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The following guest post is by Jane Park, CEO of Julep Beauty.
One of the questions I hear most from young people in the workplace is how to ask for a promotion. I am a big fan of taking charge of your own career. After all, you can’t sit back and expect someone else to figure out who you want to be when you grow up.
But what most junior employees don’t understand is that landing the big promotion is less about your individual skills, interests, and need for development, and more about how you are contributing your talents to advancing the objectives of your company. Moving up in responsibility requires figuring out how you can be the most helpful to the company’s goals. In many ways, this is easier to achieve in a startup where there is so much to do and so few people to get it done. Here are a few tips to land your dream promotion:
1. Have ambition for the team goal, not your individual objectives.
As Ben Horowitz says in his recent book The Hard Thing About Hard Things, it’s important for senior managers to have the right kind of ambition, which is about optimizing for the company’s success (“global optimization”) over personal success (“local optimization”). In a nutshell, it is impossible to do all the right things for all the wrong reasons. Regardless of where you are in your career, my best advice is to fully understand the goals of your company, and figure out what you can do to help. If you don’t know, then ask.
The fastest path toward a promotion is to contribute to the success of the team. Paradoxically, the more you focus on your abstract ideas of timing, titles, or colleagues who were promoted over you, the less likely you are to focus on the things that matter to your team. Imagine you are in my shoes, the CEO of a company. One team member approaches you with charts and graphs about where she would have been in terms of salary and title if she had stayed at her former company, saying she deserves a promotion. Then, another team member who is clearly helping the company achieve its goals with speed, clarity, and downright fun asks for more responsibility so she can achieve even more success for the company. Who would you promote?
2. Start doing the new job now.
Never wait for someone to hand you a title. If you want more responsibility, start doing your dream job today. Most of the time, nothing is stopping you. An official promotion is only the external recognition that comes after the fact. The most important thing is to do your best work always. Take initiative on projects, seek out new ways to solve problems, and come to meetings with new ideas to help grow your company. Prove you can flourish in a new role by actually doing that role. Most companies will rejoice in the opportunity to say yes to a request to “catch up” your title and salary to a job you’re already doing.
3. Help your manager achieve her goals.
One thing that shocked me when I first entered the workforce is that my manager didn’t spend all day thinking about how great or terrible I was at my job! In fact, he spent very little time thinking about me at all. Coming out of a big meeting one day, I asked, “How do you think that went?” His answer did not focus on me and my performance. Instead, he launched into a long assessment of how much impact we were having as a team. That’s when the light bulb went off for me that my career path was not my manager’s top priority; he was focused on what we were accomplishing as a team. Duh! The best way to get an executive to say yes when your manager asks for a promotion for you is to help your own manager achieve her goals. If your manager can provide examples of how your work has enabled her to produce results, it’s an easier sell to get you promoted. As a CEO, when a manager tells me one of her employees has really contributed helping her succeed, I’m always open to providing that person with the recognition she deserves.
4. Have a thoughtful conversation.
Whether the relationship is romantic or employment related, “taking the next step” requires hard work and vulnerability. After all, the final decision is in someone else’s hands. I find it’s especially important in this context to start off by being brutally honest with yourself about WHY you really want the promotion. Is it about the title? The public recognition? The responsibility? Or the money? Although there may be many reasons you want a promotion, the only reason your manager is interested in is whether you will be better positioned to help the company succeed after the promotion than before. Your need to buy a house, get married, or have a title on your resume is irrelevant. So find the areas of overlap between your needs, and your managers, and build the conversation from there.
At the end of the day, a promotion isn’t about what you deserve, and it’s not something you earn by doing a great job. It’s really an opportunity to make a more significant contribution to your team’s objectives. If you think about your work through the lens of teamwork, you’ll surely find yourself in more and more exciting roles where you can make a huge difference.
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