Asking for a promotion can be one of the most stressful experiences in your career--especially in today's uncertain economy.Why? “Because you know you're putting yourself at some level of risk,” says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant; How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job. “The often legitimate fears of appearing too ambitious, or not being focused enough on doing your best work, can trigger unnecessary missteps. However, if you're strategic about your pursuit, you can change the frustrating dynamic of feeling undervalued.”
David Parnell, a legal recruiter, communication coach and author of In-House: A Lawyer’s Guide to Getting a Corporate Legal Position, agrees. He says in many organizations, getting promoted is “not a simple task.”
“It should be no surprise that, in comparison to only a few decades ago, today’s average employee has larger workloads--and more (and better) competition to contend with. Add to this the highly evolved social and political networks one needs to master, and you have one tough road to travel,” he says. “To move from employment offer to promotion without a single misstep is unlikely, and mistakes happen often enough.”
A promotion, by definition, is a form of advancement or movement into new territory, he adds. “This means learning new information and trying new things, which, by their very nature promote mistakes in some way, shape or form. The key lies not so much in avoiding mistakes, but more so in keeping the mistakes as small as possible, and effectively cleaning up after them.”
Here are 16 common mistakes employees make when asking for a promotion:
Asking for too much at once. Many employees ask for a promotion, raise, new privileges and more--all at once. This will likely frustrate your boss, Taylor says. “Know your priorities and work down the list as concisely as possible.”
Believing that promotions are based on merit alone. “That's not the case in many companies where politics and other factors come into play,” says Amy Hoover, president of Talent Zoo. “If you're career-minded and want to climb the ladder it's important that you analyze your corporate culture to determine what you need to focus on besides a job well done.”
Neglecting your long-term goals. Employees get so wrapped up in the promotion that they stop thinking about their overall career path and goals. “Think long-term,” Taylor suggests. “Ask yourself: Does this support what I ultimately want to do in 5 or 10 years?”
Trying too hard. “If you’re an office ‘brown noser’ whose sole purpose appears to be sucking up to the boss—know that most managers don't like this behavior and it can have a negative effect on upward mobility," Hoover says. If you focus on doing your job well and being aligned with the office culture, you'll go much further than simply trying to cater to your boss' every whim.
Taylor agrees. “Embarking on a ‘flattery gets you everywhere’ campaign will get you nowhere.” She says. “It's one thing to dole out occasional compliments to your boss. But if you transparently brown nose and then ask for that promotion, you'll shoot yourself in the foot.”
Thinking a promotion will “fix” everything. A promotion or raise never equated to instant happiness, Taylor says. “Examine if it is really a short-term fix to a ‘broken job.’”
Overshooting your target. “Any mature workplace has an established hierarchy, and everyone should know their place within it,” Parnell says. “Trying to impress your manager by handling their responsibilities, rather than just doing yours, can be interpreted as offensive or even threatening to the hierarchical status quo.” From a sheer “duties stand point,” your focus should be on completing your assignments, superbly and ahead of schedule--and then do just a little bit more to keep you ahead of your competition. “This may come in the form of starting your next project early, helping one of your peer-level colleagues, or even just asking your manager if there is any other way to contribute.
Not making it a win-win. “There's got to be something in it for your boss,” Taylor says. Your new responsibilities should be proposed in a way that allows your boss see the personal benefits for him or her, such as advancement of a particular initiative that requires more of your untapped skills.
Wrong place, wrong time. “Make sure the venue is suitable for the discussion and that you've scheduled it advance, with enough time allotted,” Taylor suggests. “Avoid pre-lunch and end of day--but be flexible; the time of day may be helpful, but if your boss has had a major setback or horrendously busy day, better to wait.”
Asking for a promotion or raise simply based on length of time employed. Mary Elizabeth Bradford, a career coach and resume writing expert, says this is a common mistake made by employees today—and Hoover agrees.
“A common misperception in corporate America is that longevity equals a promotion. That's simply not the case in our modern work culture,” Hoover says. Just because you've had X months or years in your role, doesn't mean you're automatically qualified for, or entitled to, a promotion. Your contributions need to create value, and you should be perceived as the most logical choice for the new role. “You can sometimes accomplish this by consulting with a mentor in the company or even the Human Resources department so you can make sure you're focusing on the right goals, projects and activities.”
