Are you on the path to level up your career? You’ve mastered your current role, you’re no longer challenged by your day to day, you’ve continually delivered on your goals - sound familiar? While you may think that your hard work and success will automatically result in a promotion, that’s not always the case. So it’s smart to put some thought into the path forward.
Where do you want to go?
There can be a lot of good reasons to shoot for a promotion, but it’s important to know what is driving YOU, so you end up at the right finish line.
What’s your reason for wanting a promotion? More than one of these intentions can apply:
It feels like what I’m supposed to do.
I want a title bump.
I want an increase in responsibilities.
I want more control over my team’s work.
I want an increase in compensation.
Knowing this will help you determine if a promotion will really give you what you want and if a promotion is the only way to get you what you want.
Is a promotion the right answer for you?
Organizations think about promotions in different ways. It could be that there are easier ways to get what you want without having to get an official promotion. It could also be that a promotion may not actually get you what you want. You should make sure that what you want matches what a promotion means in your company. That being said, if you want a title bump, an increase in responsibilities, and a raise, a promotion is probably the right answer for you.
A promotion feels like what I’m supposed to do
Sometimes a promotion feels like the proper next step that everyone should be looking to take. The reality is that a promotion can bring more visibility, more stress, and more responsibility. You want to be sure you’re ready for it. It is important to recognize that moving up the ladder is not for everyone. There can be a lot of satisfaction and joy to be found in taking the time to master your role. Many leaders and organizations also value and appreciate a solid worker who enjoys a job well done.
I want a title bump
Here are some reasons why organizations give out title increases without formally giving a promotion:
You’re already doing the role of a more senior person and you deserve the title to match.
The organization itself grows to a point where they can add another tier of titles and you get “re-leveled.”
You are in a role (most often external facing) where a more senior title makes you more effective.
There are other reasons as well, but if one of these cases applies to you, you may be able to get what you want without having to go through a formal promotion process.
Managers also sometimes have leeway to give smaller titles bumps with less oversight than a full promotion. For example, in some organizations it can be easy to give someone a “Senior” title (e.g., from ‘Director’ to ‘Senior Director’) vs moving them up a full level (from ‘Director’ to ‘Vice President’).
Ask your manager (or human resources) what the development plan is for your role and team. This should shed some light on the levels and corresponding titles within reach.
I want an increase in responsibilities or more control over my work
We often look at promotions from the bottom looking up. What if we started looking wide - left and right - instead? There’s a lot of growth that can come from getting a wider set of knowledge and exposure to different things. What can you do in your current role to get more control or more/different responsibilities? Have you had that conversation with your manager? Often, leaders are aching for someone to raise their hand, step up, and take some of the burden off the leader’s shoulders.
Stretching yourself in your current role can lead to a better, longer-term role. And these little experiments help you determine if you’re heading in the right direction - if the next level up is really what you want. You may find out that you really don’t want more responsibility, or that the type of responsibility involved with the next level isn’t the kind that you want. This most commonly happens when the next level up forces people to be managers, taking them further away from their unique skillset. Looking at it this way can sometimes make the gravity of managing your career feel lighter.
I want an increase in compensation
Most companies have some concept of “banding” or “leveling” - every person is mapped to a specific band/level, and there is a compensation range for that band/level. If you’re on the lower end of your existing band, you may be able to get a significant compensation bump without having to go through a full promotion process. It’s a good practice to ask your manager what level you’re at and at what point in the range.
Compensation also comes in different forms - on-cycle bonuses, off-cycle bonuses, equity, salary, etc. Different forms of compensations are easier/harder to award in different organizations. The more clarity you have about what you want, and how that aligns with your organization’s compensation practices, the better position you will be in to get what you want.
Do you know how to get where you want to go?
Find out how promotions work in your organization. Are there specific windows of time that this happens or a process that needs to be followed? What opportunities are out there that you’re not aware of?
It is important to know your company’s process and the criteria for promotions. Who can you talk to for more background or to introduce you to the right teams? Making connections with people is one of the most important things you can do as you’re building a case to show why the new role is right for you. Be prepared to let your network know what you’re looking for or how they can help you. Here are some questions to work through to help you understand if you know how your company makes these decisions:
What’s my company’s cycle/timing for making promotion decisions?
Is it tied into our performance review cycle? Or is it on a different cycle?
Who makes promotion decisions?
How much input does my manager have?
How much input does the person who would be my boss have (if it’s not going to be your current manager)?
How much input do the peers who would be on my team have?
Is it a committee? If so, who is on the committee?
What are the criteria/guidelines for giving someone a promotion?
Does my company have minimum tenure requirements?
Does my company have ratings requirements (from official reviews)?
Are there requirements around specific experiences and/or accomplishments?
Are there requirements around specific skills and competencies?
What information does my company review to make the decision?
Is it based on my performance reviews?
Do I need to prepare a packet of information?
Does my company require an open ‘box’ on the org chart at the next level up for me to be promoted?
Are there any openings in the role that I would like to have?
Are there new initiatives/teams/groups that are getting staffed up?
Can you make a strong case for yourself?
Now that you know how your company makes promotion decisions and what you need to demonstrate, it’s time to take an honest look at yourself. Treat this like a gap analysis. Are you working on the right projects, and do those projects have the right level of visibility? What are the skills requirements of the new role and how do you match up? What does the new role require that you need to work on? Many of us are able to rise to the occasion and stretch ourselves in new ways when opportunities present, but you never want to set yourself up to fail. This is your time to get ready for what is to come. If you can envision and articulate what you need, you are halfway there!
You didn’t get the promotion, now what?
It’s important to keep in mind that sometimes decisions are made beyond your control. However, it’s also time to look at why you didn’t get this one. Asking for and receiving feedback is hard but critical to our development. If we can absorb what is helpful, it only makes us better. The more information you can learn for how the decision was made, the more prepared you will be when the next opportunity comes up.
Since you’ve identified up front why you wanted this promotion, you should have some idea of the right next steps. What other opportunities are out there that match what you are looking for? It might be that it’s a different team or organization that you need to be targeting. If you can’t get what you want in your current team/organization, and you’re convinced that you’re ready for the next step, then it may be time to move on.
You did get the promotion, now what?
Congratulations! It’s important to appreciate the moment before racing on to the next chapter. Self-reflection is a powerful practice that will help guide you to future wins. Consider what you did well to get to this point in your career and what you know you will want to continue to work on:
Who do you want to be in this new role?
What would you like to share with your new co-workers or direct reports about how you work best?
What can you do to set up your new schedule to include time to work on developing yourself?
Consider what success will be for you in the new role and make a point to reflect back on that after three, six, and twelve months. There is a lot of good work that can be done in the front end of a new reporting relationship but often we skim right past it. Be attentive to your progress. Most importantly, embrace the new challenge and be open to how this role will change you!
For your convenience, we’ve made the questions to understand how your company makes promotion decisions available in a Google Doc that you can copy and use for yourself.