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13 Things You Can Do to Get a Promotion

The first rule on how to get a promotion is to stop thinking of it as something you "get" and start thinking of it as something you earn.

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It’s never too soon to start getting promoted

As last year recedes into the rearview, it’s “promotion season” in many workplaces. But if you’re just thinking now about how to get a promotion, you might be too late for this particular round, says Jodi Rabinowitz, whose long career as a human resources professional includes heading up talent acquisition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as working with start-ups entering their next phase. But that shouldn’t discourage you, she says. Rather, it should empower you to start planning for the next round. So get planning, starting with these tips.

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Consider your most recent performance review

Performance reviews may seem annoying to those charged with writing them and agonizing to those forced to sit through them, but the truth is, they serve a purpose: to help you perform your job optimally, which is an important part of earning a promotion. So take your review seriously and work on making the changes recommended. You should also know these 10 things HR people won’t tell you about raises.

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Find out the criteria for a promotion

Don’t just assume you’re deserving of a promotion, Rabinowitz, advises, but rather, “see if you can get your hands on the criteria.” Some organizations make that information more transparent than others, but it’s up to you as the person trying to figure out how to get a promotion to try to find out exactly what your bosses are looking for.

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Do your own performance review

Once you learn the promotion criteria, it’s time to perform your own honest assessment of how your skills and experiences stack up against the specified requirements, Rabinowitz says. If you’re not stacking up, then take some time to consider how you can change that. Does a promotion require demonstration of leadership skills? Consider volunteering to head a committee. Does a promotion require more collaboration than you’re used to? Start asking your colleagues questions.

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Cultivate the right relationships

Even if your skills and talents match up with the stated promotion criteria, getting a promotion sometimes also requires inspiring confidence in those who have the power to promote you. Cultivate those relationships and your relationships with the people who might have a less formal say in whether you’ll be promoted. These include your colleagues—not just those above you in the reporting structure, but also those who report to you. “You never know who the promotion influencers may be,” Rabinowitz notes. Try these proven strategies to build trust with your coworkers.

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Consider confiding in your manager

If you’re interested in how to get a promotion, Rabinowitz suggests it might be worth initiating an honest conversation with your manager about your goal. As part of that conversation, make sure to ask what your manager thinks it will take for you to earn that promotion. Starting that conversation takes courage, but it could lead to a major payoff.

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Listen. Really listen.

If you’re gutsy enough to have that honest conversation with your manager, then congratulations! Now it’s time to run with it by listening carefully to what your manager tells you not only about how to get a promotion, but also whether your boss thinks you’re ready to go for it, says Rabinowitz. Consider what your manager says carefully; it might be worth giving up on the promotion and instead making a lateral move to a workplace with a manager who sees your growth potential.

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If it’s not good news …

If chatting about how to get a promotion leads to the unfortunate revelation that your manager doesn’t think you’re quite there, then consider asking what you can do to change that. At the very least, this sort of “promotion dialogue” will show your manager that his or her opinion matters to you. If you’re on completely different pages, Rabinowitz adds, then do your best to delve into why that is. You might say: “Please help me to understand the areas I need to strengthen” or “Would you consider providing me with developmental tasks that will position me for success during the next proportion round?”

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If this is not the first time you’ve tried …

If you’ve tried multiple times to advance to the next level and it hasn’t happened, Rabinowitz suggests considering whether you’re not getting honest feedback or whether you’re not getting the professional development to achieve your goal … or if you’re just somehow missing the target. Note how often honest self-assessment seems to come up here. It’s crucial to getting to the next level.

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Consider behind-the-scenes constraints

The reality is that as much as you deserve a promotion, sometimes it passes by for reasons you can’t control. Unfortunately, as Rabinowitz points out, “behind-the-scenes” reasons aren’t always disclosed. For example, your company may be experiencing financial constraints that are not in the best interest of the company to share with you or other people at your level. But as long as you’re engaging in honest self-assessment and communicating openly with your boss, you’re on track to sussing out the situation.

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Remember that you are the ultimate boss of you

Rabinowitz likes to remind her clients, “You’re the boss of you.” She’s not contradicting everything she’s previously said, but rather, she’s pointing out that you have the power to make decisions about your career and ask for opportunities that your gut tells you will lead to fulfillment. And pursuing fulfillment on the job can lead to improved performance and an increased likelihood of promotion.

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Ask for additional work

This goes hand in hand with pursuing job fulfillment. Asking for more work, especially when your colleagues are trying to duck out for one reason or another, can open doors for you, points out Rabinowitz. For one thing, it can impress your manager. What’s more, you might learn something you wouldn’t have learned had you not sought out the additional work.

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Do your homework

If some of the suggestions above seem like good ideas in theory but don’t make sense in your office, consider seeking professional development outside your workplace; take continuing education courses or develop an expertise. If there’s no opportunity within your workplace to head up a committee, then do so within the community instead. Making this sort of effort might feel like playing the long game, but guess what? It is. Even if you don’t get a promotion this year, you can still pave the way toward getting a raise next year. To set yourself up even better for a raise, read the 50 must-know secrets your boss won’t tell you.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction, and her first full-length manuscript, "The Trust Game," was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.