It's Almost Promotion Season — Here's Your Strategy

Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Promotions and job-searching have a lot in common: They're often a multi-step process, with no clear-cut path or "right" way to score one. Even more annoying: The fact that even within the same company, promotions are often handled in different ways. While some large companies may seem to have "promotion seasons" during which entire cohorts of employees are automatically shifted to a new title with a comparative bump in salary, it's far more typical for promotions to be unique to the individual.

That said, there are some promotion stats that are good to know. For one, January is a huge month for promotions according to LinkedIn research, likely because that's when companies reassess their budgets for individual teams and employees. And with January around the corner (scary, but true), experts say now is the time to make it clear that you're in the running for a promotion — if you wait until January to make it known to the higher-ups, it may be too late.

In general, it's best to make the quest for a promotion a year-round endeavor, with your manager always knowing what your next steps and goals are. That's why these 15 strategies are not only brilliant if you want a promotion now, but are good habits to practice throughout the year to show that you're in the game — and you're ready to win that title you've been coveting.

Click through for 15 easy ways to get ready to make your big ask.

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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Gather Your Intel
First step: Figure out what the promotion culture is at your company. Do promotions tend to happen at a certain time of year, or do they only occur when there is an open position? Knowing this will affect what comes next.

If you work in a larger company, now is also a great time to schedule an appointment with the HR department. HR often gets a bad rap as being the corporate version of the principal's office — somewhere you don't go unless you're in trouble — but career experts say HR can be a great ally. Make an appointment with a rep to talk about what you've done for the company so far, what you hope to do, and hear their thoughts about where they can see you grow in the company. The meeting should be informal. You're not necessarily asking for a promotion or raise right now, but you're letting the rep know you're interested and gathering information on how to make that happen, as well as potentially learning about opportunities outside your direct department.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Clean Out Your Inbox
Sounds random, but it's a good way to get a blank slate, see what's outstanding, and make sure all loose ends are tied up before you go to your boss. It's also a good way to get a sense of what projects are taking up most of your time and how you actually spend your day-to-day time at the office.

File, delete, do whatever you have to do to get to inbox zero. The best way to do it? Keep responses as short as possible. If you’re going longer than a paragraph, pick up the phone and make a call. And once you’ve got a clean inbox, stay out of it (at least for a bit!) to actually get some work done.

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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Score Face Time With Your Boss
Whether it’s mimicking their schedule so you’re in the elevator at the same time or sending a big-ideas memo up the ladder, making it your priority to get on your boss’ radar pays off big-time. “I began staying late in the office one night a week,” says public relations manager Jess, 33.

“I realized that it made my schedule work best to know that every Thursday, for example, I would be in the office until 8 to get through my to-do list. But the advantage of it was realizing that the president of our organization also liked staying late, too. He and I began talking as the office cleared out, which led to me getting on some projects I probably wouldn’t have gotten on otherwise.”

And talking shop is key. Kate White, former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan and author of I Shouldn't Be Telling You This, says that if you are lucky enough to score face time, don't waste the opportunity talking about the weather. "Maybe it's something like, 'I saw that quote of yours in the article by such and such. That's really exciting!' Or, 'I was excited to see we hired such and such and that we'll be doing such and such.' Let that person know you're engaged, you're curious about everything to do with the business, and that you're all in," says White.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Stop Complaining About Work
“Ugh, my job sucks.” The more you say it, the more you believe it’s true. Obviously, sometimes you need to blow off steam by talking about work stuff, but if you find yourself saying something negative at every turn, it’s a good sign it’s time to look for new opportunities.

“I was complaining all the time about work, and ended up working with a career coach who made me really dig into why I hated my job,” says Meg, 35, a content strategist. “I realized I was getting bogged down by office politics. Once I realized that, I began to reframe my focus at my job to redirecting to the stuff I liked, which was the actual work. I also began looking for new jobs, but really digging into the 'why' of hating the job was a useful tool.”
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Update Your Personal Brand
Regardless of what industry you’re in, you’ve got an office reputation. Make sure it’s the one you want.

“I realized that I was the office over-sharer when I was at a work happy hour and a coworker’s boyfriend immediately knew I was the one dealing with the roommate drama,” says Jen, 25, a sales rep. “So I decided to act more like my boss. She was friendly, but reserved. She didn’t have a ton of personal stuff in her office. And she never talked about drama.”

Obviously, you still want to enjoy work, but making the conscious choice to be as professional as possible in the office can change the way your boss perceives you.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Clean Up Your Office Vocab
You’ve heard it plenty of times: "Sorry" is a bad word at the office. Other phrases to consider ditching: "I’ll try" (Just get it done!), "I have a quick question" (Just ask the question!), and "Does that make sense?" (If you think it does, it does!).

