This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
It’s Friday. The weekend’s basically here. And you’re pretty much just counting down the hours to the end of the day, aren’t you?
But, what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if, instead of feeling grumpy, annoyed, and under-appreciated all the time, you felt motived, properly compensated, and challenged by your daily gig? What if you got the promotion of your dreams? Well, step right up — we can help you make that happen.
That’s right. We talked to the in-the-know executive coaches; inspiring women who’ve found success on their own terms, like Mindy Kaling; our very own editor-in-chief; former Cosmo editor and the author of I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This, Kate White; and the head of recruitment at a major NYC law firm. All of these very different pros handed over their success secrets, and now we’re sharing, too. Scroll on through for the step-by-step guide.
Make sure you’re working toward a job you really want. Not just the next one you’re due for — or the next one that comes up. There’s nothing worse than feeling unhappy in a gig, getting promoted, and continuing to feel unhappy. So, take the person who has the job ahead of you (or something close to it) to coffee. Do a little digging, in a non-awkward way. But don’t waste your time busting your butt for a job that’s not going to fulfill you any more than your current one.
This one’s a no-brainer. Get in the good graces of the person who’s going to go to bat for you when it comes to getting that promotion. Be invaluable. Go above and beyond. All of those cliches and platitudes come from a very real place, and this is your moment to check your attitude at the door, and be exceptional. Clare Hunt, entrepreneurship and leadership coach at Arten Coaching, says, “Figure out what matters most to him or her, and provide him or her leverage in those areas. Making your boss successful will pay you dividends.” And let’s be honest: Not doing it is a pretty good way to get overlooked, when it comes to review season.
It goes without saying that you should already be doing the job you’re reaching for, before you ask for it. Earn it, then ask for it. Hunt says, “by the time the promotion conversation takes place, most of the ‘work’ and ‘persuasion’ should have already taken place.” Fair enough. But, what does that work look like?
She says, “To do a job that is bigger in scope than your current role, you need to be thinking bigger. Set aside time each week to think big thoughts, and think like you’re up one or two levels. What are the big challenges the organization is working on? What ideas do you have to solve them? How does your current work fit into that? How can you be helping with these bigger challenges? Suggest solutions for these challenges, not the problems themselves.”
Our own editor-in-chief Christene Barberich sums this one up best. “I hate to be superficial, but what you wear says so much about you, your confidence, your aspirations. Especially when you’re working so hard to carve out a place for yourself in your career. That old saying, ‘dress for the job you want, not the job you have,’ has a lot of truth to it. At the very least, I think pulling yourself together in the morning just programs you more positively for the day. You carry yourself more confidently and others see the same. In the long run, that is so much more powerful than flip-flops and short-shorts.”
Point taken. You know you’ve got to start doing the job you want before you ask for it. Why not dress for it, too, and project your success and reliability to the world?
Turns out, there’s no such thing as “too early” to start proving yourself and thinking about the next step. Hunt says, “It’s never too early to think about promotion. I recommend thinking about it in the job interview — ask the interviewer how long the previous person in the role stayed in that role before getting promoted, what role did they move onto, and where are they now. From day one, think about what competencies you need to display to succeed in this role, and think about the competencies you need to develop to succeed in the next role.”
Similarly, Kate White, author of I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This, talks about what happens when you do ask for the next job too early. “There was a woman who worked for me, and the minute she got any responsibility she was coming in and asking for a promotion. But, you know what? I admired her ambition. Over time, after I tried to make her understand how things worked, I still promoted her because I admired that ambition. I would say, overwhelmingly, I was impressed when somebody asked. Sometimes I was startled because it was like hey, they’re showing me the love for the first time! I hadn’t realized that they were really crazy about this place until that moment.”
MIndy Kaling, who famously went from writer on The Office to an actress on the same show to best-selling author to a woman with her own (hilariously addictive) show, The Mindy Project, is the picture of amazing, whip-lash inducing success. But it didn’t fall into her lap. She reminds us that the most important piece of this process, after you’ve earned the role you want, is to ASK for it.
