Early in his career Charles Harary, a professor at Yeshiva University’s Syms School of Business, was legal counsel for a large commercial real estate company. In Baltimore to coordinate closing documents for one of the company’s condominium developments, he determined that the project was being mismanaged and needed restructuring. Although he had no management experience, he saw this as an opportunity to advance his career. So he drafted a memo detailing the organization’s problems, suggesting potential solutions, and presented it to the CEO. He also offered to help turn the situation around. This led to his being promoted to first vice president of residential operations and changed the direction of his life.

What Harary learned from this experience was that employees and employers view the world differently. “Employees see compensation, titles and rewards. Employers see responsibilities, liabilities and costs.” He advises that “if you want a promotion, you need to speak your boss’s language. It’s not about your money or title, it’s about what you can do for the business.”

With the economy improving, albeit slowly, now may be the time to ask for a promotion. Here are some tips on how to go about it:

Roberta Matuson, author of “Talent Magnetism: How to Build a Workplace That Attracts and Keeps the Best,” notes that if you want a promotion you have to ask for it. “Too many people spend time thinking about asking for a promotion and when they finally get around to asking, the job has been given to someone else.” Moreover, timing is important. You will stand a much better chance of getting that promotion, she points out, if you ask right after successfully completing a high-impact project.

Strategic consultant Sonia Friedrich notes that before you ask for a promotion, you need to understand what your boss values. To do that you need to learn to listen. She suggests using the performance review process to really understand more about what is important to your boss. Once you know what is important to your boss, focus on supporting his or her priorities, even when you may not share his or her view of their importance.

As executive coach Elene Cafasso adds: “Accept that you cannot get everything done, and focus on the three or four priorities that will drive your business and/or create the results you’ll be held accountable for.” Then do those things first and “communicate often about those things so you’ll be seen as a person getting results for the business and being strategically in tune enough to know what’s important.”

Paul Roy, a retired machinist working in the aerospace industry, successfully applied the following approach to receive several promotions during the course of his career:

    • Know the value you bring to the company. The promotion is not about you, it’s about what you currently bring to the company and what you can provide in the new capacity. Your superior only cares about the health and future of the company.


    • Have a list of your accomplishments handy. “Your boss remembers your screw-ups for a lot longer than your triumphs. Chances are good that most of the good things you do never get noticed at all.” Know your value, know your strengths, and be prepared to talk about your accomplishments.


  • Have a written plan for how you are going to proceed in the new position. Know what problems you will face and outline your plan to solve them. Business is a game of solving problems. Your superiors want you to solve as many as possible so that they don’t have to. Companies like to see that you not only took the initiative to come up with solutions but also that you have the vision to see the challenges that you will face in a position that you do not currently fill.

Approaching a promotion in this way, according to Roy, puts you in a position of strength and authority. It turns a request into a business proposition and gives your superior many reasons to believe that you have the right qualities to be successful.

Many people are afraid to ask for a promotion. However, if you don’t ask, you are no worse off than if you ask and are told no. If your request is turned down, it is a chance to learn about how you are being perceived. Carolyn R. Owens, president of Infinity Coaching, advises not to take it personally, but rather ask what you can do to earn the promotion. If there is no possibility of a promotion, it may time to look elsewhere.

A veteran human resources executive, Lee E. Miller is a career coach and the author of “UP: Influence Power and the U Perspective — The Art of Getting What You Want.” Mail questions to Lee@employability-expert.com