| January 26, 2017

Last updated: October 10, 2018

Money & Business, Podcast

Podcast #273: How to Get a Job Promotion This Year


For many of you listening, getting a promotion or a raise is likely a goal for the coming year. But what’s the best approach to take to ensure this desire becomes a reality?

My guest today argues that if you want to ask for that promotion this year, you need to start laying the groundwork months before making the pitch to your boss, and she walks us through exactly what you need to do to establish that groundwork.

Her name is Frances Cole Jones. She’s an executive image consultant, the author of How to Wow, and a regular guest on the Art of Manliness Podcast. Today on the show, Frances shares the common mistakes people make when asking for a promotion, as well as the exact steps you need to take months before making your request in order to set yourself up for success. We also discuss what to do if the answer ends up being “no.”

Show Highlights

  • The groundwork that should be done before asking for a promotion
  • Your do’s and don’ts in preparing to ask for a raise and/or promotion
  • The importance of how you dress at work
  • How good social skills can give you a leg up in the office
  • The paradoxical nature of giving credit to your coworkers
  • Why a performance review is the most important piece of you getting a raise/promotion
  • The importance of having specifics in mind when asking for raises/promotions
  • How to impress after poor performance in the past or bad first impressions
  • The role of documentation in your career growth
  • How to come up with a number to present when asking for a raise
  • How to handle being told “no” when asking for a raise/promotion
  • Should you be networking and inquiring about other jobs in the midst of all this?

Resources/People/Studies Mentioned in Podcast

Connect With Frances Cole Jones

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Frances on Facebook

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Ask Frances a question

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. So, for many of you listening getting a promotion or a raise this year is likely your New Year’s goal, but what’s the best approach to take to ensure this desire becomes a reality? Well, my guest today argues that if you want to ask for that promotion this year, you need to start laying the groundwork months before making the pitch to your boss. She walks us through exactly what you need to establish that groundwork. Her name is Frances Cole Jones. She’s an executive image consultant and the author of How to Wow and a regular guest on The Art of Manliness podcast.

Today on the show, Frances shares the common mistakes people make when asking for promotion, as well as the exact steps you need to take months before making your request in order to set yourself up for success. We also discuss what to do if that answer to your request for promotion or a raise ends being no.

This episode is packed with actual advice. After the show’s over, check out the show notes at AOM.is/promotion.

Frances Cole Jones, welcome to the show.

FCJ: Thank you so much.

Brett McKay: Well, it’s glad to have you back. We’ve had you on several times now to talk about personal presentation, business etiquette, just how to excel in the workforce and the workplace. Every time we’ve had you on the show we’ve invited our listeners to go to your website because you have a form there where people can ask you questions about anything about dress and appearance, business etiquette, whatever, and every time we’ve done that we’ve had tons of responses from our listeners. Seems like this time around there are a lot of questions about asking for promotion. It’s a new year, I imagine people are thinking about setting resolutions for themselves and I’m sure one resolution is to ask for promotion because a promotion means new responsibilities, new opportunities for professional and personal growth, and also could also mean more money.

So, let’s talk about promotions today. How to ask for a promotion? I imagine asking for a promotion isn’t you just show up to the boss one day and say, “Hey, I’d like a promotion.”

FCJ: “I think I should be promoted today.”

Brett McKay: Right.

FCJ: Yeah. That usually ends poorly.

Brett McKay: So, what kind of groundwork? I imagine there’s some groundwork you should do before you even ask for promotion. So what does that look like?

FCJ: Well, I think, yes. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to start thinking about it in January if it’s something that you want to have happen, say, in 2017 because everybody has different timelines and different budgets and you need to factor that in because one of the things that your boss wants to know is that you can think like an executive and that you have considered things from his or her point of view. So, I mean, the same way you can’t just expect to lose 10 pounds tomorrow, you can’t expect to be promoted tomorrow but do lay the groundwork now. I have a couple of three or four things that I do want you to be doing and three or four things that I never want you to do in order to get your boss and yourself in the right essentially mindset to be promoted.

Brett McKay: All right, so what are those things?

FCJ: In terms of things that I think are important to think about. It sounds really basic but one of the things that everyone talks about is “dress for the job you want, not the job that you have” and this is true if you do want to get promoted. I mean, your boss and the other C-suite people want to know that you are paying attention to them. Just a really simple example is if your office has dress down Friday, but nobody in the position that you would like to be in dresses down on Friday then as much as you want to come in in your jeans and your sneakers, my first recommendation would be don’t do that. Show them that you’re willing to step up and do what they’re doing. Again, this is a very small thing, but it seems to make a big impression.

