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How to get promoted: The 5 steps guide to a successful leap

How to get promoted: The 5 steps guide to a successful leap
How to get promoted: The 5 steps guide to a successful leap
Summary. In the corporate world, January is the time to kick start, strategise, and go get. Not just for companies, but also for the individuals within. If your new year’s resolution is to climb up the corporate ladder and get that promotion, then this article is for you. Here, we help you look through the company and yourself to assess if your investment in the promotion is worth the effort. We also give you the insider tips on how to navigate the promotion process, the requirements, the timelines, and the stakeholders. We give you our ‘what to do’, and ‘what not to do’ recommendations so you are equipped to maximise your success.

The content of all our articles is protected by the Terms & Conditions policy. For license of content, please reach out to us directly, our information are on the contact us page.

Requesting a promotion is an exciting time in the development journey of any employee. It is momentous to the growth of the individual who invested their time and effort in their organisation, and dreams of having their skill, contributions, and loyalty appreciated and rewarded. However, the promotion process can be daunting even for the most valuable employee, particularly in hierarchical organisations where the distance from the bottom of the chain to the CEO is 6 levels of separation or more. For many, the difficulty lies in the process being long, confusing, or because they lack support from the key stakeholders who should be helping them to win.


To earn a promotion, you will most certainly need to work for it. However, there are many factors that can make the difference in the decision of you getting promoted or not; as well as make the process as clear and easy as possible, so you can be confident of getting what you want. And because – as per anything else in the world – knowledge is power and will be instrumental to your success, we give you our tips and recommendations of how to navigate the process, the people involved, and leverage shortcuts to achieve your goal.



Step 1. Understand your company

First take a step back, review and validate if your current company is the right place for you to invest your time, energy, and attention resources in a promotion. It is solely your responsibility to know who you work for. If you do not know the bigger picture of what the company does and how it does it, you will not be able to infer if this is the right place for you to invest in a promotion. You will not be able to fit it or find the shortcuts to the top.


1. 1. Understand the culture & objectives

No matter how many seminars and compulsory training you are asked to take, no one will tell you point blank what the company culture is. Though this might be thoroughly written somewhere or even hung on the company walls, the content of such documents is usually vague and mainly written to attract and impress. This is not the culture we are referring to here. We refer to the hidden subtext that you come to face in your daily life in the company. Below are few questions you need to answer to comprehend the underlying culture, values, and objectives of the company:

  • Where does the revenue come from and how does the company cut and control costs?
  • What are the high priority projects and initiatives this year, and what is the company’s 5 year and 10 years strategy?
  • What kind of people does the company hire and what kind of people get promoted?
  • Are people appreciated frequently? or do you need to spend many extra unpaid hours pleasing your seniors?
  • How is the company structured? Are the cross-department relationships healthy? Or do people play the blame game continuously?
  • How difficult is it to tolerate or leverage the company politics?
  • How difficult is it to approach other teams? Are there silos? And are senior managers accessible?
  • Between the person with the technical skills and the person with the soft skills who knows everyone in the company, and who is likely to get promoted?


Now zoom into yourself:


1.2. Understand the next level up

Before you request a promotion, you need to completely be aware of what you are getting yourself into. Do not ask just for the sake of going up the ladder or competing with colleagues. The next level up will be your new life, impacting your 24 hours day, your family, finances, relationships, health, growth, and peace your mind. Therefore, it needs to be worth it:

  • Find out as much as you can about the responsibilities in the new role, the salary, benefits, the people you will manage, the hours needed, any travel included, and any expectations from senior management.
  • Look ahead the corporate ladder, is there anyone in senior management whom you see yourself in their position? And how much effort do you need for each step in the ladder to get up there? Be honest with yourself on how much time, energy, and attention are you willing to invest in requesting a promotion.
  • Does your resume as-it-is match what your company would consider in a leadership position? Who does your company reward? look around for people who got promotions last year, this is a sample population of the talent that your company appreciates. Are they your kind of people?
  • Finally, ask yourself what is my purpose from being promoted? Gratification? better title? more money? More respect? More decision-making power? More learning and growth? Proving someone else wrong? Competing with a colleague who started their career same time as you? Or just not wanting to stay still? Whatever it is, it needs to be serving your life purpose. Do it for your sake, not the satisfaction of others. Seek your development ladder, not just the corporate ladder*.


