OPINION: Ready for a Promotion? Here are 5 Things Your Manager is Looking For

6 minute read

Picture it. Performance reviews are approaching, and you’re ready for a promotion. You’ve been working hard, you’ve got some big wins under your belt, and you’ve never felt more prepared to take the next step in your career. (In your mind, you’ve even picked out the spot for a celebratory happy hour with your teammates.🍻)

What more is there to talk about? All you have to do is rush over to your manager’s desk and push the “Promote Me” button, right? If only.

In an ideal world, you and your manager have already had multiple conversations about your career path, and you’re both on the same page about where you’re going next. (Plus what it will take to get there.) 

But, that’s not always the case. 

If you’re approaching this conversation for the first time, adopt the mindset that you’re starting the journey toward a promotion, not that you’re there already. This is a valuable perspective shift for anyone – whether you’re considering someone for a promotion, or evaluating if you’re really ready for a promotion yourself.

First things first: Check yourself.

Checking myself… and my inbox.

Know where you’ve come from.

Take a look at your feedback from last year’s review. Did you address your opportunities for improvement? Is there still room to go? Think of specific examples where you’ve demonstrated growth – both in terms of building out your strengths and overcoming challenges. Try to find multiple examples that showcase increased performance over time. Then, seek out candid feedback from peers and teammates to help round out your self-assessment.

And what you want from your next experience. 

When it comes to our careers, we all have different motivations that can be fulfilled in different ways. Maybe it’s expanded responsibility in your current role, the opportunity to work on a different part of the business, or an entirely new career track. Before your review, determine what that ‘next step’ looks like for you. Then, reach out to coworkers who are already succeeding in a similar role. They’ll be able to provide more insight into what your day-to-day might look like – and identify key qualities that have helped them thrive.

Next, level-set with your manager.

The last thing you want to do is approach your team leader from left field and demand a promotion, especially if you haven’t discussed it with them before. For all you know, your manager may still have feedback they’d like you to work on first. Or maybe you have strengths in a particular area, but still need to develop skill sets that will be critical for success in your next role.

Your manager is most familiar with the way you work, and they can be your greatest advocate – as long as you demonstrate that you’re ready. It’s important that the two of you work together to determine what “promotion-readiness” really looks like. From there, you can build an action plan to get to that next level.

(Preferably over some cold-brew coffee.)

5 Things Your Manager is Looking For:

Now that you have a clear picture of what your next role might look like, you need to do the work to make it happen. In my experience, here are five things that managers have on their minds when considering a team member for a promotion.

1. Attitude 

The way you handle situations, especially more challenging ones, shows whether or not you’re ready to take on more responsibility. Maintaining a positive attitude is a critical component of being a great person to work with. Your leader will want to see that you truly believe in your ability to drive positive change and leave an impact on the business – and that you can demonstrate times when you’ve done exactly that.

2. Growth Trajectory

In the time leading up to your performance review, your manager will often ask questions like, “Have you grown over time, and are you clearly on track to continue growing?” and “Do you have a spark of curiosity?” Or, “What technical skills have you learned or improved?” and “What areas of your role have you gotten quantifiably better at?”

Giving examples of soft skill development is important too: “Have you become a stronger mentor by helping other teammates, made a point to speak up in meetings, or improved your presentation skills?” Jump-start the conversation by giving examples of how you’ve grown in all areas of your role over the past year.

3. Proven track record of performance

This is one of the most important factors you can illustrate for your team leader. What major goals have you accomplished? What big projects have you led (or worked on) that moved the company forward? Not only do you need to keep these accomplishments top of mind, but you need to have a track record of sustained results. This means looking holistically at all your wins (and losses), and painting a clear picture of upward performance.

“Upward performance? The writing’s on the wall.”

It’s also important to look for achievements you’ve had beyond your current role. As you get closer to a promotion, you’ll find yourself taking on more and more responsibilities. Your ability to showcase these examples will help shape and prove out your ability to perform at the next level.

Be real with yourself: Not every project you’ve worked on is going to add $10MM of EBIT to the business. Heck, some of them might even be losses or completely miss the mark. With those types of examples, it’s important to illustrate what you learned from them. But over a long period of time, you should see an upward trend. Explain not only the impact your efforts had on projects, but also your decision-making – and how that experience can apply to future ones.

4. Leadership

There isn’t just one way to define leadership. Often, when looking at high-performers you’ll notice not only that they’re respected by team members in their own discipline, but that they’ve shown leadership in other functional groups as well. In many roles at RV, your craft is an important piece of the puzzle, but it’s not the whole picture. You must blend your work with the skills of other talented teams to truly create value for an end-user. Having strong, working connections and consistent collaboration with other teams – while understanding how you fit in – is a leadership skill within itself.

Those who break down silos and organizational barriers to create and distribute value are the ones who become more easily recognized for promotion.

5. Passion

Up until now, you’ve outlined your growth, attitude, track record, and leadership skills with your manager. (Whew!) These have all been great ways to highlight both the path you’ve been on – and what you have achieved along the way. But if the last four buckets covered where you are and where you’ve been, the fifth and final bucket explores where you want to go.

Often, a promotion means more responsibility and accountability towards delivering results and maintaining high performance. It’s your job to explain why you’re qualified to take on more, but also that you’re eager for the challenge. It’s important to make your short- and long-term goals known – and to let your manager know the types of projects and ownership you’d like to take on. This can take many forms, from presenting a roadmap to simply explaining how you’d drive more impact if you worked on certain projects.

Keep it all in check.

Keep in mind that being considered for a promotion is not a matter of ticking all the boxes on a checklist. In fact, thinking of it in such simple terms may even hurt your chances of earning one. 

Instead, you need to continually raise your level of performance over time – and be able to demonstrate a significant and measurable step forward since the last time your performance was formally evaluated. The longer you operate at this new level of performance and prove your track record, the sooner you’ll make yourself an obvious choice for advancement.

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About the Author:

Timothy Meissner

Tim is a design leader based in Detroit. When he’s not wondering what Wilbur his pet husky is chewing on, he’s thinking about and building design systems. Tim is passionate about bringing teams together and using the secret power of design to solve tough challenges.

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