For most employees, jobs are temporary footholds in a ladder to some ideal position at the top. To the most ambitious of us, that position is the CEO or President of the company, but to others, it's somewhere in between CEO and "entry level clerk." Regardless of your ultimate aspirations or your current position, eventually you'll come to a point in your career that leaves you yearning for something more (or at least something different). Finding the right way to ask for a promotion can give you a better chance of actually achieving it--but first, let's take a look at the proper timing of such a request.

When It's Right to Ask for a Promotion

There's no one "right time" to ask for a promotion. For some people, it may come after 10 years of hard work in one position. For others, it may come within months of starting. It depends on your career field, the turnaround of your department, the financial resources of the company, and your personal track record.

There are a handful of typical motivators for asking for a promotion, and each of them plays a role in the appropriateness of your timing:


Once you have a better understanding of your own motivation, you can find a tactful way to request your promotion:

1. Ask your boss directly. One of the most practical ways to ask for a promotion is also one of the easiest. If you're on good terms with your boss, you can ask him/her directly about the possibility of getting promoted, either in a professional environment or a casual one (depending on your relationship with him/her). Inquiring this way is informal, and gives you a chance to explain your motives in full and discover new details about the open position. After this conversation, you may need to follow up with a more formal application for the position.

2. Talk with the person leaving. If you have your eye on a position you know will be vacant soon, have an open dialogue with the person who is leaving. First, you'll be able to ask him/her more details about the position--what he/she liked and disliked about it, and what types of challenges come with the territory. It will give you a better understanding of what you seek. Second, you may be able to ask him/her to recommend you for the position upon his/her departure. Depending on your relationship, it may be a long shot, but it's worth it.

3. Aim higher with your conversations. If you don't have a good relationship with your direct boss, or if your boss doesn't have a major influential role in determining whether or not you get a promotion, aim higher within your company. If your company is small enough, you may be able to speak directly with the CEO. Otherwise, speak with your boss's supervisor or find another member of your department who outranks him/her. It's still a good idea to give your boss a heads-up that you may be interested in the position (in the interest of preserving transparency), but otherwise, talking to someone higher up may increase your chances.

4. Make a formal presentation. If you have the time and interest, put together a small presentation that explains why you're the best candidate for the open position. Put together a brief resume with specific examples of your performance and experience, or use a slideshow presentation to hit the highlights of your aspirations and your career thus far. The more specific and detail-oriented you are throughout the presentation, the better. If you're interviewing with multiple people, this can make a tremendous impression on the group.

5. Plant a seed, and follow up. Start by casually mentioning that you're interested in a position, either to your supervisor or someone higher up in your organization. This is an informal, possibly conversational step. Then, follow up with an email formalizing your request and reminding them of your desire. Don't be annoying with your follow-ups, but do be persistent. If there's no position currently open, send gentle reminders every few weeks to keep your desires top of mind until there is an opening. Then, you'll be the first candidate they think of for the job.

6. Start asking for new responsibilities gradually. Instead of asking for a promotion and a sudden onset of new responsibilities to go along with it, try the reverse. Start asking for new responsibilities, one at a time, until you practically have a new position already. This can be a speculative strategy, since you might end up with a ton of new responsibilities and no pay increase with no title change, but otherwise, you'll have an easy in; they'll give you a promotion because you practically have a new job already.

7. Come up with a new position. Another strategy to ask for a promotion is to create your own ideal position. Instead of seeking a position that already exists above you, come up with a new extension of your current role. Present your idea to your coworkers and eventually your boss; explain what new responsibilities you'd like, and your action plan for implementing the position into your company. Don't be afraid to come up with your own position; the worst they can say is "no."

Asking for a promotion should be a comfortable experience as long as you're prepared. Even if you don't get the promotion you were seeking, you'll have established your desires and goals with your supervisor, and will be more likely to get that promotion at the next opportunity.

For more advice on how to improve yourself as an employee, check out these articles: