How To Get Promoted at Work: The Ultimate Guide

Investing your time and energy in years of dedicated study and work experience is a typical route towards professional career success. In many finance careers, there is often a clear hierarchy leading to an ultimate management role with a highly lucrative salary. 

Learning how to get promoted at work is therefore crucial, but why do many employees favor promotion rather than applying for a new role elsewhere?

61% of new recruits are often at risk of being let go by a company compared to those promoted internally to the same position. A new role with your current employer usually offers greater job security. 

Winning promotion early on in your career is also vital. In general, opportunities rapidly decrease after a decade in the same role. So if you want to know more about how to get promoted, or are planning the next stage of your career, read on to give yourself the best chance of success.

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10 actionable tips on how to get promoted at work

In the midst of studying for crucial qualifications such as the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst), it can be easy to lose track of winning promotion. However, you can’t afford to be complacent. Quite often, it is not just outstanding results that win promotion, you also need to be actively pursuing the role you want.

1. Create a career plan & set milestones

Wanting or hoping to get promoted, versus actively following a path towards promotion, aren’t necessarily the same thing. While it might sound obvious, if you want to give yourself the best chance of moving up the ladder, it’s important to identify why you want to progress, what you’re working towards, and how you plan to get there.

Setting goals will help to keep you motivated, and mean that you’re less likely to become complacent in your current position. You’ll be more likely to actively work towards being promoted rather than waiting for a promotion to be handed to you, which may never happen.

Agreeing milestones with your manager can also be a great way to demonstrate that you’re consciously working to progress within the role and within the company. These can be milestones relating to responsibilities, to performance, or to other factors that are essential to the business.

The important thing is to plan in advance where you’d like to progress over the coming 6, 12 or 18 months, and where possible get buy-in and input from your superiors. This will make it much more likely that you’ll be rewarded for reaching these milestones.

Actions: Plan the stages you’d like to reach in your career. Agree milestones with your manager as a way to be proactive about moving towards them.

2. Make your ambitions known

Appearing content with your current role can often give the impression that you are not particularly ambitious. During conversations with managers, discreetly mention your desire to scale the heights in your chosen career. 

That said, it’s important that you communicate your desire to progress in the right way though. Demanding a promotion is usually not the way to go, particularly if you are not indispensable. 

A better move is to let your manager know that you have ambitions to move up the ranks, and are able to contribute value that will be helpful to them and to the company along the way.

In finance for instance, there are lucrative opportunities in locations around the world. Frankfurt is a vital European financial hub, particularly in investment and corporate banking. The city has 162 international banks and almost 8,000 companies offering financial services. Mentioning that you’re proficient in German and can contribute language skills could help your chances of promotion if your company has a branch in the city, or needs to do business with firms located there.

Actions: Make sure your superiors know that you’d like to progress within the firm. Make positive contributions that help the business.

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3. Develop a likeable personality

Personality and reputation are usually closely related; having a likeable personality often goes hand in hand with having a good reputation. Both depend on building trust and connections with colleagues. Sincere working friendships that display genuine concern for others, and reliability when under pressure, serve to enhance your reputation. 

Of course, it helps if you are naturally sociable and friendly. Anyone who appears false, and harbours a ruthless, devious streak regarding promotional aspirations, will quickly find their reputations suffer. 

Ambitious yet likeable people are generally promoted to management roles and they usually encourage a harmonious workplace with employees who are willing to work harder. 

Evidence suggests that managers are considered to be 70% responsible for employee engagement; your personality and reputation can therefore be valuable tools that will make you stand out as an individual who will be able to harness the best performance from a team.

Actions: Build genuine working connections with colleagues. Develop a reputation as someone who is able to engage and motivate others to perform well.

4. Acquire appropriate skills

Assess the range of skills you may need for the next stage of your career. For example, entry level analysts should have bachelor degrees in subjects such as business management or accountancy at minimum. If you aspire to become a finance manager, you should consider studying for a master’s degree. 

Acquiring specialized qualifications that relate directly to your role, and more importantly the role you’d like to be promoted into, can be a great way to help you progress. The prestigious CFA is useful for many financial careers and offers a range of benefits to those working in the sector.

