Nobody likes having to actually ask for a promotion. Advocating for yourself is a lot harder than speaking up for others. The good news is, if your boss is paying attention and your actions are speaking for themselves, you may not have to ask.
You probably already know that doing good work is the single most effective way to show your boss you’re ready for more. (But it’s worth reiterating because if you skip this step, you’re going to have a hard time getting promoted.) Ideally, you should be consistently exceeding expectations in your current job. This means you do just about every task as well and as efficiently as it can be done, and you usually finish tasks ahead of schedule.
Once you’ve got that down, here are five more ways to prove you are ready.
1. Consistently Do “Above and Beyond” Work
Exceeding expectations is only the start: You should also look for ways to add value through projects and tasks that are beyond your role. Find things that need doing that no one has had time for.
True story: Nels was a regional sales rep who regularly met his quotas and completed all the necessary reports. His group’s customer database was out of date and needed to be upgraded and scrubbed of old, bad data. The administrator was bogged down in a systems upgrade issue, so Nels asked if he could start work on making the upgrades and updates. Before anyone knew it, the job was done. Nels graciously shared the credit with the database admin and went on to his regular business.
Six months later, in a move that seemed pretty much out of the blue to him, Nels was promoted. But it wasn’t out of the blue; his manager had noticed several situations like the one above where Nels showed initiative to do extra work and share the credit with others. That’s the kind of employee managers look to promote.
2. Be Hungry for Growth, Not Status
Your boss will be far more impressed with your ability and desire to learn than he will with ego and ambition to improve your rank or status. Your hunger should be for the acquisition of skills and knowledge, not about a new office or a better title. That’s not to say you would not enjoy those things—after all, you’re human—but they should not be your primary motivation.
Resist the urge to talk about what you know or brag about how easy everything is for you. Instead, share what you are learning, and be vulnerable and honest about it. If you’ve suddenly discovered a new way to do a task or job better, do not say “I feel like I have my area wired”, say, “Just when I thought I had my area wired, I learned a whole new way to approach [a task] that I can now apply to how I do a lot of things. What a great lesson!”
This sounds like an employee who is ready for a promotion—because she will keep looking for opportunities to grow and thrive.
3. Work on Continuous (Self) Improvement
Think of it this way: You are your career’s biggest project. Get used to that idea.
As you reach new levels of mastery, take the time to pat yourself on the back. Then, roll up your sleeves and challenge yourself to do what you just did—even better.
Here is the thing about continuous self-improvement: Most people tend to go for what they know they can accomplish, not what most needs improvement. Try to have the courage to see yourself objectively and work on those things that most interfere with your own success. Unsure where to start? Ask your boss what you could be doing better, then work consistently to make those improvements. It will help you address any weaknesses that could serve as obstacles to a promotion.
4. Look for Long-Term Projects
Tasks that take longer to accomplish are, by nature, more complex. The further up the hierarchy you go, the more intricate your job will become.
Managing complexity is different than just being smart; it’s about overseeing multiple tasks with variable goals and execution strategies. Learn to handle multi-layered projects by picking tasks that are progressively more complex.
Just remember you want to stretch yourself—not drown. So, if you are used to managing tasks that can normally be completed in a month or two, don’t sign up for a project that’ll take a year to complete. Look for a six-month one first.
When you show you’re adept at handling a more advanced project, you are demonstrating that you could work at the next level.
5. Work on Your Collaboration Skills
Mid and high-level jobs usually mean working in group environments that depend less on being told what to do, and more on being able to make things happen without using your rank to achieve results. In every great team, there is at least one person who makes things click because he or she has the collaboration superpowers of listening, compromising, and mediating. Be that person.
So, practice your teamwork skills any chance you get. Contrary to popular belief, leading every group effort will not show your boss you’re the best person to promote. To really impress your boss, show that you’re a true team player—one who can add value through supporting your colleagues as well.
It isn’t your boss’ responsibility to help you find your dream job—that’s up to you. But when any quality manager sees these attributes in an employee, he’ll want to find new ways to help that person grow (and that often means a promotion). Yes, you may end up needing to have a direct, and potentially uncomfortable, discussion with him about why you are ready for a higher level position, but try these steps first and see what happens.