One of the other things that I think is really important to do is to speak up. That isn’t just in meetings. That is as seemingly small as a lot of people get into the elevator with their CEO or their boss and one of two things happens. One is they just completely become mute and they don’t say a word. They don’t acknowledge that person is in the elevator with them. The other thing that they can do that’s equally as troubling, maybe more troubling, is that they just continue either having some wacky conversation with a colleague in the elevator about something that maybe they shouldn’t be talking about in front of their boss or they just take out their phone and they stare at it as if it’s a crystal ball.

What I really want you to do in those moments is to just say to your boss or your CEO, “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” and “How are you?” and “How was your weekend?” and “How was your holiday?” Whatever it might be. Again, people are looking for more than the skills that are directly applicable to your job. They’re looking to make sure that you have soft skills. Soft skills include being able to make small talk. So, yes, pipe up.

Brett McKay: I imagine that that’s important too because if you’re getting promoted it might mean you’re going to be working with the boss or have more contact with him on a more frequent basis so he wants to know that “Do I get along with this guy? Will I enjoy spending more time with him?”

FCJ: They want to be able to picture you already being part of the team and this is just a really easy way to make that happen.

Brett McKay: On the dress thing, what if you work in a company where it’s very casual? Should you stay casual? You don’t want to overdress for the job, right? If the CEOs are wearing t-shirt and jeans, you don’t want to wear a suit.

FCJ: No. No, you don’t want to do that. Don’t come in in your ascot.

Brett McKay: Ascot and monocle.

FCJ: I’m telling you I did see somebody in my office one day in an ascot. Anyway.

Brett McKay: Only Cary Grant can pull off the ascot.

FCJ: Especially when they’re standing at a Xerox machine. But at any rate, we’ll set that to one side for the moment.

No, you don’t want to dress better than your boss because then he’s kind of wondering whether or not you even need a raise, but I was thinking you want to dress at the level of whoever is in charge of you.

Brett McKay: Gotcha.

FCJ: The other thing I want people to think about is that, as I was saying, you need to factor in the timeline. If you haven’t or you don’t have a specific review set up with your boss, now’s the time to get that in place because what you could do is you could have a review and find out there’s six or seven things your boss wants you to work on and so let’s find out what those are. Now’s a good time if you don’t have a review set up or you don’t have a standing appointment for that to just tell your boss “This is something that I’m thinking about. I’d love to set up some time with you to talk about what you might think I can do to improve.”

But in general, what I would prefer that you not do is don’t pounce on your boss with that request because it’s going to make him or her feel … You don’t want to leave them feeling like you’re putting them on the spot. So, don’t tag it onto the end of another conversation. Send them a very specific email and just say, “Performance Review” could be the subject line and just very upbeat, “I really want to make sure that I meet and exceed your expectations this year. I don’t have a formal review set up. I’d love to set something like that up with you.” Things like that. You don’t want anyone to feel like they’re in trouble.

Brett McKay: Okay. You’re still not asking for a promotion yet. You’re just looking for –

FCJ: No. Yes, this is just letting them know that you want to meet and exceed expectations this year and that you also have the insight into the company to realize this isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight, that you’re aware of timelines and budget constraints. You do want to set something up as soon as possible.

Brett McKay: Okay. So those are the dos, what about the don’ts that you should kind of think about as you’re preparing to ask for a promotion or a raise?

FCJ: The don’ts are kind of the same way Santa Claus is ostensibly watching you all year, you know your boss and the other C-suite team are watching all the time to see what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. There are a couple of things that when they see them they think, “Huh, I would prefer not to have that person be part of my day to day life.”

One of those things is somebody who can never praise or give credit to their coworkers. Again, leaders are looking for fellow leaders and one of the easiest way to convince people that you’re ready to lead a team is to if somebody’s done a good job, say in the meeting, “I couldn’t have done it without so and so. Their support, their help was invaluable.” Just really make sure that you are seen to be that person who’s big enough and essentially ego-free enough to spread around the praise and make sure the sun shines on everybody.