If you believe that you are not a good fit for the company, then this is the time to exit, do not invest more years requesting a promotion where deep down you know that you don’t belong. However, if you establish that you are a good fit and desire to proceed pursuing the promotion, then below are the top tips to shortcut your plan and prepare for the move.


“Seek your development ladder, not just the corporate ladder”



Step 2. Understand the process


Anyone can qualify for a promotion if they know what are the exact requirements, the timelines, management expectations, and how to fulfil them:


2.1. The process

Find out as much as you can about the process in details: What is the promotion process? Does someone – such as your manager – need to nominate you? Is there a decision committee you need to interview for? Do you need to draft a business case? Do you need to fill in an application form? and what are the deadlines for the submission? If yes, get an application sample from your manager or HR. Persevere when needed, it is your manager’s duty to provide you with the correct information, and if they do not know, then they need to find out for you.


2.2. The requirements

Be crystal clear on all the requirements in the application: how many years do you need to be in the company and in your current role to qualify? How many people need to provide feedback to support your application? What level of seniority should they be? How many years back do you need to be a top performer? Do you need to show that you participated in company events, charities, or any extra activities in addition to your role? What is exactly required for you to be successful? do you need to provide any evidence to illustrate how you fulfil the criteria? Be diligent, pay attention to details, and do not underestimate any questions – or sections – in that application form. If need to, ask for a past sample successful application from someone who got promoted lately.


2.3. The timeline

Do not let the deadline slip through the cracks, give plenty of time for anyone whose input you need. People can get busy or go on vacations just before your deadline, and you don’t want to be blocked by someone’s unavailability.


2.4. The decisions makers:

You need to know who’s who in the promotion process. Who are the key stakeholders who need to sign your application, provide feedback, or impact your progression in any way? These are the people you need to win and secure their buy-in to support you through the process. There might be few of them depending on your company’s process, and the level of seniority you are requesting.

You need to identify, study, and cultivate relationships with your stakeholders. You also need to engage your stakeholders as early as possible. Why? because other people applying for different promotions will all flock to the handful of senior managers who can advocate for them. These senior managers will be a hot commodity that everyone is approaching at the same time, and usually each of them can only support a limited number of applicants, so ask early to beat the race.


  • Your direct manager

    • Possibly the most significant stakeholder, as they are the ones who will recommend you for the promotion. Your manager’s opinion of you matters, they need to see your value and give thumbs up to your character as a suitable candidate ready for more seniority. If your manager is not onboard, this process will be difficult, and you might have to change team or be ready to spend considerable time and energy fighting for your future.
    • It is worth Knowing your manager’s objectives. If they are not the most transparent person, you can just ask point blank. Your manager’s agenda impacts you, if they are ambitious and are themselves aiming for a promotion, then you can both climb together by making each other look good. If they are staying still in the only position that you can get promoted to, then most likely they will not support you in getting their job, unless you get promoted into another team, which is less likely to happen. Good managers fight for their employees, they maximise their employees’ exposure, show gratitude, give credits in cross team meetings, and publish their team’s achievements listing the contributors. If your manager does not do this for you, then be proactive and influence them to change, even if this means you do the work yourself such as writing your team’s achievements and credit your contributions for them to publish. Their buy-in means more visibility for you, and better relationships with the rest of the company.
    • Never think that your manager is too busy and you don’t want to bother them. They are not there just to monitor you and guide your performance. They are also there to participate in your development and nurture your growth within the company, so use them.
    • One thing to note is to never participate in your manager’s vendettas with other teams or leaders in the organisations. If you are applying for a promotion, then avoid conflicts and stay neutral. This is not disloyalty; this is keeping professional.


  • Senior managers

Whether managing directors or C-suite executives, a promotion application usually needs one or more senior manager to provide their blessing and advocate for your skills and contribution to the company. Depending on your organisation process, the senior managers can be either in your department, or their counterpart on the business side. These are the people who represent the revenue of the organisation and are kind of bringing in the money that pays for your salary. If you are not in the revenue generating line, then these executives woud be your internal clients. Their buy-in will make your application strong and stand out as it shows that the top decision makers in the company trust your leadership and skills to realise the company’s objectives. Their statement will be the proof that you have what it takes, that you are a good fit, and that the company’s future is safe with people like you.

