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Brand You: what your boss wants to hear when you ask for a promotion

April 5th 2017 / Phanella Mayall Fine and Alice Olins / 0 comment

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The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

Want to climb the career ladder but too afraid to ask? The Step Up Club explain how to deliver a watertight pitch that is impossible to refuse

A promotion: two simple words that usually fill most of us with dread. Dread about whether we’re good enough, fear over the possibility of rejection, unease around other possible candidates… the list goes on. Especially for women, promotions can become prickly situations as much because of societal biases against us as our own self-doubt and angst.

Often, we sit there far too long in a job that we could do with our eyes closed because we hold ourselves back. We know we’re good enough to the do the job one up the rung – probably two above without too much bother. But we sit at our desks, heads down, ploughing through the day job ignoring the pang inside our souls that says, "You should be up there – the one with the killer job title."

So here is your reminder – your (big) nudge in the right direction. Because as simplistic as it sounds: if you don’t ask, you don’t get. It isn’t often that a big job just lands in your lap when you’re clearing your inbox. We need to lay our own paths ahead and that includes rising up the work seniority scale. We aren’t saying it’s easy – women are less likely to get promoted even at an early stage. Fact. Seriously, a recent study at the most junior level of promotion, where we would expect that the gender bias would be at its least offensive, showed this: for every 130 men that get pushed up the ladder, only 100 women are offered the same move. Yup, things are still bad out there.

MORE GLOSS: Work hacks to help you love your job

So we say, don’t become another depressing statistic. Let’s start with the basics: why do we find it harder to ask for a promotion? Well, the truth is that many of us fear failure. A trait that unites many women, because it was ingrained in us during our childhood, is perfectionism. And perfectionism, if it’s allowed to get out of hand, makes us risk averse and kills our self-confidence. Does this sound familiar? If you do something, you want to do it properly. That sounds great in theory, but when we repeatedly set ourselves unattainable standards and then constantly fall short, this knocks our confidence and makes us stop taking risks. And those who have low confidence and fear risk don’t ask for promotions. You see where we’re going?

The thing is, no one is perfect – or doing their job perfectly. Even if they’ve just bagged the top job, they’ll be winging it some days. Look around you, the chances are that there are less experienced members of staff who are climbing the promotion tree for the simple fact that they’re more vocal about where they want to go – and they’re telling the right people. The good news is that the key to becoming one of those people is simple: it’s evidence. What you need to do is systematically build your case, draw strength from the process and then deliver your promotion pitch package at the right time. If you become a strategic, fact-based version of your normal working self, then asking for a promotion becomes an easier step to take. Here is our guide to getting your promotion in the bag:

Here is our guide to getting your promotion in the bag:

1. Amass what you’ve achieved

This is not the time to be spontaneous. Plan your attack and know exactly what you’re going to say. Remember, modesty will get you nowhere at work. Literally, write down all of your most important work triumphs (however big or small) because concrete evidence is key. If you are in a role where it is hard to measure your achievements against widely received metrics – sales figures, client numbers – then collate all of the positive feedback that you have received, both via email and in person. Really, nothing is more powerful than evidence to get your point across. The good thing about building your evidence file is that you will tend to feel more comfortable self-promoting (i.e. asking for a promotion) when you can do it based on facts rather than empty boasts.

2. Clarify where you want to go

In the run up to asking for a promotion – in fact whatever stage you’re at – it’s important to get into the habit of communicating your goals to others at work. Research tells us that if we don’t speak up about where we want to go (or even what we want to do on a monthly or quarterly basis) then our bosses will wrongly assume that we are happy with our lot. Aspirations. Aspirations. Aspirations. Say it like a mantra. It isn’t uncommon for some male managers to make assumptions about gender roles that result in us missing out on key opportunities, especially when it comes to business travel, relocation or assignments that involve tough clients and even tougher deadlines. They make these assumptions because of unconscious bias, which unfortunately we can’t do much about. What we can do is have the voice and foresight to positively self-promote for the future. If you are a junior doctor with ambitions towards cardiology (for the record, less than one per cent of the UK’s consultant cardiologists are women) then for heaven's sake tell someone about your plan. That way, when the big jobs come up, the right people will know that you’re up for it – and when that happens, promotions inevitably follow.

3. Show the company they’re winning

Obviously wanting a promotion is a good start, and as we’ve said above, telling others that you’re ready to move up, is a game-changer too. But to clinch the deal, your boss needs to know how the company as a whole will benefit from your increased responsibility. So, now is the time to bring in any strategic suggestions that you might have for your department, role and the company. Communicate the improvements you’ve always wanted to make and explicitly explain to your boss what will be different under your watch. The chances are, if you have been waiting for this promotion for a while, you’ll have spent quite a bit of time thinking about how you would do things. Take some time away from the grind and have some mental clarity, to crystallise these thoughts and if you need to, get them down on paper too.

4. Strike at the right time

When it comes to making strategic career moves, timing can be everything. Obviously, a natural time to ask for a promotion is your annual review but, unless your company has a formal annual promotion process, this might not actually be the best moment. Remember, your boss wants to know you’re going for promotion because you deserve it and it works for her, not just because you happen to be reviewing the past year. When you’ve had a good role in your job, and your solid promotion evidence is in gear, then your attack will likely have a greater effect. Another powerful time to ask for a promotion is when others are moving around in the department. Is someone about to leave? Are people talking about an imminent restructuring? Periods of upheaval in your company might feel daunting, but often they are a great time to talk to your boss about where she sees you fitting in and what your aspirations are.

5. Network yourself promoted

Bosses rarely like to go out on a limb. Unless you work somewhere very small, it’s also not always just up to your boss whether you get promoted. This is why cultivating sponsors beyond your immediate manager is so important. A sponsor is a senior person in your company who is able to shout about you to the right people on your behalf. If you can’t think of one now, then how about a mentor? A powerful mentor can easily be turned into a sponsor by letting them know how they can help. Look to others for endorsement and assistance, because promotions are usually the result of many overlapping and mutually beneficial working relationships.

6. Accept the responsibility before the money

There are many reasons why each of us wants to get promoted – but money is usually a uniting factor. It’s absolutely fine to want to earn more when it comes to promotions though, it is important that your boss doesn’t think that you’re just after the bigger bucks. In order to avoid this happening, we say, wait until you have been offered the promotion before discussing pay. But, do always talk about the money when the right moment arises. Despite recent research to the contrary, evidence still overwhelmingly tells us that women don’t negotiate hard enough – if at all – when it comes to pay rises. As a testament to this over at Reddit, the formidable former CEO Ellen Pao, banned salary negotiations within the company so as to reduce the gender pay gap. The problem is that because bosses know women are unlikely to negotiate, they usually also offer us less. We say, when you get the promotion and the resulting raise, take stock – and then ask for more. If you feel greedy, then combat your fears with that evidence again – find out what you are worth from experts outside of the company, and then deliver a watertight – and killer – request that is impossible to refuse.

Step Up – Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes a Day (£12.99) by Phanella Mayall Fine and Alice Olins. To join the Step Up Club sign up here for free and get career advice in your inbox, first dibs on event tickets and exclusive brand partner offers.

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