People Strategy

How to Ask for a Promotion When You're in Human Resources

August 3, 2021
November 7, 2023
Deanna deBara
Lattice Team

There’s plenty of opportunity in the Human Resources field. But if you want to advance your career in HR, opportunities aren’t always just going to present themselves. At some point, you may need to create the opportunity to grow your career — by asking for a promotion.

But the thought of asking for a promotion can be nerve-wracking — even for those who work in HR and see the ins and out of this process all the time. Just because you work in Human Resources doesn’t mean you’re never going to have any fears or doubts when it comes to taking the initiative to ask for a promotion. It’s one thing to know how it works for others; it’s another thing entirely to have to advocate for yourself. What should you say? When should you ask? How can you show your value to your boss and prove to them that you’re not just asking for a promotion, but that you deserve one?

Read on for expert tips that’ll help you navigate this process with ease and confidence, so you can advance your career and successfully climb the HR ladder within your organization.

4 Key Steps When Asking for a Promotion

1. Do the prep work.

Successfully asking for a promotion starts long before you actually talk to your boss about a new position; if you want to land the promotion, you need to do some work on the backend. That starts with making the case for why you deserve to be promoted.

“When asking for a promotion, it’s key to communicate the data and evidence of the impact you have made, and will continue to make, on the organization,” said leadership and career coach Kelli Thompson. “It communicates to your leader that you are invested in the success of the organization and are developing the skills to lead at the next level.”

Before you ask for a promotion, take time to review your tenure with the company and “gather proof of where you have positively impacted the business,” advised Nakisha Hicks,  VP of HR and Inclusion at the Nashville Symphony and President of executive, leadership, and career coaching consultancy The ElevateHer.

“Do a quick success audit,” Thompson said. “What have you accomplished in your current role and how has that impacted the business you support? Think of projects that improved engagement, improved time-to-hire, reduced turnover, or, in general, enhanced the culture at work. Note any opportunities where you demonstrated your strategy or leadership skills to influence people and change.”

You also want to make sure you’re backing up your successes with real-life examples and data. For instance, instead of telling your boss you’ve reduced turnover since you were hired, which feels a bit vague, referencing concrete data and saying something like, “I reduced turnover on X, Y, and Z teams by 25% in my first six months with the company” will make a stronger case when you’re asking for a promotion.

“Data is key,” stressed Thompson. “The more you can bring in data and examples of your success — and how you’ll be able to translate this success into a higher-level role — [the more you’ll improve] your chances of [being granted the promotion].”

2. Write a script.

Doing a success audit and gathering data on why you deserve a promotion can give you a dose of confidence before your promotion conversation with your supervisor. But that doesn’t mean you should walk into your boss’s office and wing it. Instead, “make a script and practice your ask,” Thompson said.

Write down, from beginning to end, what you want to say when asking for your promotion. Your script should include the reasons you should be promoted, but it should also specify exactly what you’re asking for with your promotion: What new job title are you aiming for? What are your new salary expectations? While those elements may not come up in your initial promotion conversation, it’s important to be prepared in case the conversation progresses.

And make sure to ask for what you’re worth! “Remember to ask for the promotion and the appropriate salary — not based on what you make today, but what the role is worth in the marketplace,” said Thompson. “This is especially important for women and people of color, who often experience a pay gap.”

Once you’ve written everything down, “practice your script and ask a trusted friend or colleague to give you feedback on your approach and if you’re being clear on the promotion you’re [asking for],” Thompson said.

The more you practice your script, the more confident you’ll feel during the conversation — and the more comfortable you’ll be asking for the promotion.

A caveat: Don’t get so stuck on your script that you’re unable to pivot if the conversation goes in an unexpected direction. Solidly know your script, but don’t be afraid to stray from it if the discussion requires that. Above all, breathe and be present so you can listen and respond in the moment as needed.

3. Ask for the promotion.

Once you’ve written your script (and gotten a solid amount of practice in), it’s time to go for it and ask for the promotion.

Let your manager know that you’d like to schedule a one-on-one for the two of you to connect and talk about your career trajectory. When scheduling the meeting, remember, “timing is everything,” Hicks said. Asking for a promotion at the wrong time (for example, immediately after your boss has a challenging meeting; right before lunch, when they’re hungry; or at the end of the day on Friday, when they’re distracted and eager to sign off for the weekend) can hurt your chances. Instead, aim for a time when your supervisor is typically available, receptive, focused, and in a good mood (for instance, after lunch during the slowest day of the workweek, when they’re unlikely to feel overwhelmed with tasks or pulled in different directions).

Timing is important — but if your company isn’t having the best time in general, don’t let that stop you from moving forward with asking for a promotion. “I’ve seen individuals hold back from asking for a promotion because the company had a bad quarter, or we’re in a pandemic, or revenue is down year-over-year,” said Thompson. “Yes, these circumstances present a more difficult environment to ask for a promotion; however, good people still get promoted in difficult times.”

If your company is in a tough spot — but you still want to ask for a promotion — Thompson recommended tackling the issue head on. For example, you might say something like, “‘I know the company has not met its desired revenue goals this year...[but] my performance history and proposed role can help the organization grow by [insert reasons here],’” she said. “Don’t be afraid to voice new ideas that help demonstrate why you are the right person for a promotion during this time.”

Obviously, getting promoted would greatly benefit your career. But if you want to land the promotion, it’s important to focus on how your promotion will benefit your company.

“Often when we are looking to [get promoted], we focus on the benefit for us — but to really pull off a promotion, you have to show how you have benefited your organization, how you have helped it...and how you will continue to do so,” Hicks said.

4. Be patient.

This might be the hardest part! In a perfect world, you’d walk out of that initial conversation with your promotion already solidified. But things don’t always work out that way, and you may have to practice patience as the details of your promotion are worked out.

“Keep in mind that sometimes promotions require some negotiating and it doesn’t [always] happen overnight,” said Thompson. “Just because your ask isn’t granted in a few days doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Be in the mindset to play the long game, and don’t be afraid to follow up consistently.”

As you follow up, one of two things will happen: Your promotion will either be approved, or it won’t.

If it’s approved, fantastic! It’s time to move on to the next step in your career. But if it’s not, don’t panic — this isn’t the end of the line. It’s time to talk to your supervisor and find out why.

Ask for feedback [on why your promotion was denied] and be open to what they have to say,” Thompson advised. From there, she continued, “make an effort to reflect on that feedback and take meaningful action.”

Let your supervisor know what steps you’ll be taking to implement their feedback, and then schedule a time to revisit your promotion conversation once you’ve had a chance to put those steps into action (for example, in 90 days). 

While getting denied for a promotion can sting, try to keep in mind that it’s not necessarily a no; it’s just a not yet. “Just because you got rejected once, it does not mean [you should] throw in the towel in and never try again,” Hicks said. “Instead, reset, regroup, and try again.”