8 Terrible Ways to Ask for a Promotion (and 6 Better Alternatives)

Turned down for a promotion? Check that you aren’t making one of these common mistakes.
Updated Feb. 13, 2023
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young woman holding head in frustration in front of laptop on table

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Promotions are a natural part of any job or career — or so you thought.

Then you started getting passed over for promotion or, worse, flat-out told no when you ask about or apply for one. What gives?

Well, there are good and bad ways to ask for a promotion. If you’re getting a consistent no, the problem might not be your work performance: it could be your delivery.

Read on to learn about the eight worst things you can say when you’re asking for a promotion and six strategies to help you advance your career and stop living paycheck to paycheck.

DON’T: Downplay your successes

Antonioguillem/Adobe employees in office having discussion on table

It’s natural to have a hard time talking up your achievements, but if you’re going to ask for a promotion, you need to be prepared to talk about yourself at length.

Hopefully, your manager already knows about some of your greatest successes. It’s up to you to put those achievements in context and explain why they qualify you for higher compensation.

DON’T: Go in cold

Andrii Iemelianenko/Adobe senior employee writing on notepad in front of laptop

As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t walk into any hard conversation without preparation.

Along with outlining a list of things to talk about, try practicing in front of the mirror. Work on asking for a promotion with confidence and presenting your achievements clearly.

You might even consider asking a friend to play the role of your boss so you can come up with answers to some hard questions before the big conversation itself rolls around.

DON’T: Be vague

AntonioDiaz/Adobe young man talking to higher authority in office interview

When asking for a promotion, you want to get as specific as possible about why you’re qualified for a better role or a better paycheck.

You want to avoid vague statements like “I’ve learned a lot in the last year” or “I really feel like I’ve improved.”

Instead, come prepared with a list of specific situations or work projects that illustrate your qualifications for the promotion.

DON’T: Ask with Slack or email

Rawf8/Adobe businessman writing email on laptop

Yes, it’s awkward to ask for a promotion in person — but you’ll have a lot more success asking directly for what you want instead of sending a written request.

Unless you’ve been directed to email your manager a list of achievements, always schedule a time to talk to them in person.

When you talk in person, you’ll be better able to make your case, respond directly to questions, and demonstrate that you aren’t afraid to be bold when necessary.

DON’T: Wait to be noticed

fizkes/Adobe businesswoman in workplace looking at papers in hand

No one cares about your career as much as you do, so don’t be surprised if your manager or boss doesn’t bring up a promotion on their own.

Instead of waiting for them to approach you, seize the initiative yourself and do what you can to take charge of your career.

DON’T: Dismiss your shortcomings

Photographee.eu/Adobe young female colleague covering her face as the boss scolds her across the table

No one’s perfect, and you don’t need to pretend to be perfect just to score a promotion. In fact, portraying yourself as flawless can backfire if it comes across as pretentious.

Instead, aim to strike a balance between acknowledging areas of improvement and celebrating your accomplishments.

DON’T: Beat around the bush

fizkes/Adobe african american man talking to young female colleague sitting in front of laptop

It’s hard to get what you want if you don’t specifically ask for what you need. Instead of saying, “I need more money for this role,” have an exact percentage or number in mind.

Not sure if the number you’re asking for is reasonable? Talk to your coworkers (it’s illegal for employers to prohibit employees from discussing pay).

If you don’t feel comfortable asking them, do some research online to figure out what the current market value is for your specific skill set.

DON’T: Compare yourself to coworkers

fizkes./Adobe asian woman stressing out sitting in front of hr managers

When asking for a raise, keep the conversation focused on yourself. You should steer clear of blaming other people for any problems with your workflow.

However, even if you’ve asked team members for their salaries to get a clear understanding of what you should be paid, don’t bring them up in conversation with your manager.

If you’ve noticed any systemic pay discrepancies, though, do bring them up with HR.

Now, let's take a quick look at six things you should do to help score yourself a promotion. 

1. DO: Ask for feedback

Anne/peopleimages.com/Adobe business woman having a discussion with male colleague

If your promotion request is denied, don’t give up hope. Make it clear to your manager that you’re aiming for promotion and that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Ask directly for feedback, including the specifics of what you need to do to qualify for a better position. And get that feedback in writing so you can hold your manager to their promises.

2. DO: Set a clear timeline

peopleimages.com/Adobe two female colleagues sitting together discussing papers on table

Along with gathering their feedback, work with your manager on creating a clear, transparent timeline for reapplying.

Ask your manager for their input on how long they think it will take you to apply their feedback and clearly and consistently demonstrate improvement.

As with the feedback itself, make sure to get your promotion timeline in writing.

3. DO: Plan to follow up

NicoElNino/Adobe businesswoman holding pen while working on computer

Just as with asking for a promotion the first time around, you’ll want to take responsibility for following up after you’ve been turned down and given a list of what to work on by your manager.

Throwing a meeting with your manager on the calendar months in advance will help both of you stay on track to meet your goals and prepare for the next conversation.

6 Moves If You Want to Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck

4. DO: Document your successes

BullRun/Adobe woman writing on sticky notes inside book using pen

Some companies have their own systems in place for employees to self-report their accomplishments and track their career progress.

If your company doesn’t, consider setting up your own form of record-keeping so you can chart your achievements.

Whenever you get specific praise from a manager, complete an assignment you’re especially proud of, or hit a milestone achievement, write it down.

Make sure your record is complete with the date, time, and documentation in the form of screenshots. You can use these details to bolster your case when you ask for a promotion.

5. DO: Keep asking about your promotion

Gorodenkoff/Adobe happy colleagues at workplace discussing work on laptop

Being told no whenever you ask for a promotion is discouraging. It’s tempting to give up and simply stop asking — but you shouldn’t.

If you’ve been doing the work and know you’ve more than earned a promotion, letting it sit by the wayside is a good way to start feeling bitter and dissatisfied at work.

6. DO: Know when to call it quits

insta_photos/Adobe young woman sitting in office thinking in front of laptop on table

If you’ve tried every step on this list and still aren’t seeing progress, it’s time to reevaluate.

Is your manager on the same page as you are about your promotion? Are their supervisors stonewalling your promotion for other reasons?

If you aren’t getting the promotion you need, it could be time to look for a new job at a company that values employees enough to pay them right.

Bottom line

Daniel Laflor/peopleimages.com/Adobe women at workplace laughing and shaking hands with each other

Axing some of these common mistakes and replacing them with the pro tips above can go a long way toward finally getting a promotion that can help boost your bank account.

You deserve to be fairly compensated for the work you’re doing for your employer. That includes getting the raises and promotions you’re qualified for.

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Author Details

Michelle Smith Michelle Smith has spent a decade writing for and about small businesses. She specializes in all things finance and has written for publications like G2 and SmallBizDaily. When she's not writing for work at her desk, you can usually find her writing for pleasure near large bodies of water.

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