Senior managers do not vouch for people they don’t know even if the latter are a valuable asset to the company. Therefore, you need to ensure the exposure and visibility of your work. They need to know your name and the projects you delivered where they were either a direct or impacted stakeholder. Your reputation matters here. You need to be a top performer so if you don’t have direct contact with them, at least they would have heard about you from someone else. Spread the word about your achievements. Build a business case and practice selling yourself and what you are about in few minutes, so you are prepared when you meet them.


What if you are not currently familiar with any senior managers?

In this case, identify who can support you in this capacity and reach out to them. Do not be shy or think they are too busy to meet you, you are your self’s priority so do what you need to do. Senior managers usually prefer ambitious, motivated, proactive, and out spoken employees as they are most likely to contribute positively to the company and drive its vision forward.

Building relationships with senior executives might take time to build.  Hence, if you don’t work with them directly, then try to identify the people who are most familiar with your work to introduce you and start building a network. Senior executives are usually the hubs of the company’s network, which means, there is always someone who knows someone who knows them. If not, research their interests and show up where they do, then introduce yourself directly. For example, attend seminars where they are speaking in the panel, or volunteer to a charity event that are participating in.

If they are in your line of management, then ask for a skip-level meeting. This is a meeting where you and a senior manager attend without your direct manager or other middle management. You are basically skipping a level in the hierarchy. If they are not in your line of management, then why not ask them to be your mentor, this way you get the exposure plus the invaluable advice. If you cannot secure anyone to support your quest, then ask your manager to recommend few names, and work on these nominations.



Step 3. Find the right support

Now that you got the buy-in of your manager and senior executives, identify who else can help your application:


3.1 Mentors

My advice to anyone in the corporate world is to always have a mentor in your organisation, someone you look up to and who is willing to dedicate time to support you. If you do not have a supportive manager, then getting a mentor becomes critical. You need the emotional support, motivation, inspiration, and all the advice you can get. Mentors can also help you identify senior managers who can support you. They can also inform you of their experience, given usually they are more senior than you and most likely went through the process before. They can also have your back and talk you up to their network.


3.2 The experts

These are people who recently got promoted. They have been through it, and possibly saw it all: the rewards and the challenges. Reach out to as many as you can but prioritise the ones in your division, as they are the most likely to share the same journey as you. Talk to some of them and understand their experience of the process and any challenges they endured. Moreover, think of what they have in common, the X-factor that got them to trumph. This is also one of the ways to find out what ticks for your company: bringing revenue, reducing costs, creativity, participating in employee wellbeing initiatives such as diversity, championing charity work, the list can go on. Pin it down and think what you can do to achieve this while including your passions.


3.3. Colleagues

Some people like to share that they are applying for a promotion, and some favour the privacy, possibly out of fear of rivalry. Some of your co-workers might not like you getting that promotion because they are also in the racetrack. Competition can lead to resentment; in which case, try to manage your relationships with integrity, honesty, professionalism, and transparency. Your colleagues should ideally be helping you realise your potential, but this is not always the case, particularly if this means you might be managing them soon. To help set the expectations, request your manager’s help, after all, most likely they had similar experiences navigating co-workers, plus, they know the people in your team well. With the colleagues whom you have a good relationship with, ask for their written feedback focusing on appreciation and listing your strengths. This would be similar to what you would collect for your performance review.



Step 4. Adapt your current role

Are you in a role that allows you to grow into this promotion? Are you currently doing any responsibilities that resemble that of the position you are applying for? If not, then rethink your role.


4.1. Identify the required responsibilities

To upgrade to the next level, you need to ensure your current role allows you to go up the ladder. Your current role should be a platform for growth. It should be engaging you in the hottest projects and initiatives in your division so your contribution can gain visibility. It should also include some responsibilities that are critical to that of the promotion. For example, if you want to be a Vice-President (VP), and a VP on your company includes managing a team of minimum five people, then in your current role, you should be managing at least one or two people. Otherwise, you will not be promoted to manage a group of people without any experience. If your current role does not provide you with the right platform to prepare you for a promotion, then talk to your manager and explicitly request the responsibility clearly mentioning you are doing it with the objective to grow and get promoted. Otherwise, they will just delegate some of their responsibilities to you without the reward, and you will be basically doing a VP job without earning the VP salary and perks.


