Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

3 Ways to Earn a Promotion

By Daniel B. Kline, Selena Maranjian, and Tim Brugger – Updated Jul 18, 2017 at 8:46AM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

Sometimes getting ahead requires a little extra effort.

For many a worker, a promotion can be the key toward a better life. In most cases, getting bumped up to a new job means more money, more perks, and of course, more responsibility.

Earning that step up, though, can be a challenge. Some people lose out on promotions for reasons they may not, but should, understand. If you're chronically late, obviously lazy, or in perpetual trouble for breaking the rules, well...maybe you shouldn't be surprised when someone gets promoted ahead of you.

In most cases, though, it's not that obvious. Many employees put their heads down, do a good job, and stay out of trouble. For those workers, a promotion may be well deserved, but actually getting it requires doing a little more.

That may not be fair, but it's reality. You can get promoted -- and the advice below should help you make sure that the next time an opportunity comes up, you aren't passed over.

A wooden man walks up wooden steps.

Taking the next step in your career sometimes requires fighting for a promotion. Image source: Getty Images.

Ask for it

Selena Maranjian: One good way to get a promotion is woefully underused and surprisingly effective: Just ask for it!

According to a survey of professionals by Accenture a few years ago, only 28% of American women and only 39% of American men have ever asked for a promotion -- and among those who did ask for one, a whopping 59% received one. The survey results were even more encouraging than that. Among those who asked for a promotion:

  • 42% got the new job they asked for
  • 17% were given a better job

And what about the others? Well, the news isn't all bad even for them:

  • 10% had nothing happen as a result of asking
  • 10% got a new job, though not necessarily one that was a promotion
  • 5% were given new responsibilities

New responsibilities might sound unwelcome, but they might lead to a future promotion, if you are seen doing well with them.

Even if you are not in a position to ask for a promotion or don't want one, here's another smart gambit: Ask for a raise. Again, surprisingly few people ask for one, and it frequently results in a raise. (For best results, ask for more money by making a strong case for it -- laying out your value and how you help the company succeed, and offering a list of comparable salaries elsewhere. It can help to rehearse your pitch a few times, too.)

Remember -- smart managers want to keep their best workers around, and they understand that these workers will probably want to move up via promotions and raises. Be that best worker and your career is likely to progress well.

Offer solutions, not problems

Tim Brugger: Regardless of the work environment, be it an office, factory, or out in the field, the more familiar you become with the processes and responsibilities of your position, the more likely you'll come across ongoing procedural hiccups or inefficiencies.

Calling attention to discrepancies in a regular "state of the union"-type meeting is fine. In time, improving workflow or becoming more productive by ridding the office or factory of inefficiencies is good for everyone.

But if you have plans to get promoted, don't simply lay a problem in the supervisor's lap and consider the matter closed; come up with a solution first. Bosses don't want more problems -- they're looking for problem-solvers.

Don't stop with sharing your well-thought-out solution. What's the benefit to the company, your supervisor, or your fellow employees in implementing your idea? An example might be: "Doing this instead of that will not only increase the department's efficiency, it will free me up to become even more productive."

Promotions are for folks with solutions that, over time, will make their supervisors' jobs (if not easier) more productive -- not those who stop at pointing out faults. If it's not appropriate or feasible to broach the subject in a group setting, ask for a brief one-on-one with your supervisor to share the procedural snag, your idea for remedying the situation, and the upside to the company in implementing it.

Earn it

Daniel B. Kline: It has always amazed me how many people think they deserve promotions simply because they have seniority. Some companies may still operate that way -- where waiting in line trumps everything else -- but most do not. That means that seniority may give you an edge in the case of a tough decision (as it should), but a better worker with less tenure can jump ahead and snag a promotion.

Making yourself stand out is not just a question of working hard. Yes, you should volunteer for projects, come in early, and leave late, but that's probably not enough.

To earn a promotion, you need to win the faith of your coworkers. That means being a good teammate and leading by example. That's not easy to pull off, but if you can, it will make your eventual promotion a popular move, rather than one which creates resentment.

Daniel Kline has no position in any stocks mentioned. Selena Maranjian has no position in any stocks mentioned. Tim Brugger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Accenture. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.