You’re six months into your job and doing well at your company. You feel you've already settled in, and you're ready for more responsibility. So you schedule some time with your boss and ask, "So, what can I do in order to get promoted?"
Many of the managers I coach have told me this scenario is becoming more and more common. In an era of ever-shortening job tenures, employees seem to be taking the initiative on advancing their own careers more than they used to. They're less likely to wait for someone to give them what they believe they deserve.
That may not always pay off. Instead of admiring your initiative, your manager may find your request annoying, entitled, and lacking in the self-awareness it usually requires to earn a promotion. In fact, after reading my article on asking for what you want one senior executive wrote to me to vent his frustration on precisely this point. Here's how he put it:
There’s a certain level of accountability that’s missing in our society today. Before you ask, I think you need to demonstrate a level of proficiency/impact...I have had people ask me for more when they haven’t finished their "current job." One needs to be self-aware and assess where he is before asking for more. I am put off when folks ask for more too early.
He goes on to suggest that employees first ask themselves (before asking their managers), "What do I need to do before you say yes?" In most cases, these are the key criteria your supervisor will look for. If you can be certain you've met them, then you stand a better-than-average shot at getting that promotion even if you haven't yet rounded the 12-month mark.
Doing your job competently does not mean you've mastered it.
In Joe Azelby's book, Kiss Your BUT Goodbye, he highlights how what he terms "PSA," or "Premature Self Adulation," limits one's career. The key point is that you want to have a clear picture of your abilities—specifically, one that squares with your boss's view of them.
You may believe you're doing a great job, but is that recognized by others and reflected in the less-subjective measures of your performance? If you're in sales, for instance, are you the top seller on your team? If you're in a service role, are your client-satisfaction scores the highest possible?
Before you ask for a promotion or more responsibility, crush your current job by doing every aspect of it consistently better than others. "Satisfactory" probably isn't good enough.
To make for the most productive conversation with your boss, know not just what you want but why you want it. Sometimes your boss may not be able to give you what you ask for at the time that you ask for it, for reasons beyond her control—office politics, market conditions, what have you. But she may still be able to meet your requests in other ways if you can articulate your "why."
When you ask for a promotion, what is the real ask? Is it more engaging work, better access to key clients, developing your skills, earning more money, etc.? None of these is necessarily more valid than the others, but you need to be clear and honest about your rationale. Once your boss knows why you're interested in a promotion at this stage, they'll find ways to accommodate you as best they can if they truly value you.
Be ready to have something to show for yourself that proves your worth. Have specific evidence of your performance. Especially if you're worried your boss will feel you're jumping the gun, you need to show progress that makes the length of your time on the job less relevant than your growth within it.
You want to show that you're already doing what will be asked of you in the new role—and that that new role you're asking for will help your boss or company achieve their strategic goals. You also need to demonstrate that others, including those senior to you and your boss, will vouch for you.
When you show how your promotion helps your boss and remove many of the risks, the decision becomes much easier to make.
If you're trying to get promoted within a year of starting your current role, you're already bucking convention on timing. So pay careful attention to other factors that can help make the context of your request seem more natural. Know what's happening around you—both inside the company and out. How is your business doing? What about the industry?
Depending on your field, your role, or your employer, there may not be any room for you to move up right now. But if you can tell that there is, you need to capitalize on that and explain it in terms that seem strategic not just for you but for your boss and employer.
Robert Chen is an executive coach who uses his science, business, and cross-cultural background to help technical leaders communicate with more impact and build better working relationships. He works at Exec|Comm, a global communication skills consultancy in New York City.