The CFA is generally preferred for intermediate level investment-related positions in portfolio management, wealth management, investment banking and private equity, and will typically help you to earn more during your career.

An MBA can also be a useful qualification, particularly for management level positions. Like a CFA, studying towards an MBA is often something that you’d undertake alongside employment.

Actions: Identify the skills that will be valued most within your industry. Demonstrate your level of competence by acquiring certifications that are preferred or required for the role you want.

5. Record your achievements & failures

Keeping a daily or weekly record of what you have achieved can help you focus on what you should do to improve your work performance. 

For instance, you might have converted a high number of clients to firm sales, but underachieved in areas such as contributing to a team project. Tracking your performance helps you concentrate on what skills or attitudes you need to address to win promotion. 

When you are successful, it’s likely that what you have done well also brought success for the company. Being able to talk about how you have directly benefited the firm can be invaluable if discussions around promotions come up.

When an opportunity arises, you have credible evidence to remind your managers of successes you might have otherwise forgotten. In itself, daily record keeping is a discipline that should help you feel more efficient and confident, plus it makes things easier when you update your resume too!

Actions: Record what you have achieved in your current position and what you have failed at. Use your achievements to demonstrate your value to the company, while also taking action to improve your skills where needed. 

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6. The advantage of teamwork

Many industries, including finance, are becoming more reliant on team work than ever before. A recent Teamstage survey discovered that 75% of managers view teamwork as a valuable part of a company’s success.

Teams are often considered to problem solve more effectively due to the sharing of ideas and resources, and becoming an indispensable team member is a key attribute in seeking a worthwhile promotion.

With entry level financial positions, such as an analyst at an investment banking firm, you’ll likely find yourself as part of a team tasked with creating reports for senior managers. It’s important that you’re able to demonstrate your ability to work effectively as a team, and to make valuable contributions to the work your team produces.

It can also be valuable to discuss team goals with your manager, and be proactive about enabling your team to achieve these goals. While you should not try to assume a leadership role unless you’re asked to do so, being a reliable and valuable member who your manager can see helps to move the team in the right direction can pay dividends when promotion opportunities are available.

Actions: Ensure that you’re able to work successfully as part of a team. Identify how you can add value to the team, and be proactive about helping your team exceed its targets.

7. Gain confidence through public speaking

An important part of being promoted to a management role is addressing groups of people. These may include teams you are supervising, groups of clients, or an audience waiting for a business presentation. According to research, a fear of public speaking can hinder promotion to management level by as much as 15%, and can impact your salary by 10%.

A public speaking course should teach you practical skills such as how to modulate your voice correctly. It should also help you appear relaxed and confident. 

Public speaking can help you perform well in intimidating situations such as an interview for promotion or reporting to a board of directors. It can also help provide you with the reassurance you need to make yourself more visible during meetings.

Actions: Learn how to be good at public speaking. Take courses, and practise public speaking where possible, to develop your skills and confidence.

8. Knowing when to volunteer

Managers often ask for volunteers to deputise for absentee colleagues or to clear a backlog of work. However, if you’re set on promotion, consider if the task has beneficial value. 

Research suggests that women are more likely to volunteer than male colleagues when it comes to tasks that are not linked to promotions. It has also been found that women have at least 14% less opportunity of gaining promotion than their male colleagues, despite often being more highly rated for performance. 

Accepting tasks that won’t help you gain promotion may encourage managers to think you are satisfied with a minor role. Conversely, taking the initiative by asking for additional, worthwhile tasks could help you gain recognition for future promotions.

Speaking to your managers about what else you’re able to contribute is a great way to show your value. Explain that you’d like to work towards a promotion, and that you wish to volunteer to undertake additional tasks that will develop the skills and experience needed to make that happen.

This will mean that you’re more likely to be asked to volunteer for tasks that will have a positive impact on your career goals, rather than for tasks that will offer no benefit to your career long term.

Actions: Volunteer to undertake additional tasks that directly relate to the role you want. Ask your manager if you can complete tasks that will help you gain the skills needed for a promotion.

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9. Share your ideas

In your current role, you may have ideas about improvements or new processes that could be implemented to increase performance. For example, if you have identified how certain tasks can be completed more efficiently, how the business can make cost savings, or how targets could be achieved more frequently, sharing your ideas with executives or managers may be valuable.