The other thing is, and this can be hard, nobody wants to promote somebody who’s a sulker. We all know those people who sulk. Who, if they are in a meeting and someone talks over them, they get petulant and there’s pen throwing or head tossing or eye rolling. Just don’t do it. You can interject calmly. You can clean it up later. There are a number of strategies, but sulking never ever does well.

The other ways that people tend to sulk is that if things don’t go their way all of a sudden they have a mysterious illness and there are two or three sudden sick days when they’ve been healthy as a horse the day before. Or they’ll have a temper tantrum with team members or other people in the break room. None of things is going to go very far because that’s the kind of thing where everybody might participate in your temper tantrum in the moment, but word gets around the office that that occurred and it’s disquieting to people.

Brett McKay: The other thing too is don’t foist it upon your boss. Don’t just suddenly out of the blue, “Hey, I’d like a promotion!” Like you got to slowly build up to it.

FCJ: Right. That’s one of the things that’s interesting, I have, as I think about promotions asking for a promotion is both a do and a don’t, so there are ways to ask for it that are a don’t. Don’t pounce on your boss, as we said. Don’t say tomorrow, “Hey, thinking I might be better in your job.”

One of the other things I don’t want you to do when you’re talking to your boss about possibly being promoted is don’t talk about your feelings. This isn’t the time to say, “Well, you know, Brett got promoted last year and I think that I should be promoted” because no one cares how you feel about it. “It’s not fair” is never something that you need to or want to say in a review or in a conversation about a promotion because it’s not about fairness. It’s about facts. This is your time to not talk about your feelings.

The other thing is I don’t want you to neglect having a number or a position or a title in mind because what can happen is you can say, “I’m thinking I’d like to be promoted or I’m thinking I deserve a raise” and your boss says to you, “That’s great. What were you thinking of?” And then you’re left with your mouth kind of opening and closing like a goldfish. You’ve got to have a very specific number or a title in mind and facts to back up why you think you deserve those things.

Brett McKay: Okay. We’ve established some groundwork. Basically, a lot of the groundwork is going to come from that performance review, right?

FCJ: Yes.

Brett McKay: You schedule that performance review. You’re going to get a list of things that your boss wants you to work on or things you can do so you can exceed expectations in your current job.

FCJ: I think the other thing is you want to walk in and say, “Here’s how I think I can improve.”

Brett McKay: Okay. So have ideas. Don’t make your boss do all the work.

FCJ: Yeah. Don’t make your boss do it because he or she will, again, will be impressed with your insight into, you know, that you have that self-awareness. Like, “This is an area where I’ve really really dropped the ball and it’s something that I want to work on.”

The other thing it does is it keeps you going down some crazy rabbit hole where you’re working away on something your boss doesn’t care about. If you go in with some goal that you think is, you know, and your boss is like, “That wasn’t important to me.” Now’s the time to find out what’s important to your boss and what isn’t.

Brett McKay: Okay. You have that list, whatever that is, of course, you want to write this down. We’ve talked about this before in our conversations with you. Always have a pen and paper. Write things down. Then you schedule a follow-up meeting, I imagine, probably six, seven months later would be about right?

FCJ: I think so. I mean, again, I think it’s one of these moments that you want to say to your boss, again, being mindful about timelines and when budgets … Everybody has a different end of year time of year. Oddly enough, a lot of people seem to make decisions in March. What you want to do is say, “If I’m looking for this promotion, this raise, this title change, but by when would we need to meet again?” Work backward from that date.

Brett McKay: Okay.

FCJ: In a dream world you get to go in one more time and say, “How am I doing?” Rather than just getting to your end date and finding out, “Oh, no, you’re not getting promoted.”

Brett McKay: Well, here’s a question, so when you have that initial meeting about feedback, performance review, is that when you bring up the possibility of a promotion?

FCJ: Yes. I think you need to be very specific from the beginning. “I’m meeting with you. I want to meet and exceed your expectations. Among my goals for 2017 is to be promoted to blah blah.” I mean, because you also need to know right then and there if your boss turns to you and says, “You know what? I’ve got to be frank with you. This is not something we have in our budget,” or “This is not how I see your career trajectory. This is not what I see as your career trajectory.” Now’s the time to find that out as well because you need to be making other plans and that’s when you begin to start thinking about networking and all those other things.

Yes. You need to be very clear about your expectations in a nice way. In an upbeat way. Again, not to make people feel like they’re in trouble or like you’re being either demanding or delusional.

Brett McKay: What do you do in that meeting? You’re having that performance review where you’re talking about possibly getting a promotion in the year, but you’ve had incidences in the past that were bad, right, that left a bad impression on your boss. How do you speak about those so you can move forward in a positive direction?

FCJ: Yeah, well this comes back to, as I said, walking in with things that you intend to improve on because it does show self-awareness. If you walked in and say, “You know what? In that meeting last week, I recognize that I didn’t take ownership of this or I didn’t follow up in the timeframe that was requested,” whatever it is, but if you can demonstrate that you know that you dropped the ball and that you have the intention of working on that, that goes a long way toward impressing people about how serious you are about making these kinds of changes.

Brett McKay: So, you do all that. You work on it. You’ve done everything. I imagine you should be documenting things you’ve done throughout the time you’re working on these things.

FCJ: Yeah. No. I think you want to always keep a paper trail. That’s one of the things I talk about all the time. Even after the meeting with your boss where you have the goal setting performance review conversation, send a note following up. “This is my understanding of our conversation today. These are the things I intend to work on. These are the things you would like me to work on.” But make sure you have all of that in writing. And then, yes, as the weeks and months go by, just let them know that you are keeping that front of mind.

Brett McKay: Should you send them updates. Like, “Hey, I’ve done this.” I can see that kind of being annoying.

FCJ: Yeah. No. You don’t want to overdo it. I think that, well hopefully, they at this point have been impressed with the fact that you are intending to take charge of things. So, I don’t think you need to follow up all the time and say like, “Hey, I need a gold star on my homework because I was a good person today.” That’s too much, but certainly, if you do complete a big project and you think they haven’t noticed it, by all means, fire off an email.

Brett McKay: Fire off an email. But then have that documented yourself so that when you have the follow-up meeting you can present, like show, “Here’s the value I’ve added to the company. Here’s what I’ve done. I’ve exceeded expectations.” You can show that to them. It’s not just some sort of hazy subjective thing. You actually have actual documentation of what you’ve done.

FCJ: Right. The other thing to think about in your performance, well, when you first go into for this meeting is that your boss could say some things to you that are upsetting. I mean, that you for whatever reason are completely blindsided. You did not imagine that that was their perception of you. So you want to know that that could happen and if you are somebody who is temperamental or emotional you don’t want to give into either of those avenues in that moment. You don’t want to suddenly start arguing with your boss, “Well, no, I think you’re wrong.” Well, okay. Now we have a problem. Or burst into tears.

One of the things that I do recommend doing if you have the time and you’re serious is to sit down with either another colleague who you feel has a good insight into you or with a friend and have them say to you some of the things that they think you might be hearing in your performance review. Because it can be shocking when it comes out of someone’s mouth. At least to have that experience of hearing it and responding to it in a less high-stakes environment. So, yes, I do recommend that.

Brett McKay: That’s great.

Frances, you said to go in with a title and a number. So, it’s like a position you want and the number you want. How do you go about figuring that out? What you should be asking for? Like, what’s reasonable. It’s kind of hazy. I guess it’s going to differ from company to company, but is there any sort of general tips that you can provide?

FCJ: I think that it’s one of these moments where hopefully you have a sense of how the company’s doing this year. You have a sense of what people who are doing a similar job are being paid. You can go onto websites and see if jobs like the one you are talking about, see what salaries are being offered. You can check TheLadders. You can check Monster.com. Just generally, you don’t want to come in with a number that’s crazy, but you also don’t want to low-ball yourself. It’s nice to give a range. If they say, “What are you looking for in terms of a raise?” “Well, I’m looking in terms of something X to Y.”

Many companies do have fixed raises, unfortunately, so that might not be an area for negotiation. If that’s the case then have a few other things in mind that you might want whether that’s telecommuting or more vacation days or whatever it might be, but have a few options so that you don’t just feel like the world is at an end if they can’t give you the financial that you are looking for.

Brett McKay: You’ve done all the groundwork. You’ve been working on things. You have your documentation. You enter the follow-up meeting. What should that follow-up meeting look like six months later? Is it just like, “Hey, here’s the thing I’ve done. Can I get my promotion?” What does that look like?

FCJ: Again, I would have not pounced on your boss about it, so write them a note. Say, “I’m looking forward to our follow-up meeting. I’m hoping we can talk through how I’ve met my goals and make some decisions about the future.” So let them know again that this is not just a rehash of what occurred last time. This is a decision-making meeting.

Brett McKay: Let’s say you go to the meeting, you make your presentation, and the boss says, “I’d love to give you promotion, love to give you a raise, but we’ve had this unexpected thing come up and I can’t offer it to you at this time.” How should you handle something like that?

FCJ: The first thing you want to do, as hard as it is, is to sympathize with your boss. Say, “I’m sorry that that occurred. I’m so sorry that the company is in this situation.” Again, they want to know that you’re thinking like someone who is sitting in their seat. Demonstrate that you recognize everything is not all about you. And then begin to put some timeframe into this. “Given these circumstances, what can you tell me or what do we know? Is this something that’s going to impact my ability to be promoted for six months or for a year?” You need to decide if this is something you can live with.

As hard as it is to wallow a little bit with your boss at the beginning, that would go again a longer way toward demonstrating that you are ready and willing to be promoted.

Brett McKay: You mentioned networking a little bit earlier. I think people always never know how to handle this. Should you be like putting the feelers out for other jobs while you’re still asking for promotion at the same job because at the same time that can show disloyalty to the company and sometimes it’s a small world in certain industries and word can get around that you’re putting the feelers out for other jobs. How do you network? Should you be networking even while you’re asking for promotion or is that something you should stay away from?

FCJ: If you’ve had a productive review with your boss and you have a timeframe for a conversation about a promotion then I would say, no, then you should not be out and networking. I think you should be going to events in your industry because it’s always good to see and be seen, but I wouldn’t be actively following up with people. If you’ve gone into your meeting with your boss and he or she has said, as we just talked about, “Something came up and I can’t give you what you want and/or I know you think you’re meeting your goals but I don’t see you meeting them.” Then, you know what, then it’s time to really actively begin to network. My first rule in this regard is just to tell everybody you know, even the most unlikely people, “This is what I want to do. This is what I’m looking for.”

So, yes, but you want to let your boss know too that, “Okay, I recognize that you can’t give me what I want or need right now and I’m going to begin to think about finding that somewhere else.”

Brett McKay: Besides casting a wide net, telling everybody and everyone, any of the other things that you can do to network to find what you’re looking for?

FCJ: What I always like to do is to call up people who maybe don’t have a job opening, but who are just for whatever reason you admire them and you like the work that they’re doing. You can say to them, “What I’d love to do is come in and talk to you for 15 minutes at the beginning or the end of your day about where I am in my career right now and what I can do to improve,” because what that does is it lets somebody like that know, “Hey, you are looking” and they’re going to go out to lunch with someone else and say, “Oh, I met the most articulate lovely person the other day who’s looking for something.” I think it’s a matter of really just demonstrating you’re available and you want this quite a lot.

The other thing I think is going to networking events is always deadly, deadly, deadly so I tend to take a buddy. It’s kind of like people say you’ll stick to your fitness goals if you have a walking buddy or a gym buddy. You kind of need to have a networking buddy because otherwise, you won’t go. You’ll go home and order Chinese food and lie down. So, I think it’s really really good to have somebody who you know is also thinking about trying to get promoted and try to go to events together.

Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Frances, any parting words of wisdom about asking for promotion before we end because I think we covered it all. We hit it from the very beginning to the very end.

FCJ: I guess the main thing that I think people should be aware of is that even though it feels extremely personal, very often it isn’t. Very often it is about numbers and facts and so just being mentally and emotionally prepared for that is an important piece.

Brett McKay: Great. Well, Frances, where can people go to ask you more questions about personal image and business etiquette and things like that?

FCJ: They can come to my website. It is my name, which is FrancesColeJones.com and when you get there, there is an “Ask a question” button and all the questions roll directly to my phone. I do answer every single question that I get. It might take me a few days, and I love to do it. So, really, any question big or small send it along because it’s a joy for me.

Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Frances Cole Jones, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

FCJ: Thank you so much.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Frances Cole Jones. She’s the author of the book How to Wow and you can find out more information about Frances’ work at FrancesColeJones.com and she has an “Ask a question” button. Use that if you have any questions you want to ask her about business etiquette, getting a promotion, your image, things like that, ask her and she will definitely answer you.

And if you want to find out more information about what we talked about today, make sure and check out the show notes at AOM.is/promotion.

Well, that wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out The Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. If you enjoy our show we’d appreciate it if you’d give us a review on iTunes and Stitcher. It helps us out a lot.

As always, thank you for your continued support and until next time this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.