Raise Yourself: How to Get Your Next Promotion


I have two important milestones for career success:

  1. Have I received a holiday box of Harry & David pears from someone who wants business from me?
  2. Can I pull off wearing one of those blue button up shirts with a white collar?

I’ve accomplished neither so far. As a consolation prize, however, I’ve reached a nice rung on the corporate ladder with the accompanying raises. There’s a specific formula to the climb, and it starts with something many of you will be having over the next few weeks: your performance review.

I’ve written a lot about the power of cutting expenses since it’s a faster route to financial health and something you can do immediately. Time to turn to income. It takes longer, but when you layer it on top of your cost savings it will quicken the path to your financial goals.

Today, I cover how to get a bigger raise and promotion. If you’ve cut as much as you can and it’s still insufficient, the path of least resistance is to try to make as much as you can with your current job within the regular rhythm of annual salary increases and promotions.

The Year-End Performance Review

Year-end reviews set the table for future raises or promotions, so even if you’ve never thought about these meetings much… you should.

I didn’t always have positive performance reviews. In 2008, I got called in for what should have been great news—my annual review and bonus number. (In Wall Street parlance, it’s shortened to your “number,” which is telling since on Wall Street, everyone’s worth—and self-worth—is economized to their “number.”)

We like you a lot, but our fund is struggling.

I was devastated. Not only had I given them my morning, noon, and nights (and more nights through mornings than I’d care to relive) for years, but I was getting laid off while half of my net worth vanished and my first child was on the way.

Not only time to look for a new job—time to change how I approached work. They may have liked me (people they don’t like are told to clear their office and walked out by security in less than a year; I was there for six), but I wasn’t vital to them.

I never wanted to have a conversation like that again, so I had to change. I’ll share the steps I took with you.

(If you don’t have a formalized review, I recommend requesting a “chat about how the year went.” Better yet, go for a walk with your boss if you have that kind of relationship. Staring at each other across a desk is formal and potentially combative; walking side-by-side makes it informal, which means you’ll probably get less filtered opinions)


  1. The Results Are In



I actually have your performance results. Here’s your rating: could be better.

Don’t be offended. This is also how I performed. The first step to a great review is having a great self-performance review—and to be a more critical judge of yourself than they will be, before the meeting. You want to anticipate what they will say. When it comes to your career, your self-performance review should always be rated “could be better.” Otherwise, you get comfortable and complacent. You won’t put in the extra time and sweat to be great—and great is what you have to be to get that bigger raise and promotion.

How do you measure yourself? Some tips:


Even if you’re not “customer facing,” you have customers. Your customer is the person whose life you’re trying to improve. If, say you’re in the IT department, your customers are the departments that rely on you to solve their technical issues. If you work pretty independently without much interaction, your customer is your boss. So what would your “customers” say about you?

  • Quantify your achievements. This may be easy if you have deal, revenue, or cost saving thresholds you have to meet, but what if you don’t have that? Well, what’s important to your customers? For example, if you review documents, figure out how many you’ve done for the year (take an average week and multiply it by the weeks in a year you’ve worked: 52 – vacation weeks). Then, figure out if you can increase that by 10% this upcoming year without ruining your life.
  • Remember any projects you’ve done outside the scope of your work. Get a new co-worker acclimated? Cover for someone on maternity leave? These are legitimate things to include as an accomplishment.
  1. (P)Review.

Here’s the problem with the performance review the way it’s designed. It focuses on how you did with certain, defined tasks. However, a performance review that sets you up for a raise or promotion is actually a performance preview. Spend 20% of your time talking about your past and 80% talking about your future.


  • If you like your job, the worst thing you can hear is, “you’re fired.” The second worst thing you can hear? “You’re doing well. Keep doing what you’re doing.” Keep on “doing what you’re doing” and you’re going to keep doing it until one day, you’ll wake up 10 years into your career realizing you didn’t get where you wanted to be—you traded skill development for comfort. No. You need real feedback. Ask about your work quality, effort, communication, etc. Ask about what they see as your strengths and weaknesses. This is a no ego zone.


Now, here’s how you change it to a preview:

  • Transition from feedback to asking about what they foresee in the business or group this upcoming year and the company / group goals.
  • What will be needed to accomplish these goals?
  • In addition to what you do now, what else can you do? Have things in mind. This leads to the next point.
  1. Promote Yourself

There’s two ways you can interpret “promote yourself.” I mean it both ways.