It’s wise to make sure that you share your ideas with people who’ll give you credit for them, rather than taking credit themselves. However, if you can demonstrate how your ideas have directly benefited the company you work for, it will most likely work in your favor when promotions are being considered.

Even if a manager fails to follow your input, you will at least place yourself in the highly engaged category. This demonstrates that you are motivated to help the company succeed, which is a desirable characteristic for professionals wishing to climb the ladder.

Actions: Identify ways to help the business improve performance. Share your ideas with the right people.

10. The importance of networking

One of the most valuable skills you can have in your arsenal when it comes to job hunting is networking. And the same is true if you want to be promoted with your existing employer.

In highly competitive sectors like finance, building contacts and relationships can be the differentiating factor that gains you promotion. While you may have studied hard to gain qualifications, performed better than expected in your role and been an integral part of your team, it’s likely that so will many of your promotion rivals. 

Networking through attending corporate functions, providing you have done some research beforehand, can be beneficial. This lets you meet people within your organization that you may not otherwise, including those from different departments, as well as those from several ranks above you. 

Being known by more than your immediate team, and being considered friendly and professional can work to your advantage. 

Seek out managers or executives to whom you can introduce yourself. Ask meaningful questions, discuss some ideas you may have, and talk about your achievements (being careful not to sound like you’re bragging though). 

Don’t deliberately mention a future promotion, but trust they’ll remember your initiative when the time comes. After all, there are often many within a company who can influence promotion decisions, whether directly or indirectly.

Actions: Network and build professional relationships with people outside your team. Try to be memorable for the right reasons, without seeming arrogant.

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Choosing appropriate qualifications

Planning your career in detail from the beginning can be helpful in keeping your concentration on gaining successive promotions. In many sectors, including finance, there are often predetermined routes to the highest level. 

Being mindful of the additional qualifications you may need is helpful. Anyone aiming to make progress as an investment professional, may find themselves choosing between qualifications such as the IMC (Investment Management Certificate), Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) or Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA).

All are highly flexible qualifications leading to opportunities in wealth and portfolio management, investments and risk analysis. But they differ in expertise level, effort needed and specialization.

On average, every additional qualification you study for takes approximately three years. It can be advantageous to choose qualifications that allow you to aim for alternative promotions along your chosen career path.

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How fast should you expect to be promoted?

It takes some patience and a great deal of determination to actively pursue a promotion as outlined in the tips above. The length of time the average promotion may take could vary between distinct roles and companies. 

Typically, it is reasonable to expect a promotion may take up to three years. If the time extends to 4-5 years with no promotion in sight, making progress in your career could begin to be difficult.

In some areas of finance, promotion can be faster. It can also be reasonably structured so you will be able start a position knowing roughly how long you should stay before being promoted.

For example, in investment banking you’d usually expect an annual pay rise each year in an entry level Analyst position. After around three years in the role, you should be promoted to an Associate or other more senior position. After approximately three years again, you would be hoping to move into a VP or other similar managerial role. 

Although most people win minor promotions between the ages of 25 and 35, there is usually a longer wait to move into more senior roles. According to employment data, 77% of senior executives in the US are over 40 years old, while only 6% are under thirty years old. 

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Should you negotiate salary when getting a promotion?

When you are offered a promotion, you’ll have to accept the salary that is offered or decide to negotiate.

In many financial career paths, salaries tend to be fairly structured within an organization. Many roles also provide opportunities to earn significant bonuses based on performance. 

Your employer may therefore expect that you will be happy to accept that the better you perform, and the greater the value you bring to the company, the more you’ll be rewarded.

However, if you believe that you are extremely talented then you may want to negotiate; either for a higher base salary, for a better bonus structure, or both. To do this, it’s essential that you’re able to demonstrate to your superiors why you are worth more to the company than someone else who would not ask for such a high salary.

You might expect a much higher increase if accepting a job at another company, but as per the statistics in our introduction showed, new recruits are more vulnerable to being let go at a later stage. However, there is an art to negotiating salary.

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Tips for negotiating a salary

You need to be well-informed to start negotiating a different salary to the one offered. Research the role in advance and make comparisons between similar jobs with other companies. 

