The Promotion Game; How to Justify a Climb up the Ladder

I wish promotions were doled out in an efficient and logical manner, automatically rewarding those that work hard and are truly deserving of moving up the ranks.  I wish all managers were well versed in career coaching and people management to properly get their employees where they need to be for success (sadly many are put into people management roles that are simply ill equipped for this responsibility, but that’s for another day).  Unfortunately, we are not in that reality.  For most, you will need to be your own advocate and justify the role you want as part of your overall career plan.

I’ve gathered some of the key elements that should go into an effective promotion pitch to your boss.  While none of this is a science, but this will certainly help you put your best foot forward.

I should also note that I am skipping the existential ennui of “what do I want to be?” and “what does my career path look like for me?” in this article.  There are many resources out there to aid you in finding your passion, and I am sure somewhere down the line I’ll walk through my own journey to that discovery.  All of my below points assume that you have arrived at a role/title that is in alignment with your trajectory and we will work from there.


Look around your company for equitable levels.  Do others have the title and role you’re going for?  Doing your best to not be a complete creeper, find out how many years of relevant work experience they have.  Try to objectively look at how they compose themselves at work and identify soft skills that they thrive at that you know you could work on.  I say tread lightly in this area, as you can quickly devolve into a jealous mentality, wondering why this person got where they are and you have not.  Look at it from an objective lens and know that this is to help you get to that level as well.

If there are no others at your company with the level you want, do some research online.  Find similar sized companies in your industry and look at job postings for the role you’re after.  Pay particular attention to years experience and skillset to see if you’re already there, or if perhaps you need more time.  I’ll caution that this isn’t to hold you back from still going for it, but it can be a neutral voice in assessing where you stand.


Incorporating quantifiable metrics in addition to soft skills and years of experience will make your case more objective.  Find a metric that you can consistently track over time to illustrate an increase in workload, productivity, revenue, profit, etc.  Procurement Specialist?  Track the number of POs you process. Technician?  Track the number of tickets you close.  Are you in Sales?  There are a wide array of metrics on your deals that are likely already being tracked and you should be able to pull from your company’s system as well.


Did you fix a broken process or implement a new one?  Keep track of that, and better yet, quantify what the improvement was (going forward, identify a metric ahead of the implementation to keep track of to illustrate improvements).  Does your new process save time? Money?  The more impact the better (obviously).

Beyond rolling out something, I encourage you to document your wins.  Did a project come in on time (or early)? On or under budget? Did you save the day on a tense situation with a customer?  No item too big or too small should be neglected in what you pull together.  Once you start approaching your meeting with your boss feel free to tailor the list down to some of the larger items, but keep that total running list, it’ll boost your confidence regardless.

The New Role

Outside of your prior accomplishments justifying a better title, what responsibilities would you take on in this position? Some companies are very liberal with title bumps and this definition isn’t necessary, but others do expect you to take on more if they promote you. Look through the above comps and pay close attention to the job descriptions. Are there elevated tasks you could add into your pitch that you will take responsibility for with this promotion? Note that.

Of course, perhaps you already went above and beyond and started taking on all these tasks ahead of a formal promotion. If that’s the case, be sure to indicate that and try to pull out the job description you were hired on to fulfill, showing that you have now surpassed the expected responsibilities of that position.

The Meeting

Give your boss at least a week’s notice that you’d like to discuss your career path at your company.  This gives them some time to think through their own thoughts, and, nothing is worse than being blindsided on this type of conversation.  If they are a great people manager invested in your success, they will come to this conversation with some thoughts to make it more meaningful.  That’s a big if though.

In all likelihood you will not have an answer immediately after this initial conversation.  There will probably be feedback on your performance and things you need to work on that will get you to the level you are asking for. 

Follow up after the conversation summarizing your conversation with a quick note.  This will probably freak out your boss, that you’re documenting this to get agreement in writing (which you are, lets be honest).  This is important though to stave off amnesia that your boss may have down the line on the conversation and be done from a passive perspective that should hopefully calm down an anxious manager.  Send over the documentation you put together as an attachment and indicate your follow up is to get them this detail.  At the same time, acknowledge any feedback they had on things you should focus on.



I appreciated our conversation earlier regarding my career path, specifically my interest in pursuing a [JOB TITLE] position.  I wanted to follow up and send over the supplemental details I referenced on the call regarding my work performance to date.

I also appreciated the feedback you provided and I plan to work on [INSERT ANY MANAGERIAL FEEDBACK PROVIDED FROM MEETING].



And there you go.  A simple email that can capture your conversation in a relatively non-confrontational way.

The Waiting Game

Companies are funny. They typically have a promotional cycle once or twice a year that most promotions wind up being lumped into.  Depending on the timing of your conversation it may be some time before the next round of budgeting, but hopefully your manager will give you some insight into what that process is and provide you some transparency.  I encourage you to continue your dialogue as you meet with your manager to get a status (or provide updates on what you’re working on), but I would not ask about it every week.  It gets incredibly depressing to keep asking and be told “no updates”.

As you wait, keep an eye on what’s going on with others in your organization.  Are there a lot of one-off promotions happening out of cycle?  Ask your boss about it.  I have been told numerous times that each one of these darlings were snowflakes that broke the promotion cycle mold and they absolutely needed to happen but the promotion you put in for needed to wait with the rest of the batch.  Those one-offs also likely happened at the result of an ultimatum (see my thoughts below on that subject).  Enough of those will likely break your spirit. 

I can’t tell you how long is the right amount of time to keep playing this waiting game (again, depending on the cycle it could be 6-12 months), but I can tell you that if your promotion is drawn out or continually delayed this is a red flag and you should contemplate looking elsewhere.   Good news though, you already have a set of metrics, process improvements, and accomplishments that can serve as the base of your updated resume.  Also hopefully the next company has a bit more of established career path and promotion from within policy.    

The Ultimatum

It will be tempting to throw a hail mary and threaten to leave if they don’t promote you.  This will likely get you the quickest results possible but to me it comes at a cost.  First, you will be the ultimatum guy (or person) to upper management.  They will look at you and remember that you forced their hand, held the productivity of the organization hostage with your threat of leaving.  That leaves a bad taste. You likely will not get promoted again after that, certainly not through another ultimatum.  At this point you have already indicated that you have looked elsewhere and have been on the brink of exit, which can only lead to trust issues at that point.

Beyond just management, your co-workers will know because there’s nothing employees love more than office gossip.  Some may laud your courage; others will resent you for it.  There are people across the organization in your same situation, trying to justify their promotions through their prior work performance and career aspirations.  I can assure you that they are likely awaiting the next promotion round and being advised that there are no off cycle promotions, only to see someone else get it through this hostage situation.

I’ll wrap this up by saying, if you are at the point where you are comfortable threatening your management with an exit if you don’t get promoted, it’s likely time to exit.