How to Talk to Your Boss About Setting Up a Structure for a Promotion

Most employees have promotions on their minds, at least at some point in their careers. But approaching the idea—and the execution—of a promotion with your boss can seem like a daunting task. When do you bring up the idea? How do you present your arguments? What does a successful promotion plan look like? Read on for what to keep in mind when you feel a promotion is due but are unsure how to even begin.


1. Research, research, research

The last thing you want to be when you walk into your boss’s office is unprepared. That’s why it’s so important to do your research before you even set up an appointment with her. When asking for a promotion, you’re going to need to be prepared to demonstrate why you deserve an upward move. And this doesn’t mean vague declarations about your work ethic or time spent in the office. It means brainstorming specific examples of times where you’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty.

Have a list of your successes available on hand to not only prove you’ve excelled at the work you’re currently doing, but also that you’re ambitious and skilled enough to handle the new tasks and responsibilities that would inevitably become part of your job description if you do get a promotion.

2. Timing is everything

No, there’s never going to be a “perfect” time to ask your boss about setting up a structure for promotion. But according to Forbes, some periods of time are vastly better than others. Having the “big talk” during an annual or semi-annual review makes the most sense—since you’re already in the office discussing your performance, it’s not much of a leap to begin examining the overall trajectory of your career, as well.

Keep in mind though, review time isn’t always a good time to bring up the conversation. If your boss tends to become harried or distracted during these office-wide events, it would be best to wait till a big milestone event, such as a major project or contract, has ended and approach him then…when everyone’s stress has taken a dip.

3. Warn your boss in advance

Whether you make a request for a meeting via email or in person, be sure to let your boss know what you plan to discuss. As The Economic Times points out, you’ll be allowing your boss time to mull over your current performance and think about any possible positions that are available to you, should you prove you’re ready to make an upward move. And honestly, this is simply considerate and thoughtful. You wouldn’t appreciate being blindsided by an unexpected request in the middle of the workday, would you? Extend your boss the same courtesy by giving her a heads up.

4. Be sure to speak up…and listen

The door is closed and your boss’s ears are all yours. Now is the time to bring out all the information you gathered from your research phase. Practice making your points clearly, convincingly, and (perhaps most importantly) concisely in front of a mirror at home so that by the time you recite them in front of your boss, most of the nerves have fallen away.

Be sure you make both your achievements and your future goals clear, as well as specific hopes you have for this proposed promotion structure. After you’ve made your points, remember to listen. Even if your boss isn’t saying exactly what you want to hear, make sure you pay attention and understand what he’s telling you—and respond accordingly. Perhaps there are better ways you can be interacting with the company in order to make it (and yourself) more successful? Or maybe your boss has specific concerns about how you handled certain projects? Whatever it is he says (whether good or bad), chances are that you’ll gain valuable insight—whether or not you gain the promotion.

5. Be prepared to discuss a raise

You’re already dealing with the idea of discussing some major milestones with your boss…and a pay increase goes along with that. While you shouldn’t bring up an increase in salary until after your promotion is solidified, you should definitely be prepared to talk about it if your boss brings it up. Know what level you’d be happy taking (keeping in mind what your extra responsibilities would be), and be prepared to defend it.

Ultimately, whether your boss immediately agrees to the promotion or not, it’s important for you to walk out of her office with a firm timeline in mind. This could be a start date for your upward move, or a set date when you two will revisit the idea, and you can show the headway you’ve made toward such a move. Just be sure you leave with a clear understanding of what’s expected of you. There are plenty of horror stories in which bosses will string their employees along for months or years on vague promises of promotions “soon.” Don’t be one of these people! The more concrete your goals and evaluations are when discussing your promotion structure, the better off you’ll be.

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