Five Smart Moves for Moving Up

Moving up the ladder at work.

Once you’ve landed a job, you naturally start thinking about scoring a raise or promotion. The bad news is that you don’t get these things by just sticking around for a year (or any other length of time). You must earn them by doing a great job, showing you work well with your colleagues and proving you can handle more responsibility.

Track Your Success

Your boss needs to justify why she’s giving you a bigger raise than, or a promotion over, some of her other employees. But she can’t remember everything she herself did in the past six months or year, much less everything that you did. So it’s your job to remind her.

Of course, you won’t remember everything, either. That’s why you should create an Accomplishments Journal to keep track of your successes as you go. Throughout the year, jot down notes about:

  • Key projects you completed
  • Important contributions to team projects
  • Training you received
  • Improvements you made
  • Sales you made
  • Any ideas you had that she adopted
  • Kudos you received from clients or colleagues
  • Tasks you took on over and above your job

Whenever possible, quantify the results of these activities — such as the amount of time or money you saved. For example, if you found a way to compile the quarterly report in nine hours instead of 10, you shaved 10 percent off the time it takes to do the report.

Doing this will make it a cinch to document everything you’ve done when it’s time for your annual review or apply for a new position.

But that’s good news too — because a higher position can open up at any time. The question is, will you be prepared to capitalize on the opportunity? You will be if you start positioning yourself from day one.

  1. Make Your Case. Raises and promotions are based on performance, and performance is based on what you’ve learned and accomplished. While your boss has a general sense of how you've performed, she can't possibly remember everything you’ve done when she’s conducting your performance review or considering you for another position.

    So you need to help her by being prepared to list all of your accomplishments. And the best way to prep for that is to keep an “accomplishments journal” throughout the year. (See sidebar.)

  2. Listen Carefully. Anyone can do what his boss tells him to do. The trick is listening for what your boss really needs someone else to learn to do — as Jason R. did when he turned a part-time gig into a full-time promotions producer position for a New England news station in just two months.

    After his new boss wished aloud that someone else knew how to run the lighting board, Jason started studying the manual and experimenting with the lighting board every chance he got. The next time they were short-handed, he wowed his boss by stepping in and making the necessary changes.

  3. Build Your Network. Work is not a popularity contest, but managers do like to see that you can connect with people of all ranks and ages across the company because it helps get the work done. Being well-known and respected will certainly boost your odds of getting promoted. You may also get an edge on opportunities that arise in other departments.

    Forging these connections can be as easy as inviting co-workers along on your coffee run or joining the company softball team. Cross-departmental committees or task forces can be good for internal networking and developing your leadership skills, too.

  4. Be a Problem Solver. As Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson says, the best employees look for a way to use their talents to make a difference. Can you rework any of your projects to save time or money? What isn’t working well in your department and how can it be fixed? What does your department need that it isn’t getting?

    For example, you might convince your boss that you need to spend more time analyzing what the industry and your competitors are doing. The result: your boss could create a new, higher-paying position for you to do this. (This scenario really happened to the writer of this article.)

  5. Time It Right. Remember, the company probably spent about 20 percent of your annual salary to find and hire you. Then, your boss and co-workers spent time getting you up to speed in your new job. So angling to ditch your position too soon after landing it is going to go over like a lead balloon. What’s too soon? Anytime in the first six months. And maybe even after that, depending on what’s normal in your department.

    Good timing is approaching your boss immediately after you’ve had a big success or gotten a glowing performance review. It’s also when you’re asked to take on responsibilities for someone who’s left (unless the company is in the middle of layoffs). And, of course, it’s the moment you’ve convinced your boss of the need for a new position.

In the end, just keeping your nose to the grindstone won’t get you a big raise and snazzy new title. You have to show initiative by learning new skills, solving problems and volunteering for additional responsibilities, even when your boss hasn’t asked you to. Weaving a strong web of support across the company helps, too — the more people who like and value your work, the better. But in the end, a little luck and good timing play a role, too.

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process, or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by the National Endowment for Financial Education.]