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Ask Brianna: How Do I Get a Promotion?

May 26, 2016
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“Ask Brianna” is a Q&A column for 20-somethings. I’m here to answer your questions about how to manage money, find a job and pay off student loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college.

This Friday, May 27, at 2 p.m. Eastern time, ask Brianna your postgrad questions live on Twitter during #NerdChats: Life After College, hosted by A Plus and NerdWallet. Get tips from money experts on how to find a first job and apartment, build a budget and pay off student loans. Follow @NerdWallet for updates.

This week’s question:

I’ve been at my job for more than a year, and I’d like to move up and make more money. How do I get a promotion?

Out here in the Wild West of the real world, there’s no graduation to look forward to. There’s no end date when your hard work will pay off and you’ll lie on the beach, basking in the sun and the promise of your bright future.

A promotion is kind of like a work graduation. But you’ll have to make it happen on your own schedule — and you’ll celebrate it under fluorescent office lighting instead.

You won’t get promoted after a few days or weeks on the job, and thankfully, we millennials don’t actually expect that. But research shows that advancing at work in your 20s is crucial so your motivation — and wages — don’t stagnate.

“We see a large proportion of your lifetime earnings growth happens in your 20s,” says Matthew Bidwell, associate professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “If you’re in your early to mid-20s and you’re stuck doing exactly the same thing for two or three years, that is a problem, actually.”

Now let’s get you that promotion. Here’s how.

Step 1: Work like it’s finals week

You must kill it day after day in order for your work to get noticed. That doesn’t mean skipping bathroom breaks or never taking a day off. It means building a strong reputation by meeting deadlines, following through on promises, acting professionally, and showing your work yields results.

Make yourself stand out by volunteering to fill a need. Create an onboarding guide if you’ve noticed your team lacks an organized way to train new hires. Research sleek newsletter templates and present a few ideas to your boss if your marketing emails need an upgrade.

Offer your help respectfully, in the spirit of helping the company do its best work, and make sure your contributions are visible to your boss. When you take on additional tasks and excel at them, you’re demonstrating that you can handle more responsibility, and that it’s a safe bet for your manager to entrust you with more to do.

“The easiest promotion decisions are the ones where somebody is already doing the higher level job,” Bidwell says.

Step 2: Know what you want in your next role

Since many companies don’t promote employees at regular intervals, it’s up to you to know where you want to go and make a plan to get there. That could mean networking, both within the company and outside it. Ask senior employees at your company, former bosses or alumni from your college about their career trajectories, and come up with a general idea of what your next step should be.

Say you’re a communications assistant at a nonprofit, but your long-term goal is to be director of external affairs. You know you need experience as a manager, or experience within development to learn about fundraising. Choose to go in one of those directions so you can decide what extra responsibilities to take on in the meantime.

In either case, tell your boss about your career goals, and work together to come up with a career development plan. Include the skills you want to work on, how you’ll do it, and when you’ll check in on progress. Your manager will see you’ve taken ownership of your career, and now you’ll be on his or her radar if a position that fits your goals comes up.

Step 3: Make your case

The idea of tooting your own horn might make you squirm. But no one will know what a top-notch employee you are unless you tell them, so it’s important to make your boss aware of your wins as they happen.

Forward a particularly grateful email from a client or send a weekly wrap-up note with your strong sales numbers. Create a label or folder in your email account for past initiatives you’re proud of and positive responses from your co-workers. You’ll have several solid examples of ways you’ve brought value to the company when it’s time to ask for a promotion.

Whether there’s an opening at your company that you’re interested in or you’re ready to move up a level in your current job, be direct. Schedule a meeting to let your boss know you’d like to be considered and why you’re right for the role. If it’s a stretch, perhaps you can start on a trial basis or work with your boss on a training plan to get up to speed in the first few months.

Hopefully it won’t be sudden, because by now you’ll have talked to your boss about your career goals and you’ll have taken on extra responsibilities that readied you for the role you’ve chosen. You’ll need to make your case and negotiate your salary, but with all that planning behind you, you’ve got this.

Send a question about postgrad life to [email protected] and I’ll send back my best answer. I might include it in a future column, and then you’ll be famous. Sort of.

Brianna McGurran is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter: @briannamcscribe.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by Forbes.