Not having a recent significant achievement or milestone that supports your request. “Give your boss a reason to promote you for excellent results versus asking for a promotion out of the blue,” Taylor says. And do not let emotion get in the way--as impactful as this is on your job and relationship.
Using the request to “test” your employer. Trying to get a promotion as a strategy to see where you really stand at the firm isn’t something you should do. “There are better ways to take a read on where you stand first, before ‘going for broke’ and asking for that coveted title. That input will also help you better strategize for the loftier position,” Taylor explains.
Acting inappropriately. Complaining, for instance, that outsiders are being interviewed for the position is a big "no-no," Taylor says. “Whining about others detracts from your own professionalism and credibility. Similarly, comparing your worth to others in the firm who already have achieved the level you seek is counterproductive. Keep it positive, focused, and don't put anything negative in writing.”
Another common "inappropriate move": Subtle threats about you and the marketplace. “Threatening that your responsibilities match up with higher level positions elsewhere, either internally or outside the company, won't help you land that dream title,” Taylor adds. Take the logical, relatable approach--or risk alienating your boss. “Using examples of anecdotes from people who've said you deserve it is also a career-limiting move.”
Being unclear about your own directives. Parnell says this is a chronic problem. “An employee might do their job to the best of their ability, only to find out that they’ve done the wrong thing, ultimately placing them in the dog house. When you are trying to get promoted, it is impossible to go ‘above and beyond’ without knowing exactly, to a tee, where the ceiling is. So be crystal clear about what is expected of you, when it is expected, and how it is expected. This way, you can meet and exceed your manager’s expectations.”
Not having your facts about job responsibilities and the match with your credentials. “This is probably the biggest mistake made in seeking a promotion; the ‘why,’ not for you, but the company,” says Taylor. “Have a logical flow of reasons (experience level, more responsibility, achievements and your personal ‘kudos’ file) all ready (in writing, if necessary).”
Lack of persistence. Taylor says employees sometimes back off too quickly. “Your boss should witness your complete presentation and rationale. If you quickly shy away at the first furrowed eyebrows, you could lose a golden opportunity. Measured tenacity--gauged by the flow of the conversation--can be your best guide on next steps.”
And it shouldn’t stop there. You’ll also want to follow up. (Many employees don’t!) “Avoid fading out of the picture or giving up,” Taylor adds. “Your boss may take the path of least resistance and do nothing, meaning you've lost ground. Make sure that before you leave the conversation, you mention next steps and have the same expectations.”
Jumping ship prematurely. A big mistake employees make is that they start a new job search due to fear of asking for an internal promotion, Taylor explains. “You could go from the proverbial frying pan into the fire if you just avoid approaching your boss and search elsewhere as a ‘safer option.’ Or you might just be wasting your time.”
She says if you leave the company (due to this unnecessary fear), you could lose invaluable history with a solid employer. “You might end up being at a new company, where your lack of tenure puts you more easily on the chopping block, all for the sake of a more impressive title. And that new descriptor elsewhere can be misleading; you may actually assume less responsibility or become sidetracked from your true career goals.”
“Like ringing a bell, some mistakes can’t be undone,” Parnell says. “But, as long as they are (at least) somewhat inconsequential, they will usually drift into the background noise, if handled correctly.”
Taylor says if you fall prey to mistakes or miscalculate responses, don't lose heart. “In most cases, if you remain professional in your approach, your boss will admire your confidence in at least trying. Just remember to stay focused on your job, and avoid badgering your boss. If you're not getting an answer after legitimate follow up and an extended period of time, you already have your answer.”
If you've been passed over for a promotion that you think you deserved, try to get to the bottom of it, Hoover suggests. “If you approach your manager in a non-confrontational manner and ask candidly why a coworker was tapped over you, you should learn what to focus on moving forward so you are at the top of the list for the next opening. The key to this conversation is to remain neutral and not let your emotions get the best of you,” she concludes.