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How to Ask for a Promotion

You’ve worked hard and have consistently achieved your goals… It’s time to get promoted!

In this article I’ll explain:

  • How to develop a career path that reflects your personal goals
  • How to align your career path with your company’s professional development system
  • How to evaluate the corporate climate to determine if the time is right to ask for a promotion
  • How to ask your boss for a promotion

Charting Your Career Path

The first thing to think about is what you want your career path to look like. I suggest looking at your 3, 5, and 10-year plans and creating a rough guideline to help you chart a realistic path. For finance and accounting professionals, a few key factors will determine different career paths — the size of company, industry, and company culture. Typically, the larger the company, the more highly regulated, and the more well defined the levels, pay bands and titles are. Here are a few examples (but remember that there are always exceptions to every rule):

  • Banks – Very well defined levels and pay bands with objective criteria for people to move through the organization.
  • Technology Start-Up – Roughly defined, and less in place with respect to formalized HR policies and structure; more fluid with respect to how people move through the ranks.
  • Mid-Sized Manufacturing Firm – Would likely fall somewhere in the middle of these first two examples.

Your Career Path vs What’s Possible at Your Company

Once you have defined what you want your career path to look like, the second thing to consider is how your company defines your career path. If your company has a well-defined career path, consider how it aligns with your personal career goals.  If it does, it makes sense for you to follow that plan. If not, you may need to think about what you can do to influence some changes to this plan. If your organization does not have a well-defined path you can consider some of these ideas:

  • Model your career path after someone else who has been a top performer at your organization
  • Get advice from people in different industry sectors to formulate your plan
  • Research the skills you will need in order to advance

In most cases, career progression does not happen in a linear fashion. Often times people will need to make some lateral moves and gain more knowledge in order to prepare themselves for that next step up. For example, if you work in financial reporting and you ultimately want to become a Controller, you will likely need to round out your planning and analysis skill-set before making that next jump. Similarly, if you are in tax and you have a focus on compliance, you will need to gain some planning experience before moving to a more senior level.

Considering Company Performance

Once you have developed a career path and a plan for yourself, you also need to look at how your company is performing. Even if you are personally hitting it out of the park, a promotion or raise may not be possible if your company’s overall performance is lacking. Some things to take into consideration are:

  • Is the company growing and/or hiring?
  • Is there budget in place for someone at the next level?
  • Is the macro-economic outlook favorable for your industry?

If both you and your company are performing well, it’s time to start leveling up in your role. This means acting like a leader in your current role and taking on the additional responsibilities of the next role up, even before you have the formal promotion. Hard work and prioritization are critical at this stage.

A lot of the accounting professionals I’ve spoken to have told me that when they were promoted, they were merely being recognized for the work they had already been doing. This means that people are taking on additional responsibility in their current jobs and really going well beyond their job descriptions, which is likely why their companies are recognizing and promoting them in the first place.

Having “The Talk” With Your Boss

If you have leveled up and are working your way closer to that next role, consider the following points before having “the talk” with your boss.

  1. Are your compensation expectations realistic? Do your research with respect to what people are earning at your level and at the next level up.
  2. Is your career path similar to that of your manager’s? Where did they work previously? How often did they move up? This will influence how they treat you.
  3. Do you know exactly what you’re asking for? Be prepared and have answers ready in regards to the time frame of when you would like to be promoted, what your title will be, and the compensation plan you hope to have.
  4. Does this promotion align with your personal career path?

Some companies are better than others at moving people through a career path. Regardless of what your company has in place, you can always manage yourself and demonstrate your value. You should always be your own champion and do everything in your power to ensure you get the promotion you deserve. Good luck!

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