It's a simple step, but again, this can help enhance your office presence.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
“Drain The Swamp As You Slay The Alligators”
What it means, according to White: Get day-to-day stuff done, but make sure you’re thinking long-term, too.

This might mean putting an hour a day aside to work on a looming deadline instead of waiting until the last minute, or it could mean making strategic moves, like setting up a networking coffee with a mentor, to help you get the gig you want.

It's so easy to get bogged down in the daily routine of just getting stuff done, but those everyday tasks don't necessarily scream "promotion." Making sure you're also working on bigger projects is key.

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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Start Dressing For It
This may sound superficial, but it's a simple way to stand out and show your boss that you're ready for the responsibility, say experts.

Not sure what to wear? Take a hint from the higher-ups. Are they all blazers, all the time? Then it can't hurt to bring one into your wardrobe rotation. We're not saying you should compromise your sense of style or believe that "dressing the part" will somehow make you better at or more qualified for your job. But how you present yourself at work can affect your confidence, and you'll want plenty of that when you ask for a promotion.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Make A List Of Your Accomplishments
What have you done in the past year? These can be one-time wins (you turned around a winning presentation in less than 24 hours) or long-term successes, like helping to contribute to a 20% growth in department sales.

Think specific, think numbers, and make sure you have it written in an easily accessible place, as you may refer to it when making your ask or send it in an email to the higher-ups when the time comes.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Schedule A Meeting With Your Manager
If you and your manager have a good relationship, then having a check-in to talk strengths and weaknesses is a great step to make before you do the official promotion ask. While it's always nice to hear what you do well, experts stress that this meeting will be most helpful if you're receptive to their suggestions for how to improve.

Is your relationship with your manager especially formal? Then it may be good to have this conversation with a trusted role model — whether inside or outside the company. Choose someone who knows your work and won't be afraid to tell it to you straight.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Address Your Weak Points
Here's why it's good to get in with HR: The department can help you with the points your manager said you need help with — and may even pay for it.

Let's say your manager says that she thinks you're doing great, but that you need more executive presence in meetings. Now is the time to ask HR if they have recommendations for how to improve your public-speaking skills — they may send you on a training session or provide tuition reimbursement for a class. Even if they don't, showing you're being proactive in brushing up your skills signals that you're invested in your career.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Practice The Ask
Are you gearing up to ask for the promotion you want? It may sound silly, but experts say practicing the ask, including how you'll greet your boss, can make the difference between seeming tentative and being confident.

Grab a friend, put on your "I'm about to get promoted" outfit, and talk through it. You may feel silly, but saying the words — and having a friend or family member who can role-play potential scenarios of what your boss will say — can give you the confidence you need.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Be Ready To Negotiate
Here's where you should have research at the ready. Glassdoor and LinkedIn offer salary-comparison tools, but broadly asking friends in the industry for their intel on salary ranges can also be helpful when it comes to numbers.

Let's say your manager offers you a promotion — but no salary raise. How will you handle that conversation? Being prepared for every outcome — and knowing what you really want when it comes to title and compensation — is key.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Be Clear On The Timeline
Let's say in your informal conversation, your manager or HR hints that a promotion isn't likely for you — what does that really mean?

"Sometimes, a no is really a 'yes, but in a few months,' or it’s just an 'I don’t really know,'" says Amanda Slavin, entrepreneur and founder of CatalystCreativ, a marketing and branding firm. "If you do get a no, it can be good to ask for more information to figure out where you stand. Does your boss think you need to do more work in a certain area? Is there simply no wiggle room in the budget for a raise over the next six months? The more info you have, the more you can strategize on your next move."
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Make Sure It's What You REALLY Want
Sometimes, it's so easy to get caught up in wanting a promotion that you forget all the work and responsibility that may come with it. That's why, before you get ready for the official ask, it's helpful to do a gut check and make sure the role is truly what you want — if it's not, or if the person currently filling the role seems miserable, think about what you would need to do if you got the job today. If everything after that seems scary (and not in a healthy-challenge sort of way), it could be time move into another department or another company altogether.

And know that a promotion may be a several-step process that isn't so clear-cut. “Something I’ve observed is, so often, especially with promotions, people are so focused on the end result that they forget that a raise or title change is a process,” explains Slavin, adding that this mentality doesn’t give you any room to negotiate. Suppose your boss says no to your request; it’s a great time to ask if the company can send you to a leadership course or pay for an outside class that will help sharpen your skills. Having these alternatives in your back pocket demonstrates your commitment and interest, and shows your boss you are genuinely invested in helping the company — not just yourself.
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