She says: “You can’t always assume that the person in charge knows what you want, or knows where you’re headed. What’s been great about my assistants is that all of them have been promoted up. They tell me pretty early on what they want to do. Telling your boss what you really want to do, stressing to them that it is your life passion, is the most important thing. I hate making generalizations, but being polite is key. Sometimes we don’t want to express exactly what you want because we feel it’s pushy, and a lot of men wouldn’t be shy to say what they want. You just have to let everyone know your intentions. Again, just say it once; no one forgets that.”
But. You can’t just ask your direct boss once and then assume you’ll get what you want. Know who makes the decisions at your organization. Don’t ever go around your boss such that they feel threatened, but take every opportunity in which you’re in contact with the higher-ups, to build a rapport and really sell yourself.
Easier said than done, so here’s what White suggests, “Find an excuse to duck into the higher-up’s office. Poke your head in the door. Start a conversation at the elevator that isn’t just about the weather, but really about what your operation is doing. 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.”
This includes new ideas as well as clear metrics around the success you’ve brought to your employer. White walks us through the conversation you should have if someone is leaving and you want to fill their role. First and foremost, don’t beat around the bush, even if you’re nervous. She says, “Start it with some praise. Say, ‘I know you’re aware of how much I love this job and working here and for you. I’ve really appreciated the great feedback you’ve given me and all the responsibilities. I’d like to talk about Jason’s job. I know so and so is leaving, but I want to throw my head in the ring. I think I could do a terrific job in that position and not only do some of the things Jason’s doing, but I can bring some other things that Jason hadn’t even thought to include in the mix.'” And then outline those ideas.
If your boss is going to think this job is a stretch for you, just lay out your case clearly, and hope for the best. White says, “Years ago, I worked with this woman who wanted this job as associate publisher, and she had just come in maybe six months before as an ad director. That position opened up — and she would have been aiming for it in a couple of years — but here she is just six months later. So, she went to the head of the magazine and asked for the job and the head of the magazine said, ‘Look, I really like you, but I think it’s a stretch.’ So, she wrote her a memo called ‘Ten Reasons This Job Is Not A Stretch For Me’. You have to help your boss see that you are ready for it!”
This can be tough. So many of us are raised to feel uncomfortable talking about money, and that translates into our ability to ask for it, in the workplace. This is BS. You’re doing good work, you’re being considered for the bump in responsibility and title, and that’s all fine and well. But, just because you’re getting so much of what you want, don’t forget to negotiate. Most firms will low-ball you just a little bit, so do your research and counter. The worst that can happen: They say no. But, it’s not like they’re going to take your promotion away.
White lays out how the conversation should go.”With a promotion, they may name it for you and I think that it’s important to always ask for more there, too — just in a nice way. You could have done your homework, and they’re probably going to low-ball you a little bit, and you’re going to be scared because you’re going to feel like they’ll yank it away from you if they think this is a stretch for me to begin with. But just say, ‘Oh, I’m so excited. I really want this and I think I can do great, but I’ve looked into the market value of the job, and I was really hoping for this amount.'”
Well, that’s okay, too. Work your strengths, have your presentation buttoned up, and remember you don’t have to be the loudest person in the room. Kaling points out, “Leaders aren’t always the loudest. Greg Daniels and Steve Carell are very soft spoken people. Confidence will get you what you want, even if you aren’t loud and abrasive. If you can send an e-mail and explain, then send the e-mail. Being an effective communicator is the phrase.”
Maybe you need another class to really become the best possible manager. Or you need a whole other degree to move up. That shouldn’t leave you feeling completely stuck, just because you can’t afford school right now. Yelena Rodriguez*, head of recruitment at a large New York City corporate law firm, lays out the facts of a post-recession workplace: “Companies are more and more hesitant to pay for additional training today. You almost need the promotion before you can ask for the training or classes. So, you really need to check with HR on policy, and make sure that it’s required for the job you’re doing. But go through the official channels, and make the case for being qualified to take the next job, before you ask for additional tools or classes.”
Hunt reminds us that body language and confidence are key, when it comes to actually having the conversation. She suggests everyone watch this Ted Talk, if they haven’t already, to see what she means. But, to break it down: “Know that, as a woman, you are more likely to use self-deprecating and limiting language, and that you are likely to use “low-power” stances that do not communicate confidence or power — if this applies to you, fight against these tendencies. Women tend to take up less physical space — and that can be perceived as less self-assured.”
Yikes. Hunt also wants us to “know that in the board room, people are more likely to mistakenly attribute a woman’s idea to a man (but not vice versa!), and researchers believe this is due to women using a low-power style and men supporting the idea with a high-power style (research shows that the men’s comments are often remembered while the women’s original idea is forgotten) — fight against that, and take credit where it’s due.”
White says, “First of all, you need to get as much knowledge as possible. Don’t leave with your tail between your legs. This way I once heard, that’s really great, of asking for information is to say, ‘What would I have to do next time to get it?’ If you put it negatively, the person is going to be reluctant to tell you. If you make it more about, ‘What do I have to do to get the job?’ they’re going to be much more likely to tell you. And maybe that comes down to them saying, ‘You need to work on your presentation skills. You need to be more buttoned-up.’ Whatever it is, now you’ve got something you can work on.”
“Then, I think there is more opportunity to get part of the prize than people realize. I applied for a job at Glamour that opened up — I was on the promotion side. I kind of inadvertently, stupidly ended up there — and this writer left the company who was an editor there. She was this really dynamic woman and she was kind of adored. She was an editor, but she also wrote a lot for the magazine. So, I was way over my head with this, but I applied for her job anyway. I put together articles I had written and I made my pitch, and I think they liked the pitch so much that they actually gave me my first big writing assignment to be a clown in the Ringling Bros. Circus, and I wrote about that. Then, they called me in and they said, ‘Look, you really haven’t been an editor. You’re not even really on the editorial side, but we really like your writing, so we’re going to make you a feature writer.’ So, just see if you can walk away with something. Try to walk out with something that you’re volunteering — not for extra money — but to develop that skill you’re missing.”
Sometimes, though, no really does mean no. And it’s important to know when you’ve outgrown a company and aren’t going to be able to move forward there. White says, “Step back a little from yourself and look at your boss’ patterns with other people. Are other people promoted from within? Do people move up? Are there people there that would tell you, ‘Yeah, it took awhile for her to make it happen, but once we got the money, she did’? There are some bosses who are unscrupulous and they don’t want you to leave, so they make promises.”
“I worked for Art Cooper, who ran GQ, and Art was the kind of guy who was always trying to promote people. He took pleasure in that. And there’s a trail of people who benefitted from that. You just had to be around him, and he’d know you. I sat next to Gay Telese at dinner the other night and I said to him, ‘I know Art Cooper was crazy about you,’ and he said to me, ‘Oh, Art Cooper, what a guy. He was so wonderful and giving.’ So, look for that M.O.”
“One of the greatest pieces I ever heard was from this guy, David, and it was really dreadful — but it was at a time when I was feeling like, ‘should I leave and find something else, or should I try to make it work here?’ — and he said, ‘Well, why not do both at the same time?’ So, I started looking for another job, but at this job I improved my skill set and became much more of an accomplished editor, and so when a job opened up elsewhere, I had all the editing skills for it. Doing the work, getting the experience, and making the pitches, it’s never a wasted effort.”
Rodriguez points out that it’s key to offer thanks when a boss or a mentor has gone to bat for you in this process. “If you work in the same office as them and speak to them on a daily basis, a note would be awkward. Just thank them in person — and be specific in what it was that they did, that was helpful to you. If you feel so inclined, add their favorite chocolates or bottle of wine, as a token of your thanks.”
And of course, pay it forward. Now that you’re in the role of your dreams, think about mentoring and helping out someone junior to you, the way your boss did for you. It’s more than just good karma.
*NAME CHANGED AT THE INTERVIEWEE’S REQUEST.
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