12.3 How to Steer Your Career Advancement: Promotions, Raises, and Performance Reviews

Learning Objectives

  1. Learn strategies to practice good career management while still focusing on your day-to-day job.
  2. Understand the outline and learn how to maximize a performance review meeting.
  3. Understand when and how to ask for a promotion.
  4. Understand when and how to ask for a raise.

Career Management Goes Beyond Your Day-to-Day Job

Even from the earlier sections of this chapter, you can see that your day-to-day job is just one part of your work experience. paper work, company policies, and physical environment also are a part of your job. You also have professional relationships. Even if you look only at yourself and what you do, you still are responsible for more than just your day-to-day job. You also are responsible for your overall career; these are two distinct entities.

Your day-to-day job is what you were hired to do now. It is meeting the success metrics that you confirmed in your first ninety days. It is having a good relationship with your current boss.

Your overall career is made up of your day-to-day job and your future jobs; therefore, career management means staying marketable and ready for future jobs that will be different from the job you are doing now.

To continue the schoolteacher example, his day-to-day job is teaching his students in the class he has now. Maximizing his overall career also includes staying current on pedagogy and his subject expertise. It also includes getting additional certifications. If he aspires to school leadership, teaching excellence will be just one part; he needs administrative experience in school operations; he needs to coach other teachers; he needs to stay abreast of the latest teaching innovations and challenges because as a leader he needs to guide his school through changes in education. This schoolteacher, therefore, needs to meet his day-to-day job demands, while fitting in the development of additional skills and experience required for his desired future job.

An accountant might be assigned a specific area of tax and a specific type of client. Her day-to-day job is about completing the tasks at hand. Later roles will involve overseeing an entire project and multiple accountants, who, like she once did, just manage certain tasks. Later roles might require overseeing entire client relationships with multiple projects. Finally, this accountant will be expected to bring in new clients; her primary focus becomes selling projects rather than managing projects or performing accounting tasks. This accountant, therefore, needs to perform her accounting tasks, while maintaining perspective on the overall project, developing management skills, and ultimately developing client relationship and selling skills.

The ability to manage both your day-to-day job and your overall career requires good time management and self-awareness of your dual tracks. It is a time management issue because you need to do the daily work of your job and still prioritize time for career-building. You also must have self-awareness of what you want to achieve, your ideal timetable, and what you need to meet these goals. When you are new in your career, your main priority should be to be the best performer you can be in your current job. As soon as you have acclimated to your environment and mastered your daily work, it is time to start proactively scheduling in the training, research, and relationship-building activities you need to prepare for your next role. Do not just assume that opportunities for career advancement will come to you.

Maximizing Your Performance Review Meeting

One way of knowing that you have mastered your daily work is by getting feedback on how you are doing at your job. Some organizations have formal feedback processes, where your direct boss and sometimes even colleagues or other people who work with you fill out a performance feedback form. These forms typically include criteria for the technical skills of your job and soft skills, such as communication skills and relationship skills with others. When you join an organization, find out if it has a formal performance review process. Find out its frequency—it could be annually or several times per year. Some organizations (e.g., management consulting firms) give formal feedback after every project. Ask to see the performance review form when you start because it is a great indication of the criteria by which you will be judged.

Unfortunately, not every organization has formal processes in place, or, if they do, not all managers actually give the review in a timely and thorough way. Your employer might have a formal process, but if no one follows it, you still don’t have your review. In the case where you aren’t getting formal performance feedback, you need to ask for it. In the first section on how to do well on the job, we covered the importance of regular updates with your boss. This alone should ensure that a formal performance review has few surprises. However, these shorter updates are not a substitute for a more thorough review of your performance. Schedule a meeting with your boss well in advance, and let him or her know you would like to discuss your performance.

At a formal performance review, you want to cover four topics:

  • A summary of what you are working on and have accomplished since your last review
  • Confirmation of priorities and expectations for what you will be working on in the next few months or year
  • Specific things you did well or qualities that are your strengths
  • Specific areas you need to improve, including suggestions for how you can develop these areas

Don’t assume that your boss is aware of everything you are working on and have accomplished. Some jobs have narrowly defined tasks, but many jobs have ad hoc projects that arise. Sometimes you take over the duties of a colleague if your area is restructured or the colleague is assigned to other things. Your boss may lose track because he or she might have other direct reportsThe person you manage directly, including delegating assignments to that person, giving feedback and being responsible for the direct report’s development, and determining raises and promotions. and his or her own responsibilities and daily work. The new accountant, for example, might have been expected only to be a junior member of a project team, but maybe the manager got called onto another project for a few weeks, and the new accountant stepped up. She needs to make sure her boss realizes that she went above and beyond on a project.

