those expectations, then you aren’t ready to ask for a promotion.

If your boss hasn’t laid out what you need to do to move up in your company, that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for a promotion (we’ll walk you through other factors you can keep in mind to help determine if you’re ready). If your boss says you aren’t ready for a promotion, then that’s a perfect time to clarify what they need from you and when you can circle back to this conversation. Ask your boss to set a timeline (say three or twelve months) for the achievements or changes they need to see from you in order for you to earn a promotion. That way, they aren’t surprised when you want to resume this conversation at the end of that timeline. 

When You Have the Numbers to Back You Up

When you ask for a promotion, oftentimes what your boss wants to happen isn’t the deciding factor in whether or not you get the promotion. Most managers have their own manager and if they want to change the structure of their team or increase someone’s pay, they usually need permission from the leadership above them. While your manager sees your achievements on a day to day basis, their boss may have no clue what your contributions are. 

This is why it’s super important that you have the numbers you need to back up your ask. What do we mean by that? The more you can quantify your success, the easier it is for management to understand your contributions to the company. For example, if you work in marketing, can you pull analytics that show you increased traffic to the company website by 125%? Did you double your company’s social media followers in the past year? Did your initiative to send a weekly email newsletter generate a specific amount of money for the company? Write these numbers down. If you can, collect this data throughout the year so you’re always ready to back up your argument whenever a review or promotion conversation occurs. 

When You Bring New Value to the Company

The achievements that can lead to a promotion may not happen as a part of your primary role or even at work. For example, you may take an online course that teaches you a new skill and may test out that skill by collaborating with a different team on a special project. You may study for professional exams and earn certifications outside of work that bring a lot of value to your company. Maybe you finished your MBA on nights and weekends. Point being—if you develop a new skill or earn a certification or degree that will help improve your work product, then it may be time for a promotion that will allow you to make use of those skills or professional designations. 

When You Take on Additional Responsibilities

Your eagerness to learn, adapt, and support, needs to be properly compensated with the right title and salary. For example, let’s say your manager leaves for a new opportunity. As the most senior member of your team, upper management may ask you to take over their responsibilities while they look for a new candidate. If after a few months, you’ve successfully adapted to that role and your company has failed to hire or chosen not to hire a replacement, then you need to fight for a promotion. There’s a huge difference between covering for a coworker when they’re on parental leave and taking on a permanent increase in responsibilities. If the latter occurs, you do need to have a conversation about adjusting your title and salary accordingly at some point. 

The Takeaway

There’s no one specific timeline in a job that leads to being ready for a promotion. To quickly get an idea of whether or not you’re ready, we suggest asking yourself the following questions:

  • What value do I bring to the company that I can quantify?
  • What were my key accomplishments in my time in my current role?
  • Did I learn any new skills or earn a new degree or certification that adds value to my role?
  • What new responsibilities did I take on recently?
  • Do I feel ready to increase my level of responsibility?
  • What value would I add in a new, higher role?

If after answering these questions you don’t feel like you’re ready for a promotion, think about what the right answers to those questions would have been and what steps you need to take to be able to answer those questions differently in the future. 
Learning how to navigate your career takes time and you will build confidence as you grow in your career. If you’re ready to take your career up a notch, we suggest enrolling in our course Leveling Up Your Career. This very deep career dive is going to share our best career tips for finding your passion, perfecting your personal brand, mastering the art of the job search, finding success once you land that dream job, and making major career moves.

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