4.2. Give them what they want

Do not request a promotion if you are not willing to work for it. Afterall, your company will take a decision that is best for the company, and you need to deliver your end of the bargain and add the expected value. To prepare yourself for a promotion, make an upskilling plan and master the soft skills that are common with seniority: networking, leadership, relationship management, time management, presenting results and problems in an articulate and attractive story telling fashion, attending and contributing to the right events and meetings, influencing decisions, negotiating for your team, delegating tasks, saying no to extra responsibilities that you will have no benefits from, navigating the culture, and advocating for ethics and professionalism. Perform your role as if you are already promoted.


4.3. Avoid the irreplaceability trap

Many people think that if they solely master a skill or a function that is critical to the company’s operation, then they will never get fired, and it will be easier to get promoted or ask for a salary raise. This is not correct. If you know something more than anyone else, then it is in the company’s best interest to keep you in this role, simply because there is no one else who can do it better. Hence, to state the obvious, do not make yourself irreplaceable. Certainly not in a role that you want to move from. Instead, upskill to the next level role, and train others to understand your current role. Do not fall for the trap of monopolising knowledge of a specific function in anticipation of reward, it will backfire. You will get stack in the same position not being able to go forward, only to have people asking you the same how-to questions repeatedly until you have enough and quit. On a similar note, please understand that in large companies, no one is irreplaceable.  The company decision makers will do what they have to do to keep it going, regardless of your unique resources.


4.4. Handling routine jobs

Many people worry that promotions are given to people who deliver projects while the ones doing repetitive tasks are marginalised. Companies try hard to offer equal opportunities of growth. However, if you feel your role is in a way ‘discriminated against’, then talk to your manager, and their skip-level if required. Explain that your role is difficult to match the promotion requirements in the company and you are requesting their advice on what you should do to move forward. They might assign you some extra responsibilities that are more in line with the promotion specification.


After the talk, walk the walk. Be ready to be pro-active, take metrics of your work and performance, research the stats on what is failing, or needs improving in the repetitive task process and give suggestions and solutions on how to improve it. Write reports presenting this work and create a story -possibly with a presentation around it – to prove your value, and showcase your creativity and resourcefulness. Be willing to engage your manager in this special project and suggest engaging other cross-department teams as well. Senior managers love seeing statistics and numbers going up just as much as they love people bringing in solutions to improve efficiency and strengthening internal relationships.



Step 5. Move forward


5.1. Track your progress

After you submit your promotion request, you need to stay on top of it. Keep track of what is happening in the company, restructures, new initiatives, new management, and so on. Regularly review your performance and promotion expectations with your manager in your 1-2-1 meetings. Your 1-2-1 is as much about what the company can give you: development, learning, promotions, time off, as it is about how you are performing in your role. Ensure the meetings are not a do list of tasks your manager delegates to you or a mere check on your progress. Always ask at the start of the meeting, before another priority is discussed, or your busy manager gets pulled in into another engagement.


5.2. Look up alternatives

Although applying for a promotion shows you are interested in investing your time in this company, it is not a binding commitment to stay there forever. While you are applying, you should keep yourself open to other opportunities. Keep your options open, no one has a monopoly on your future but you. You might hear many stories of people who suffered from empty promises of promotions and wasted years waiting in line for things to happen while the company restructures repeatedly. Your ultimate loyalty should be to yourself and your self-growth. If you are applying for a promotion, then most likely you are an ambitious top performer. This makes you a hot commodity that would be appreciated in more than one place. Finally, recall that this is not just about going places, it is about learning, upgrading yourself, enriching your experience, expanding your horisons, and bettering your life, all to service your life purpose. As per our earlier statement: Seek your development ladder, not just the corporate ladder.



*Note to the reader: We believe the notion of  the ‘corporate ladder’ is misleading. In most cases, getting promoted feels more like a wall climb rather than a smooth ladder.

  • You need to watch exactly where to put your feet on every step, observe, strategise, adjust, then execute.
  • The distance between the steps is not equal: the higher you climb, the more you need to stretch your resources.
  • Everyone experience a different climb: no one takes exact same path as everyone else, not even the path one initially anticipates. Everyone navigates the promotion process in their own unique way with their own capacity and challenges.

Therefore, ‘climbing the corporate wall‘ terminology might be a better fit. Email us and let us know your thoughts on the subject.


We hope you found this article useful. We wish you the best of luck with your promotion and all your future endeavours. For similar topics, why not check more articles in the career category.

Disclaimer: The content of all our articles is protected by the Terms & Conditions policy. For license of content, please reach out to us directly, our information are on the contact us page.

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