Come prepared to your performance review with a list of your current responsibilities and past accomplishments. Listen closely to what your boss sees as your responsibilities and past accomplishments. Make sure you are on the same page—maybe you are prioritizing a part of your job that your boss sees as trivial. Maybe your boss highlights a win that you overlooked or dismissed as unimportant. The new accountant might be spending a lot of time formatting specific client reports rather than talking to the client and getting verbal input on what they’re thinking. Maybe the firm would prefer that she get in front of the clients more, rather than focus on the written correspondence (or vice versa). Come to agreement on any gaps between how you evaluate your performance and how your boss evaluates you so that you know the criteria on which you are judged for the future.

In the spirit of agreement, confirm priorities and expectations for the upcoming months or year (depending on the frequency of when you get a performance review and how quickly your duties typically change). Make sure you are working on the tasks and projects that matter to your boss and to your department. Be prepared to discuss what you plan to work on, but be open to the possibility that your boss might reprioritize your work. Having a prepared list of upcoming tasks and projects also makes your boss aware of everything you are doing—remember, he or she has other direct reports and responsibilities and may not realize all you’ve been assigned.

Ask for feedback on your strengths and what you did well. Don’t assume that a performance review is just about improving and therefore discussing your weaknesses. Knowing your strengths is equally important so you know what to build on and do more often. Continuing the example of the schoolteacher, many schools observe teachers in the classroom and give instructional feedback (this is done by the principal and possibly dedicated instructional coaches). A new teacher might not realize how effectively he is engaging his students by mixing up the lesson into lecture, small group, and independent work. Once that is pointed out in a performance review, the teacher knows to build this into future lessons.

However, you also want to address any weaknesses or areas to develop. Don’t get defensive; just listen and schedule another meeting after this review if you still disagree with the feedback once you’ve had time to absorb it. Ask for specific examples so you are clear on what behavior isn’t desirable or how your skill in a weak area is deficient. Get your boss’s recommendation for how you can address these weaker areas. Do you need to get on a project to hone these skills? Is there any training you can attend at the organization or offsite? Can your boss give you more regular coaching on a day-to-day basis? Continuing the example of the new accountant, she might have struggled on a project that required a specific industry expertise or area of accounting. Her boss might recommend a training course to develop this expertise, or she may be placed on another project in the same industry or accounting specialty so she can get more exposure to that area.

If a number of weaknesses are revealed, or if there is a wide disagreement between what you and your boss think (in terms of what you accomplished, your future priorities, strengths, and weaknesses), you want to get agreement on the next steps to fill this understanding gap. You probably want to schedule another meeting in the not-too-distant future to check in or at least step up your regular updates. It is important that you know how your job performance is being perceived and that you build on your strengths and improve your weaknesses.

When and How to Ask for a Promotion

Your main priority when you are new on the job is to master the job. You will learn from your performance reviews how you are doing and if you are ready to take on more responsibility. Some organizations have very specific career tracks with well-defined schedules for when the typical employee progresses to more responsibility and a formal promotion in title. As with performance reviews, however, not all organizations have a formal or well-defined process. Over your career, you may be in situations where you need to ask for a promotion.

You need to have a good understanding of your organization’s culture to know the best timing and case for a promotion. In a flat organizationAn organization with few or no titles to differentiate employees. An organization might opt for a flat structure to strongly encourage teamwork., where there are few titles, the chances of a promotion are fewer due to the flatter structure. Even where a range of titles exist, if you see that people with the more senior titles have many years’ experience, then you can approximate that the track to each promotion requires many years. There are always exceptions, so you want to look at individual cases in your specific organization, but the flatness of the organization and the title track of people already within it are two good indications of how promotions are viewed.

It is ideal to already be doing a bigger job before requesting a promotion. You want to have earned your promotion. It will not be given on promise or potential. In this way, you want to structure a promotion discussion much like the performance review meeting. You want to itemize your current workload and past accomplishments, which should demonstrate that you have taken on more than your current title suggests. You want to confirm your future projects, which should indicate a bigger role with more responsibility. You want to highlight your strengths.

