How to ask for a promotion

Dear Joan:
I have been in my position now for almost three years now, and I would like to request a promotion. I feel I have worked hard and my responsibilities are increasing, as well my 2009 performance assessment was very good. In addition, compared to others in my area with the same title, I am more advanced and am consistently being given more of a lead role on projects, which is similar to what other senior level people have in my area.  
Can you provide guidance as to what is the best way to make this request? Should I prepare a letter, or setup a face to face meeting, to make the request? I have a good relationship with my reporting manager; however, she has been extremely busy for the past six months, working on another major project with the other side of our team.
She had to step in when someone left, so she hasn’t been very accessible. We work very independently and I no longer have my weekly one-on-one meetings with her. We have arranged to just go to her when we have a question, or need to provide an update. Anyway, any help you can offer would be great.
It sounds as if you may be in the promotion pipeline already, so you want to strike the right note with your manager. If you come on too strongly, she may feel pressured, and with so much on her plate already, your request may come off like an irritating demand. For this reason, putting it in writing would seem too forceful. Even though your intentions are to be efficient, in light of her busy schedule, it may not be perceived that way. People usually put things in writing when they want to make a formal request, so I’d opt for the face-to-face approach.
You have a good relationship, and she knows she’s been neglecting your area a bit, so I’m sure she would grant a meeting, if you request one. One way to do that would be to call her (or leave a voice message) that you would like to schedule a meeting with her to get her feedback on your strengths and weaknesses, for the purpose of doing some career development planning.
If you ask her for a promotion, the answer is either yes or no. She could feel backed into a corner. I wouldn’t frame your agenda as “I would like a promotion.” I think you would have a better response if you framed it as looking for feedback on how you can get a promotion. The reason I’d recommend this approach is that it sets up a two-way dialogue that not only tells her you want a promotion, but you are open to doing what it takes to get one. It doesn’t sound demanding. It doesn’t push her to give you an answer right now. But it does set the wheels in motion—if she feels you are ready for one, she will be nudged into action and do what it takes to get it done. If she feels you aren’t ready, for whatever reason, it will allow her to give you feedback you need to hear.
Be ready to state your case, when she asks you why you feel you would like to be promoted. For example, your strongest argument is your higher level responsibility and lead role on projects. The fact that you may feel you are a better performer than some of your peers, is good, but isn’t your strongest qualification. Having a good performance review is great, but it isn’t a strong argument for an elevated title. These two things support your evidence but they aren’t as substantial. They mean you are doing very well in the job you have. So, while it’s fine to talk about all those factors, the primary business case for your desire to get a higher level is all the work you do that represents increased responsibility and authority. And frankly, with her hands full, she may think your promotion is a great idea, if it means you can take some of the load off of her.
There also may be forces beyond your manager’s control. For instance, with a bigger job comes a bigger salary. The budget lid may be on, as it is in most companies these days, which would put any promotions on hold. There are also political or organizational issues that may be at work. For instance, there may be a reason why only a certain percentage of her staff may be allowed in the senior category. If so, don’t get upset. She will likely fight a battle for you, if you are a great performer she doesn’t want to lose.
Even if your manager feels you aren’t quite ready, don’t get discouraged. Once you let your wishes be known, your track record of results should win you a promotion soon. If not, you have a great story to tell another department, or company, who is ready to give you what you want.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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