Product Careers & Interviewing
What are some best practices for getting promoted?
Question from Michelle
What are some best practices for getting promoted?
Answered by Kelly Snodgrass
Leadership & Wellbeing Coach

In an APA survey on what makes people feel undervalued at work, 46% cite low salaries & 41% cite lack of opportunities for growth or advancement as key drivers for their job satisfaction. These top two underlying motivations & drivers of our well-being at work are paramount in what drives us to want a promotion. And yet for most of us, asking for a promotion can take us weeks, months, or sometimes even years to work ourselves up to - even if we know we are deserving of one!

What had I consistently and uniquely done to earn promotion after promotion? I had created an environment for myself that allowed me to be consistently and visibly recognized. And that is what it takes to get promoted. My obsession with human behavior that led to coaching also was the foundation for how I approached cultivating this unique environment to get promoted.

So what was this environment? After coaching many clients through to promotion using the same framework, I'm sharing with you the proven steps to getting promoted:

  1. Understand why you want a promotion
  2. Understand how your manager is motivated
  3. Create proof to get promoted
  4. Be consistent in exceeding your job duties

Just like getting fit requires a healthy diet, exercise, accountability, and a clear motivation...mastering these steps is the path to getting a coveted raise.

If you don’t have one or more of these key ingredients at the moment, you may feel like you are struggling to get promoted. The good news is you can create these circumstances if they don’t naturally exist! So let's get into the details of the best practices framework when you're looking to get promoted.

Why do you want a promotion?

As a leader, the only time I knew someone wanted a promotion was when they wanted a raise. Most people understand how they could go about asking for more money (even if it's uncomfortable... a quick Google will provide you great templates for doing so).

Ultimately, only 12% of employees actually leave an organization for more money. So if only 12% of people are truly money motivated - what about the rest of us?! How do we ask Google how to get a promotion when we aren't motivated by money?

Knowing your own motivation clearly is key. Below are two primary forms of motivation:

Extrinsic motivation: doing something because it leads to a separable outcome (i.e. working harder to get promoted and earning a raise).

Intrinsic motivation: doing something because it is inherently interesting or enjoyable (i.e. working harder because you are excited to continue to learn more & uplevel your skills)

Being either extrinsically or intrinsically motivated is not better or worse, they are just 2 different types of motivations.

Furthermore, you may not always be intrinsically motivated or always extrinsically motivated. It may vary based on what you're working on.

Someone who may be motivated by money may be extrinsically motivated in this circumstance and yet have areas of their life where they are intrinsically motivated. You may be intrinsically motivated to clean (because you enjoy a sparkly kitchen) but require extrinsic motivation to exercise (because of the promise of losing weight or gaining muscle). Neither is wrong, or right.

What is key here is that you know which you are in each area of your life. It is self awareness that leads to success! So what is your motivation? Do you need to get promoted for financial reasons? Is someone (or society) telling you you should be getting promoted? Are you desperate to get promoted so you have something to show for your years of work on your resume?

How is your manager motivated?

The main factor out of your direct control that is important to get a promotion is your manager. Getting promoted is a two way street, for better or for worse. Your manager needs to understand you and agree with you.

To be successful in a pitch for a promotion, it's critical to understand the manager's motivation. Just for a second, imagine you are a child who wants an ice cream. You know dad is the rule abider and no sweets are ever given before 6pm. You also know mom is a sweet aficionado and while the rules are generally followed...she tends to have a sweet here and there before 6pm. It's 5:30pm & you have a decision to make. Do you go to mom and try to get an ice cream early - appealing to her understanding that rules are meant to be broken on occasion? Or do you go to dad at 6pm and say "Dad I waited until 6pm to ask for an ice cream because I know you don't want us eating sweets before then, so can I have one now?" Both are valid strategies, because both appeal to what motivates mom and dad. Children are fascinatingly adept at reading their audience's motivation.

Back in the land of adulthood, we're going to use David Rock's SCARF model as a quick and easy guide to understanding and categorizing professional motivation. I love this model because it's something that you can quickly reference in your head to make game-time decisions before meetings. But this model is also helpful the more you get to know someone as you can gain more depth and insight into the complexities of their motivations.

In this model, each of the letters in "SCARF" stands for a type of motivation:

  • Status
  • Certainty
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness
  • Fairness

Status – our relative importance to others. Appeal to a status driven manager's desire to feel important is critical when asking for a promotion.

Certainty – our ability to predict the future. Appeal to a certainty loving manager's passion for stability is critical when asking for a promotion.

Autonomy – how free we feel in our lives. Appeal to an autonomous manager's love for freedom in how or when they work.

