Take Five: How to get a promotion

Written by
Sarah Trounce
Illustration by
Michael Kennedy

Take five minutes and read five practical steps to help you develop in your creative career.

What are the signs you’re ready for a promotion? Are you itching for more ‘important’ work? Do you want to do a different kind of work — for example, do you want to spend more time managing people or leading projects? Do you want more money? Do you feel like you’ve earned a change in job title? Do you want to become more involved in the direction of your company, having a say in how it’s run and the kind of work that is prioritised? Here at If You Could Jobs, we’re big believers in thinking through work-related decisions with equal parts caution and optimism. Our latest Guide explores the steps from deciding you’re ready for an upgrade, to considering the pros and cons of a promotion, and eventually, preparing to take the plunge.

Assess The Situation

If you think you might be ready for a promotion, you need to understand what opportunities are available to you. This will depend on a number of factors… Is the company where you currently work large enough to facilitate a promotion? Is there an existing culture of people moving up the ladder? Smaller companies will tend to keep people in one role for longer, gradually expanding their responsibilities and pay over time.

Is somebody more senior than you leaving, meaning there’s a specific job that is vacant? It’s worth noting that if it’s an existing role you’re looking to move into, there will be a legacy left by the person moving on, and likely a fairly fixed job description you’ll need to adhere to. Ask yourself: Did I enjoy working with that person? Did I like the way they worked? Did they seem to have a healthy balance between their job and everything else? Don’t ignore the signs.

If someone isn’t leaving, can you see a clear gap in the business that could be turned into a brand new role? In this situation you’ll be able to help shape and define the role yourself — which might be more appealing depending on whether you feel excited by the unknown!

Talk To Your Manager

If you decide that yes, there is an opportunity in your existing company — it’s time to talk to your manager. At this stage, it’s just about testing the water and gaining a better understanding of the new role. You don’t need to commit to anything yet… Ask questions. Review the job description if there is one — if there isn’t, ask your manager to sketch one out. Hopefully you have a strong enough relationship with your manager that they will provide an honest opinion about whether they think you’re ready. Half the battle is showing enthusiasm for growth, but your manager may want to see some tangible evidence. They might draft an action plan with objectives for you to work towards, or they might schedule regular check-ins where you can discuss your progress over the coming months. Don’t be disheartened if your manager doesn’t promote you on the spot, but do pay attention if they don’t take your interest seriously. A good manager will always support you to increase your skills and experience.

Weigh Up The Pros And Cons

Many people focus solely on the increase in salary a promotion will offer them. While money is a very important factor to consider, it’s not the only one. It’s tempting to say to yourself, ‘I’ll worry about the responsibilities later’, but this can result in an overwhelming situation where you feel poorly equipped for the demands of the new role and confused about how to step up. At this point you may wish you’d stuck with your old job.

We live in a culture where constant self-improvement is emphasised as the only way to proceed. But sometimes it’s okay to stay where you feel safe, happy and confident. While a promotion might bring in more money each month, will it encroach on the amount of time you spend with your partner, family or friends? Will it mean you spend less time doing the work, and more time in meetings talking about the work? Will you be responsible for bringing in new business? Will you have to get involved with HR? Be clear about what your priorities are.

Demonstrate You’re Ready

A promotion shouldn’t be a snap decision where overnight you’re thrust into a new role without any chance to prepare. Ideally, you’ll grow into your promotion organically. If you and your manager have decided on a fixed timeframe during which you’ll transition from your current role to the more senior one, you’ll have the chance to break the journey into more manageable steps. You might also explore training in the form of a mentorship programme or a course where you can learn relevant new skills. Working with a mentor can be a safe space to try out the likely scenarios you’ll encounter in your new role, and talk to someone more senior about the challenges and opportunities ahead. On the flipside, becoming a mentor to someone more junior than you can be a great way to develop your own skills as a manager — if this is something your promotion will require.

You could also take a less formal approach by simply ‘learning on the job’. You can use higher pressure situations such as client presentations, pitches or company-wide meetings as a testing ground for using your voice and sharing your perspective with confidence. But this isn’t about being loud or domineering — you’ll need to listen as much as you talk, bringing other people along with you.

The exact skills you need to prove you’re ready for a promotion will be specific to your role and the company you work for. However, making life easier for your managers, your colleagues and the clients you work with is a no-brainer. Improving existing processes and solutions is even more impressive if you take the initiative and make positive changes without waiting to be asked, or wanting to be thanked. In a nutshell, growing your contribution to the business – whether in terms of income generation, staff happiness, or quality of work – will put you on the path to promotion.

Up And Away?

If there isn’t an immediate opportunity for a promotion in your current company, or you feel frustrated with the pace at which change happens there, you may want to consider leaving in order to move up to a more senior role. In this case, take your time browsing opportunities and don’t jump into the first relevant job you come across. Just because it’s a promotion with the right salary and title, it doesn’t mean it’s the perfect place for you. Think about all the elements that matter most to you in your job — and your life. A promotion should always be a stepping stone towards doing more of what you love.

Take Five

If You Could's Journal hosts a range of useful Guides to help you navigate key decisions at every stage of your career journey. Each Guide consists of 5 simple steps, alongside advice from professionals working across the creative industry. Read more from our Take Five collection here.

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