6 Mistakes People Make When Asking for a Promotion – And What to Do Instead

June 4, 2018

When you ask for a promotion, don't make one of these common mistakes.

Most of us would love to be promoted. And many of us believe we have done enough to warrant a promotion.

So, why haven’t you been promoted yet?

Because it’s really, really uncomfortable to ask for a promotion. And, since very few of us have had training on how to ask for one, we often make mistakes when we do.

Well, Lida Citroen is here to help. In her LinkedIn Learning course Having an Honest Career Conversation with Your Boss, she outlined six common mistakes people make when asking for a promotion – and what you should do instead.

1. Not asking for a promotion and thinking good things will come to you.

This is an outdated approach.

Some companies and some managers might recognize your efforts and promote you unsolicited. But very few. Plus, if you never speak up for yourself, your boss might think you are happy in your role and don’t want/need a promotion.

What you should do instead: Pretty obvious – if you want a promotion, ask for a promotion!

Yes, that can be scary. But, if you wait for your employer to give you one, you give away your power and let them dictate your career.

“In today's workplace, we can either wait for good things to find us or we can pursue them with intention and purpose,” Citroen said. “When we take control over our career and advocate for ourselves, we see better results.”

Of course, you have to be smart. You should wait until you’ve proven yourself in your current role before demanding a better one. But, even asking too early is better than not asking at all – at the very least, you’ll get some useful feedback and it’ll let your boss know you are hungry to advance.

2. Comparing yourself to other people when asking for a promotion.

There are other people in your department who did less and still got promoted (at least, in your opinion). So, you are going to bring that up in the conversation, right?

Wrong. Doing that comes across as trashing your colleagues and perhaps your boss as well – who likely made the decision to give your colleague the promotion.

What you should do instead: Make the business case.

Every promotion dneeds to be justified. So, make the business case why you should be promoted.

Maybe you think you can add more value managing others or maybe you have a record of success in your current role and would like to see it expanded. Make the case. But don’t focus on others – let your boss know why you are worth the additional investment.

3. Thinking you'll get a promotion because you get along with your boss.

You and your boss get along great – asking for a promotion should be a breeze, right?

Not really. 

What you should do instead: Your boss might love you. But, they need to justify the decision to promote you to their boss and finance.

And their boss and finance isn’t going to care about a strong personal relationship.

So, if you really do care about your boss, make it easy for them. Present them the business case, so they are ready when asked to defend your promotion, Citroen said.

4. Not knowing the state of the business when asking for a promotion.

You are crushing it. You rocked your three last projects and are getting rave performance reviews. Now is the time to ask for a promotion, right?

Well, not if your company just had a round of layoffs and the stock price is tanking. If you ask for a promotion in that situation, it could come across as out-of-touch and hurt your reputation.

What you should do instead: Just because your business is doing poorly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for a promotion. Conversely, just because your business is doing great isn't license to blindly ask for a promotion.

Instead, you need to understand the state of your business, to understand where your company is investing, Citroen said. For example, maybe the business is doing poorly – you can make the argument that promoting you and giving you more responsibility means the company won’t have to backfill another position.

Or, say the business is doing great, but investing in an area that’s not directly tied to your workstream. You can make the case that promoting you and giving you a team will empower you to focus more on that key company initiative.

The bigger point is the closer you can tie your ask to strategic business goals, the more likely it’ll go through, Citroen said.

5. Thinking you are somehow entitled to a promotion.

To be blunt, your company doesn’t owe you anything. If you think you are undervalued and can get a better job elsewhere, you are certainly free to pursue that.

So, no matter how great your record is or how long you’ve worked there, you are making a huge mistake if you believe you are somehow entitled to a promotion.

What you should do instead: Each promotion decision needs to be justified. So, like you’ve heard again and again – go in with a strong business case. There’s still no guarantee you’ll get the promotion, but it’ll vastly increase your changes.

6. Getting emotional toward your boss if things don't go your way.

Let’s say you do ask for a promotion and the worst-case scenario happens – your boss says no. That’s actually not the worst thing in the world. At the very least, you made your desire to be promoted clear.

Of course, that might not be your mindset right in that meeting, particularly if you think your case is strong. No matter what your boss says, don’t get emotional in any way: pouting, shutting down, getting angry, etc. It’ll just make it worse and hurt your reputation.

What you should do instead: Yes, it can be painful not to get a promotion. And you are free to get emotional after the meeting.

But, to the best of your ability, stay calm in the meeting. You’ll get good feedback during it and usually get a clear understanding of where you stand in the company.

From that, you can either use that feedback to improve in those areas and ask again once you do. Or, if truly think it’s unfair, you can make the decision to look for another position in another department.

Either way, that information is valuable.

Want to learn more? Watch Citreon’s full course, Having an Honest Career Conversation with Your Boss.

Other LinkedIn Learning courses you might be interested in are: