31 Days to Financial Independence, Day 19: Getting Promoted at Your Current Job

31 Days to Financial Independence” is an ongoing series that appears every Thursday on The Simple Dollar. You might want to start this series from the beginning!

Last time, we began to look at improving your income at your current job through a number of techniques that focused on improving job performance and making a clear case that you deserve better wages for your work.

Today, we’re going to look at the next step in that wage earnings journey: getting a promotion at work. This can be something as simple as moving up to the next grade on a very standardized employment scale, like the one managed by the federal government, or moving into a whole new role in the workplace, perhaps even into managing others.

A promotion is often the most straightforward step for most people when it comes to career advancement. You still go to work at the same place. Often, you keep interacting with many of the same people. What will change is your job responsibilities, the items that can go on your resume, your income potential, and quite possibly your current income as well.

The goal with any promotion is to either directly increase your true hourly wage or put you in a position where it is much easier to increase your true hourly wage. As a quick reminder, we discussed your true hourly wage earlier in this series; it refers to the amount of money you make per hour when you subtract out all of the extra costs of work and also include extra hours devoted to work items that you’re not directly paid for. If a promotion is not providing you an improvement to your true hourly wage or making it much easier to improve your true hourly wage, then a promotion isn’t worth it.

Exercise #19: Putting Yourself in Line for a Promotion

Many strategies for getting yourself prepared for a promotion overlap with the ones that will help you get a raise, but these strategies are more geared with pleasing those who might promote you rather than your immediate supervisor.

The key thing to remember is that it is rarely your immediate supervisor who will promote you. Often, the promotion comes from your supervisor’s supervisor or from someone else in the organization entirely.

The question you should always be asking is what you can do to maximize your value to those people, the ones that would hire you. While the things you do to maximize your value to your supervisor often overlap with those things, there are many different things you can do to improve your value for promotion that won’t necessarily improve your value to your immediate supervisor.

This list focuses on things that maximize your value for promotion, mostly in terms of building relationships and skills that will make promotion possible and also finding opportunities for promotion. Use them where they make sense.

Understand the job requirements of the promotion that you desire, and use those requirements as a personal checklist. Go online and find an exact job listing of the position that you would like to have and learn what the exact requirements for that job is. What skills are required? What education is required? What experience is required?

Then, take those requirements and compare them to where you are right now. How do you match up? Do you already meet those requirements? If not, which ones do you not match up with?

The real question you need to be asking is what exactly can you do to fulfill each and every one of those requirements from where you’re at now. What do you need to do so that you can say “yes” to everything required for the job?

That list should become your checklist. Your goal should be to check everything off of that list so that you’re prepared for that job and there are no obstacles standing in your path. Often, taking care of those requirements will also help to ensure that you actually do a good job if and when you get that promotion as well.

Pay attention. Watch. Listen. Be aware of when an opportunity to be promoted to your desired job comes available. Promotions sometimes happen very quietly, particularly when a company is interviewing for a job from outside the company, and people within the company don’t even hear about it.

Keep an eye on any hiring listings that your company or organization might be doing. Look for situations where a particular department might be growing or when someone is leaving a position, as those are often great opportunities for promotion.

Build positive relationships with people who would be your peers in your promoted position. Let’s say you get that promotion that you’re eyeing. Who exactly will be your peers at that point? Who will you be meeting with regularly? Who will be your colleagues?

Start establishing positive relationships with those people now. Talk to them whenever you can. Ask about the realities of their job and listen. Ask what makes someone good in their position and what doesn’t. Give them respect for the position they’ve earned.

Basically, you want to be a positive known quantity to those fellows because there’s some chance that they will be involved in the hiring process in some fashion, and if they know you have the kinds of traits needed to succeed and those people like you, it’s going to be a net benefit for you.

Not only that, these relationships will tell you pretty quickly whether you want that particular promotion or not. Will you get along well with those colleagues? Do you have the traits that are really needed for that position? That’s what those positive relationships will tell you now rather than later.

Find a mentor that is several steps above you on the ladder. Try to identify someone in your workplace that’s above not only your current level but the level you wish to be promoted to and ask them for mentoring help. Make sure that the person is one of the “good guys,” meaning that they don’t play workplace political games and are well respected by others.

Tell that person that you have a great deal of respect for what they’ve been able to achieve, that you hope to be able to achieve many of those things, and that you hope that they will give you advice and suggestions on how to get there.

Listen to those suggestions. Take them seriously. Take notes. Use what they say to the best of your ability to prepare yourself for what’s next.

Most people are thrilled to have someone come to them showing respect and asking them for help. It’s an ego boost, especially for people who have achieved a lot but are unrecognized for it. They’ll almost always help you, both through direct advice and occasional assistance, but sometimes behind the scenes, too, in ways that you’ll never see.

Dress for the position that you want to get promoted to. Different positions often have different dress codes, whether formally stated or not. Look around your workplace and see how people at your level dress and then observe how people who are in the position that you want to achieve dress. Dress like your target.

Yes, that means you might somewhat overdress for your current job. That’s okay. The only time you need to worry about it is if you find that dressing differently is somehow incompatible with your current job, such as if you’re trying to shift from a shop job to an office job. In that case, dress appropriately for your current job but make an extra effort to apper presentable.

The goal is to give a visual appearance of caring about your job, something that appears at the briefest glance. Clothes can provide that idea at just a quick glance.

Willingly accept responsibility – and live up to that responsibility. Many people who are at a job just to collect a paycheck avoid as much responsibility as possible. They want their hours at work to pass as easily and effortlessly as they can. The problem with that approach is that positions that offer more pay almost always come with more responsibility, and if you’re showing everyone that you shirk responsibility, no one is going to promote you.

Accept responsibility. Make sure key tasks are done and be willing to accept the ramifications if they’re not. If a responsibility is offered, take it and execute it to the best of your ability. If you get in over your head, ask for help – asking for help is far more responsible than trying to go it alone and failing.

Build a reputation for reliability. If you regularly accept extra responsibility and handle it and if you are extremely consistent at showing up on time and doing what needs to get done, you’re going to gain a reputation of reliability, and reliability is one of the most important factors you can have if you’re wanting a promotion.

Many businesses run on the back of their key personnel being reliable, and if you can show that you have a strong tendency to be reliable, you’re much more likely to be moved into a key position.

Ask lots of questions about how the organization works levels above where you’re at. A promotion almost always means an expansion in the scope of your job. You’re now worrying about aspects of the business that you never had to worry about before. Someone who flips burgers worries about the burgers and the grill; someone who manages worries about how that burger-flipping task fits into the bigger picture.

Try to step back and understand the bigger picture. What role does everyone play in it? How does everything flow together to produce a product that people want? Why do people do the things they do at work? The better you understand how the business works as a whole and how things interconnect, the better off you’ll be in terms of getting promoted.

How do you figure this out? Ask questions. Figure out what everyone’s job is and how they all flow together. Ask questions of your supervisor about how everything connects. If you don’t understand something, ask.

Engage in an organized program of additional education of some kind that’s relevant to where you want to be promoted to. Many jobs that you might be promoted into come with some form of educational requirement that you may not have. Perhaps they require a degree in a particular area, or they require a masters degree in your field when you have only a bachelors degree.

While those educational requirements might not completely prevent you from getting a promotion, they can provide a real hindrance and create an obstacle that would make it easy not to promote you. The best solution? Use your spare time – and any workplace programs that help – to actually get that education.

In fact, any extra time you spend outside of work on personal education that’s suitable for the promotion you wish to get will help. Not only is it a demonstration of your ability and willingness to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed at the job that you want, it’s also a demonstration of personal initiative, a willingness on your part to simply take care of what’s needed to bring about success. That’s attractive to any employer.

Avoid self-promotion. Many people fall into the trap of tooting their own horn about the things they’ve achieved and the great attributes that they bring to the table. This is very rarely a good idea in the workplace.

For starters, most people know of your achievements and of what you bring to the table without your self promotion, so the self promotion is redundant. It’s also often seen as vain and egotistical and actually seen as a pushback against team efforts, which is particularly important because most modern workplaces thrive on teamwork.

Don’t waste your breath talking about your own achievements unless you are specifically asked to do so. Interjecting your own achievements almost always puts you in a bad light. Save that listing of achievements for your resume and for your interview, when you’re prompted to share them.

Deliver lots of praise and give lots of praise to your colleagues for good work, to your supervisor and to everyone else. This is almost always the best approach in terms of building a positive reputation in the workplace. Not only do your coworkers appreciate the nod, it shows to people in management that you are genuinely a team player that’s focused on using the best of everyone’s efforts to achieve great results.

This should be your reflexive response to any situation when there’s a chance to talk about workplace accomplishments and about other workers. Look for the good things that others produce and how it’s resulted in good outcomes overall. If there’s ever a focus on something that you’re primarily responsible for, dole out lots of credit to everyone who helped you.

The person that does this is the person everyone is going to want on their team because it’s clear that success will reflect on them as well. This, of course, puts you in demand because of it.

Practice self-direction. While asking for help when you’re genuinely unsure of the next step is completely appropriate and even seen as a positive, it’s also seen as a positive if you can take a situation where the next step isn’t immediately clear and you can simply find the right thing to do on your own – and then you do it.

For example, let’s say you’re restocking shelves. Rather than having to ask about each step in the process, understand what the big end goal is and then formulate your own steps in the process, then execute those steps on your own without having your supervisor intervene.

Self-direction is an absolutely essential skill for almost every promotion out there. It is very hard to climb a career ladder and earn new levels of employment if you do not have the ability to self-direct much of your work. Employ as much self-direction as you possibly can and only check with others and with your boss if you’re not entirely clear on how to judge a particular situation.

When a promotion opportunity opens up, talk directly to the person who would be hiring you, not your immediate supervisor. Many of the steps that will make you a good potential candidate for promotion are the same ones that make you indispensable at your current job. While good supervisors will see this and help you rise in the organization, some will not as they will find it more useful in the short term for them to keep you right where you are.

The most effective way around that is to discuss promotion with people who might actually be hiring you. Generally, your immediate supervisor will not be involved in hiring you for a promotion, so when you’re seriously looking at an opportunity to step up, bypass your supervisor and talk to the people who can actually get you promoted.

Find out what their expectations are. Make sure they know who you are in the most positive way that you can. Don’t give into the temptation to self-promote; instead, let your reputation precede you.

Next time, we’ll talk about strategies for switching to a new job with a new employer that can give you a much higher ceiling on your income.

31 Days to Financial Independence: The Complete Series

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.