  • Market your accomplishments: For some of you, this might be the most uncomfortable thing someone could tell you to do. It feels a bit like saying “I’m extremely good-looking.”


If you’re waiting around for them to recognize all the work you do (or your good looks), you’ll be waiting forever. Believe me, your boss only sees half of what you do. They’re too concerned about their own performance. Here’s an example of how to promote yourself while pointing to the future:

Thanks for the feedback. I think there were some good things about this year—I took on 3 more accounts, and learned how to work the new software. On my own initiative, I also helped Pamela with getting up to speed. But I want to do more this new year.


How do you know what “more” things will tingle your boss’ ear? This next point is the most important part of your review:

  • Promote yourself. Literally. Look at what the next level up from you is doing and tell your boss you’d like to do some of that this year. Most bosses will welcome the initiative. Mimic and acquire the skills that the next level is using.

There will be moments—sudden departures in the level above you, or times when they’re over-extended—when you can show you can step in without missing a beat. Put it this way: any promotion is going to be a leap of faith by your boss that you can handle the work. If you’re already proving you can handle the next level of responsibility, it will be very hard not to promote you. Getting the right talent in the best roles is crucial to a company’s success. They don’t want to make mistakes since it’s expensive to hire someone who doesn’t cut it and expensive to lay them off. Take away the guesswork. Your self promotion is like the iTunes 90 second song preview—people want to sample before they pay.

Do these things and soon you’ll be wearing the blue shirt with the white collar.


(Talk a big game but unsure how to back it up?  Read these tips!)

Time for a New Start?

Putting in extra work but not getting the raises or promotions you want? It might be time to look for a new job. Whether or not you’re actively looking for a job, you need a killer resume.  You never know when an opportunity will come, so you want to be ready.  Lucky for you, M just happens to be a ninja at resumes, advising the best MBA students in the world.  Resume professionals can charge hundred of dollars for services. But we’re giving you the best tips FREE!

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  • Beth December 5, 2016 at 6:28 pm

    Lots of really great advice here. I used to work in HR and would arrange all Performance Reviews. We had a good HR department – I ran it 😉 6 monthly interim reviews; 2 way feedback reviews on all projects (to get feedback from a range of people at all levels); reviews NOT linked to salary or bonuses; training needs analysis completed and regularly updated and followed through. Most importantly, we ensured it was a two way process – not just a person being appraised. Thanks you for your email the other day with suggestions. I loved them all. Not been to Islay sadly 🙁

    • JT December 7, 2016 at 10:47 pm

      Thanks Beth! That’s a lot of reviews — hopefully it made people manage better and wasn’t overly cumbersome!

  • TeeFell December 10, 2016 at 7:10 am

    JT, I like you. That’s why I’m begging you to NEVER wear the blue shirt-white collar thing as long as you live.

    On a serious note though I’m glad you make the point about sudden departures of senior members when you might be asked to step up. But your readers may not understand that a significant amount of succession planning takes place at the senior management level. In those sessions specific names are mentioned, and you may be being looked at by your bosses to be tapped without even knowing you’re on the radar. At big companies it’s easy to become part of the furniture, so I wholeheartedly agree with your philosophy: promote thyself!

    • JT December 12, 2016 at 11:51 am

      Good point TeeFell!

      Position thyself before changes occur. Management doesn’t want to look like fools, so help them out by eliminating the guesswork.

      When I buy that special shirt, I’m going to post a picture of myself wearing it on JMC.

  • Shopgirl Anonymous December 14, 2016 at 2:12 am

    “The second worst thing you can hear? “You’re doing well. Keep doing what you’re doing.”” LOVE THIS QUOTE! SO true! This whole article I’m going, yes gerl, yes!!!

    I know at my old shop I printed out performance reviews quarterly and reviewed myself. I made adjustments and went on. I never received a negative review from my DM, but I also never received any greater challenges, aside from the crazy amount of unplanned, untrained promotions. When you look like you have it too much together, sometimes the overlords forget that you were just a minion not two weeks ago. So I love this idea of a preview! 🙂

    Everything amazing!

    • JT December 14, 2016 at 9:51 pm

      Thanks Shopgirl! Best wishes in your next review. Let us know how it goes!


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