How to Ask for a Promotion During an Uncertain Time


Seeking a promotion can be fraught in the best of circumstances, especially if it involves office politics. But now especially is a challenging time because many U.S. companies (and their employees) aren’t sure where they stand. Gross domestic product (GDP) plummeted by an annualized rate of 32.9% between April and June, according to the Commerce Department—the largest decline on record—and businesses are struggling to recover from supply chain disruptions, widespread closures, staffing shortages, and market volatility.

All these conditions prompted many employers to issue pay freezes, furlough staff, and ask for voluntary pay cuts or leave. It’s an unusual time to ask for a promotion, but the demand for leadership could position you for new opportunities. To make the most of this moment, here’s how to broach the subject with an employer.

How to Get Promoted—Even in a Tight Job Market

1. Advocate for yourself.

Business leaders are rewarded for controlling costs while maximizing profit. It’s in their best interest to extract as much value as possible without overpaying by a dollar. Their bonuses and continued employment are contingent on meeting these goals.

Therefore, if you want a promotion, you must first recognize the importance of advocating for yourself. In business, no one is there to take care of you—only you can decide how you want to be treated and then act accordingly. Be assertive and state explicitly that you want to advance.

An employee presents to colleagues wearing a denim jacket2. Identify new value propositions.

Businesses are developing new value propositions to cope with market volatility—and if you want to change your role in the midst of the pandemic, you must identify different ways to contribute to the organization. Make the investment seem worthwhile by aligning your transition to the organization’s overall objectives. For example, if your company is digitizing their customer services, explain how you could support those goals in your target role.

As a first step, think about the gaps in the company that need to be filled. Then, focus on these pain points and how you can help.

3. Gather evidence of your work.

Outline your success at the organization in a “resume of accomplishments.” If possible, tie your performance to concrete metrics—for example, cite your sales ledger, written feedback, error rate, lead-to-customer ratio, etc. Which metrics you use should depend on what’s most relevant to your current and target titles.

As you build a case in favor of your advancement, don’t lose sight of the company’s goals for filling the position. Your seniority and previous accomplishments don’t entitle you to a promotion—ultimately, the decision boils down to finding the best candidate. When you interview for a new position, even if it’s an internal opening, explain what you can bring to the table if you’re hired.

4. Prepare a proposal.

Think about what you’d like to do in the first 90 days of your promotion. What about the first 6 months and 12 months? Write down your objectives and be prepared to discuss these ideas with your supervisor. To convince an employer you deserve a promotion, you need to also persuade them to believe in your vision and strategy. Spend time organizing a deck for these ideas so you can share them with your boss.

Does your organization need a new position? Here’s how to pitch a new job description.

5. Anticipate questions.

If you’re going to take on a new role in an organization, your department will need to figure out how they’re going to fill your current position. To make the decision easier for your manager, come up with a solution ahead of time.

Depending on your circumstances, you could propose any of the following solutions:

  • Delegating responsibilities to a colleague.
  • Adding to your current list of responsibilities.
  • Automating or streamlining tasks.
  • Outsourcing to a third-party.
  • Discontinuing old procedures to prioritize new objectives.
  • Hiring a replacement.

When you make a proposal, be careful not to overestimate your abilities—you need to have the time and resources to succeed in your new role. Seriously think about what’s realistic for you at this time and ensure that your new schedule will be sustainable.

social hour with colleagues6. Demonstrate your leadership abilities and dedication to the team.

Think about the leadership qualities that are the most valuable—for example, being a strong communicator, staying calm under pressure, empathizing with colleagues, motivating a team—and then exemplify these traits in your everyday work. If you feel frazzled or overworked, take a step back and prioritize. To show an employer you’re ready to assume new responsibilities, you must appear collected, organized, and positive.

When your company hosts events, including meetings and social hours, you should also try to be an active and engaged participant. Visibility at the company will make you seem like you’re committed to the team and can help establish you as a leader.

When Should You Not Ask for a Promotion?

When you ask for a promotion can be just as important as how you pursue it. In general, you should schedule time to discuss your goals one-on-one with your employer, usually around a performance review or as soon as a position vacates.

If there isn’t a job posting, consider the following:

  • Have there been layoffs recently? If so, asking for a promotion when there isn’t a public listing could be unrealistic and seem out-of-touch.
  • Have you or your team recently failed to meet an objective? Try to wait until after your next win to reinforce a positive image.
  • If you’re unhappy at work, ask yourself if you really want to stay with the same employer. Changing your position probably won’t fix problems with the company culture.
  • If you’ve lost patience with your current role or feel burnt-out, a promotion could increase your workload.
  • If you only want the promotion for prestige or a pay boost, you’re probably not the best candidate. Think about what’s important to you and how your career could reflect those values. You could be more motivated in another position or with a new employer—or you could decide to request a raise or title change instead of a promotion.
  • Confidence can help convince an employer to promote you, but it will also be critical to your continued success after you accept the offer. To thrive emotionally and professionally, you must be capable of handling the work that’s assigned to you.
  • Everyone has a right to change their mind, but if you plan to vacate the role in the next 12 months, now might not be the best time to take a promotion. Doing so will create more paperwork and headache for your colleagues, and it reflects a lack of commitment or foresight.

3 Questions a Career Coach Will Ask—Plus 3 Questions to Ask Them in Return

Interviewing for a Promotion

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone in your department that you want to advance. Ask your manager for feedback about what it will take for you to reach the next level, and then implement those suggestions. It will usually take more than one conversation to receive a promotion, especially if there isn’t a position vacancy, so try to revisit this conversation at least once a quarter. Check in with your manager to ensure you’re moving in the right direction, and don’t expect the promotion to materialize overnight.

To start laying the groundwork for a promotion, read our tips on interviewing and career transitions. Want to accelerate the process with one-on-one help? Ivy Exec can connect you with a network of executive coaches who specialize in offer negotiation, pitch creation, job search strategy, and interview preparation.

Preparing for an interview, or for pitching a promotion can be intimidating. A Career Coach can help you plan what to say, how to say it, and how to achieve your goals. Get matched with a Career Coach now!

About the Author

Rachel Lake is a writer and editor in New York City. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. To get in touch with Rachel, contact her on LinkedIn.