You need to take your track record of creditable achievements into account. This is where the details you recorded as advised above should be a great asset in calculating your own worth.

Companies usually value employee loyalty, particularly if they know your strengths. It means they could be willing to agree to your suggested raise in salary providing it’s within reasonable limits. Part of your negotiations could include flexible hours or remote working. In these instances you might have to be prepared to accept a much lower increase. 

If you work in accounts, you may be aware that the company’s budget is limited and have to settle for negotiating an increase at a later date.

Being able to demonstrate the value you bring to the company, whether that’s in helping to reduce costs, directly contributing to increased profits, or by committing to stay for a certain amount of time (and so saving the cost and expense of finding and training someone new) is vital in negotiating salary. 

If you have performed well in your current role, and are able to quantify exactly by how much this has benefitted your employer, then they will be more likely to increase an offer of promotion as it will make financial sense to do so.

However, it’s important to be aware of all the facts before you start negotiating. This means being able to identify if your employer has already baked the added value you can bring into their initial offer; you do not want to come across as being too greedy, as this could backfire and turn the negotiations sour.

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Mistakes to avoid when you’re looking for a promotion

Waiting passively for a promotion to head your way is often considered a poor career tactic. Your contemporaries are probably already following tips such as promoting themselves as potential candidates while they are networking at various corporate functions. 

Requesting a promotion without valid justification will inevitably be frowned upon. Time your bold move to follow a particularly well executed project or having gained a respected qualification backed by faultless work experience.

When chasing a promotion through networking or asking outright, always resist the temptation to suggest your colleagues are not suitable candidates; bad mouthing others on your team will not do your reputation any favours. 

According to a recent survey, 47% of employees believe their managers have favourites. If you think you fit this category, it could actually be detrimental to ask for a promotion. Perhaps your boss favours you because you carry out your current role to perfection, and finding someone to replace you could be difficult and time-consuming.

While it sounds counterintuitive, in this type of situation you could actually be too valuable to your manager to be promoted. In this case you may need to help your manager understand how you could play an even greater role in helping them and the company to succeed if you were to be promoted.

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Why are some employees never promoted?

Although the average promotion rate is every 3 years, some employees still haven’t even begun to rise through the ranks after 5 years or more. However, opportunities for promotion are often limited and are never predictable. 

Much depends on the size of the company, and the tenacity of the workers who are already in the roles you most want. Age can be a contributory factor. The older you become without gaining a promotion, the more unlikely it is that you’ll ever realize your ambition.

More than two-thirds of employees aged 55 years believe they have been unfairly overlooked in the promotion stakes. They are usually competing against younger professionals who have far less experience, but are more aware of all the additional strategies that are needed nowadays to gain promotion. Only 24% of employees believe that hard work alone is enough to gain promotion.

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What to do if you aren’t promoted

It can be psychologically devastating to fail in gaining a promotion, but it’s important to realize there is nothing personal or malicious in a manager’s decision. Congratulate the successful applicant, then move on. 

Constantly try to improve your chances of winning promotion through excellent work and tactics that should increase your value within the company. As time passes and promotions fail to appear, there is still no reason to despair. Exit strategies can often lead to much greater prospects. 

Consider adapting to another role, or make a fresh start and move to another company. Another option is to use the skills you have acquired in your current role, and switch to a different career.

You may find that another path is actually a better match for your skills and personality, and that having made the move to something you are more naturally suited to, you’re able to achieve promotions at a faster rate.

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Understand the essentials for career promotions

Setting out on your career with a firm goal of winning a promotion every few years until you have reached the highest level is a fine ambition. However, always be aware that life rarely conforms to even the best laid plan. 

There are plenty of proactive steps you can take to win promotion and become a high performing professional. Following our useful tips is an excellent place to start. Adopt a determined, but optimistic attitude and make friends along the way.

Personality is often a crucial factor in being selected. Always do your research thoroughly regarding qualifications and what is required of a role you’d like to be considered for. 

When being offered a promotion, negotiate a new salary if you are confident your work record emphasises your valuable contribution to the company. Always have an alternative strategy in place in case promotions should pass you by, even if it means changing career.

We hope you’ve learned a few things on how to get promoted at work from our guide above! Let us know how you are getting on with your job and what tip you’ve found particularly effective below 🙂

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