Know the exact title you want and what you plan to do in the role. If your boss agrees, get confirmation of when the promotion will take place and ask for something in writing documenting your new position and responsibilities. This way, you ensure that everyone has the same understanding and that your promotion has officially gone through the proper channels of approval.

If your boss doesn’t agree, get a clear understanding of why so you can plan your next steps and manage your career accordingly. If the timing is too soon, find out when you can revisit getting a promotion. If promotion approvals occur only during certain times of the year, mark your calendar so you catch the next decision process. If your boss disagrees about your achievements or skills, ask for recommendations on how to improve. You are not entitled to a promotion, but you also don’t need to sit idly by and just wait for one. Document your achievements, make your case, and act on feedback that you receive.

When and How to Ask for a Raise

A promotion and a raise are different, although they sometimes go hand in hand. As with promotions, some organizations give raises on a regular schedule, typically annually either at your start date anniversary or at the same time every year for the whole organization (in which case, the raise is prorated for your start date in your first year). Sometimes raises are pegged to inflation; this raise is known as COLAA specific raise that is indexed to inflation or a cost-of-living adjustment, hence the acronym COLA., or cost of living adjustment. Sometimes raises are performance based, in which case strong feedback or specific results (e.g., sales) determine the raise.

As with promotions, you want to know what is customary for your specific organization. This doesn’t mean that you can’t ask for an exception, but you will at least know what to expect and to brace yourself to make a case if what you are asking for is exceptional. You might consider asking for a raise if your job has changed dramatically and you are taking on more tasks and responsibilities. Another reason to ask for a raise outside the yearly increase is if you have new market information that shows salaries in similar positions are dramatically different from your own.

A raise implies a permanent adjustment to your salary. Your employer may not want to do this if your additional responsibilities are temporary. In this case, you might ask for a spot bonusA bonus that is not paid on a regular schedule (e.g., annually) but rather paid out for an extraordinary accomplishment or extra work above and beyond the day-to-day job., or one-time bonus, to compensate you for your extra work. Remember that going above and beyond your daily work is how you distinguish yourself, so in and of itself that is not enough to justify a raise or bonus. A raise or bonus is warranted in extraordinary cases, and the measure of what is extraordinary varies by organization.

As with promotion requests and performance review meetings, you want to come prepared with your accomplishments as evidence you deserve a raise. The raise meeting is the time to share any market data that you learned. Be informative, but not threatening. You don’t want your employer to think you are giving an ultimatum that you get the raise or else you will quit. They may call your bluff. Instead, reiterate how excited you are about your position and affirm that this is the right organization for you, but make your case why a raise may be merited for what you have done.

Key Takeaways

  • Doing well on your job is but one part of overall career management. You also want to look at your future goals and make sure that you develop the training, experience, and relationships necessary to reach these goals.
  • Some organizations have formal processes for giving performance reviews, assigning promotions, and granting raises. You want to know what is customary for your organization.
  • If your organization does not have official processes for performance reviews, promotions, or raises, you will want to schedule time to discuss these with your boss.
  • Regular performance feedback is critical to ensure you are doing a good job and are on track for your career goals. Promotions and raises are not a regular occurrence, but are for extraordinary contributions, such as if your responsibilities increase or you have exceptional results in your work.


  1. Aside from doing well in your first job, what are your career goals? Write your autobiography from the point of view of twenty years from now. Yes, you will have to make assumptions and outright guess for some things, but let your imagination explore what you’d like to say you accomplished. Then work backward to explore how you might get that career. When did you get your first promotion? How is a promotion defined—a bigger role, managing people, better scores, higher sales, or some other measure? Do you go to graduate school—for what and when? Look at the profiles for people who have the career you want and see what their career trajectory looks like.
  2. If you have a sense of your long-term career goals, plot out what you can do in your first year to move toward these goals. If you know graduate school may be in the future, set reminders for yourself to check on the status of recommendations—are you working closely enough with people who can provide recommendations down the line? What professional organization might you want to join?
  3. For the jobs you are targeting, talk to professional associations and people who have those jobs about what is customary regarding performance reviews, promotions, and raises.