Relatedness – how safe and connected we feel with others. Appeal to a relatedness driven manager's desire to create meaningful relationships at work.

Fairness – how fair we perceive the exchanges between people to be. Appeal to a fairness driven manager's desire to ensure there is a valid and just explanation for every decision made.

As you can see, a singular desire to get promoted can be delivered in incredibly varied methods depending on what your motivations and your manager's motivation are. Having this wide variety of approaches and depth of awareness in your toolkit provides you with the highest chance of tailoring your strategy to getting a promotion.

How can I create proof to help me get promoted?

We all know actions speak louder than words. So in addition to sounding persuasive, it's important to develop a collection of data points and evidence to support your promotion request.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is creating the proof that they are doing the job they were hired for (and are likely doing it well). Unfortunately, the expectations of the job are that you do it and you do it well. Unfortunately, that alone is not deserving of a promotion...which can be hard to hear.

Again, awareness is the key to success. Being aware of this allows you to work with the reality of the situation. Instead of leading with doing a great job for the job you were hired for, in order to guarantee yourself the highest chance of promotion, you should be able to prove that you have been exceeding job expectations for at least 3 to 4 months.

Depending on the promotion you are asking for, the specifics of how you can show you are exceeding expectations will vary (i.e. you could be asking to become a people manager, or a global lead vs a regional lead, or to transition from one department to another). The process, however, will stay the same.

Here are the top steps to take for getting promoted:

  1. Go to your future job's description (or find a similar one online, if it's not yet created).
  2. Outline the skills required in each bullet. Not the outcomes, but the skills. Go for a list of 3-4 top skills. To take an example, "strategic thinking" could be a skill that a future job requires.
  3. Then rate the level of skill you believe this job needs on a scale of 1-10. Go with your gut instinct here: let's say you think you need to be at least an 8 out of 10 in "strategic thinking". After you rate it, describe what that 8 means in the terms of the outcomes (from the job description itself).
  4. Then, rate what your current job requires in terms of this strategic thinking skill. Say, a 5. Then describe what the 5 means in terms of outcomes.
  5. Finally - add in the proof! In this case, proof of where you believe you have achieved an outcome that demonstrates you being a 6, 7, or 8 in strategic thinking. It can help to define what 6 and 7 could each mean and then add outcomes you have achieved that meet your definitions. And if you don't have any proof... then now you have a plan outlined for what experience you need to build on and the outcomes to aim for.

What's the key to always getting promoted?

You have now got the makings of an ice cream sundae with bananas, caramel sauce, and sprinkles in front of you. The cherry on top is to set up a system to start getting promoted...without even asking. Which means going from doing this exercise once a year to doing it weekly. Yes, every single week.

To turn your manager into your biggest advocate, they should know day in and day out how you are exceeding expectations. That you are going above and beyond making the impact that they had hoped.

There are many ways to do this, but there's one method that I have consistently seen turn managers into advocates.

Unfortunately, most people tend to be uncomfortable doing this, and ultimately fail to create a habit around it. What's the method? It's essentially "humble bragging" about the impact you make on a weekly basis.

To make this something to look forward to, rather than something to feel awkward about, create a habit around it. To do this, schedule in time on your calendar to write your Monday Magazines. Because as James Clear fittingly says in his book, Atomic Habits - "You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems."

Whenever I have started at any new company, I've told my manager that I would send them a weekly Monday Magazine. This served to highlight a quick overview of the previous week's happenings, and outline what my team and I were doing in the week ahead. No manager of mine ever asked for this Magazine, and they probably didn't think they needed it.

And there you have it! The proven method to getting promoted, and to continue getting promoted.

To wrap up, I'll leave you with an acronym to help you remember the 4 elements we've gone through that make up a promotion filled career: "Motivation, Manager, Proof, Consistency". And if you're really ready to go all in, write MMPC on a post-it note (and put it somewhere you will see it often)!

To get 1:1 guidance on each of these steps, sign up for the Getting Promoted program.

About the author
Read more
Read less
Kelly Snodgrass
Leadership & Wellbeing Coach

Kelly started as an engineer and became a growth hacker at Uber before scaling Operations at Snapchat and leading teams of 100+ at hyper growth startups.


See all the questions & answers

Tag me in coach

Want to level up your product manager skills?

You can apply to a Guided Sprint and we’ll make sure you get the most value out of your coaching experience and being part of our community.

We want to make sure you don’t miss out on any of our free events and career resources, so follow Scale Higher on LinkedIn. Hope to see you at our events soon! 😊

See guided sprints