“Any ideas on how I can get a promotion, despite my relative youth?”

Question: Hi, Alan. I am a recent addition to your blog reading family. I have read a lot of your “back issues” and have thoroughly enjoyed them while broadening my business savviness.

I am a young professional, under 30, and have been in my field for 6+ years. During my recent employment review, I asked my supervisor for a promotion to a management level. I have received nothing but stellar feedback and have managed many projects on my own so I feel that the promotion was completely warranted. The additional feedback I received in my review was all positive. In fact, it was requested that I do more business development outside the office.

My proposition for the promotion was well-received, but a promotion needs to be approved by the Board of Directors. After nearly a month of waiting for an answer from the Board, I am afraid the answer is “no” and that I may be stuck in this position for another year, until my next review. I haven’t spoken to the supervisors who sat in on the review since then as I didn’t want to appear overly pushy.

How can I inquire on the status of my promotion without appearing too forceful, and secondly, if my request is denied, how can I break through the age perception, as I feel that may be a huge factor in the decision? Previous employers have shot down promotions due to my age – it was implied, but never stated directly – and I am afraid déjà vu may be happening again.

         Boulder, Colorado

Answer: Dear Lorna, Welcome to the SkloverWorkingWisdom family! Your questions are truly great ones, because they bring up so many thoughts that I would like to share with those who are relatively younger than their colleagues. Admittedly, I am first addressing certain things I “read into” your letter before I address your specific questions; I hope you don’t mind. Here are my thoughts:

First, keep your expectations of yourself high, but your expectations of others low. While promotions, pay raises and other rewards may be “warranted” (to use your own word) it is not reasonable to expect that, therefore, you will receive them, either promptly or ever. Many, many things at work will be clearly due, earned, warranted and even overdue, but it is a touch self-defeating to expect such “fairness” or “justice,” promptly or ever. 

Second, you will not be rewarded based on what you “deserve,” but rather on what you can “motivate” others to give you. They are two very different things: one is based in a sense of “entitlement” and “expectation,” while the other is based in a sense of “hope” and “challenge.” People will reward you to the extent they feel they need to reward you, not to the extent you “deserve to be rewarded.” That’s the real challenge: motivating the decision-makers. You may have the best product or service in the world, but you still have to sell it, that is, convince others “it is in their interests” to buy it.

Third, do not make the mistake of believing you and your colleagues necessarily share the same interests and goals. It may be that your supervisor is “stealing” credit for your accomplishments, and it is not in his/her interests to tell the Board about your true contributions or value. It could be that some of your colleagues – including your supervisors – feel that, if you get the promotion, they or their “friends” will not get it. It could be that, if you get a raise, the company will have lower profits. It may seem cruel, but it is often true, that many people feel intimidated by a “rising star.”

Fourth, remember what Einstein said, “Do not worry about success, but rather your value to others, because if you become valuable to others, your success will follow.” For the moment, I suggest you focus on developing yourself for your next promotion in this company or the next one. Take the important courses, meet the important people, develop the important relationships. Then you can either “sell” your value, or it will “sell” itself. It sounds like you have been doing this; you may need to give it a bit more time.

Fifth, every request should have “The Three Magic R’s”: That is, it must be (1) presented respectfully, (2) reasonable in nature, and (3) most importantly, it must have as its rationale the interests of the persons to whom it is presented. The rationale should never be “I want, I need or I deserve,” but instead, “I believe, for these several reasons, this would help you accomplish your most important goals.”    

Now to your two specific questions:

1. I do not think it would be “pushy” to address an email memo to your supervisor to (a) request an estimated date for a decision regarding your request for promotion, (b) accompanied by reasons you believe your promotion would help your supervisor accomplish his or her most important goals. Bear in mind that all of his or her most important goals may not be limited to the success of the company, but rather will likely include his or her own personal success. Keep it respectful, and I don’t think it should come off as “pushy.”

2. I suggest you read (or review) a newsletter I wrote entitled “For a Raise or Promotion, Use ‘Triggers of Value” that I think presents a pretty good summary of how I think you might overcome the age issue.  Perceived Value, if anything, is your path to success in this matter; if your perceived value is great enough, you will get anything you ask for. Bear in mind, though, it is your perceived value to the person you present your request to, not necessarily your perceived value to others, or even the company. To review that Newsletter [click here].

3. We also offer a Model Memo for Requesting a Raise or Promotion.

If you would like to obtain a copy, simply [click here].

My own sense is that you are doing all the right things and, yes, your youth is holding you back a bit. Those of us who are “more experienced” (I prefer that  word to the word “older”) are often concerned that intelligent, motivated, focused younger people have not yet had the chance to gain the one missing ingredient they need for great success – experience – for which there is simply no substitute. Lorna, I do not refer necessarily to experience in the field – your six years is a lot of experience – rather, it is experience with people and organizations, in general, and introspection on those experiences. Sure, a younger person may be better in so many circumstances, but there is often a preference for a person who is a touch more “seasoned by life” and possibly more adept at handling unexpected and unforeseen problems of any kind. 

Is this illegal discrimination? You bet it is. But is it something that you should allege? Of course not! It is simply something you must do your best to deal with, which is something you are obviously doing. But take it as a challenge, which I gather you do enjoy! I am certain that, over time, you will be so very successful. I really am.

I hope I have not written too much. But I hope this does help you. Thanks for writing in. I would LOVE to hear how things turn out for you in this regard.

Once again, welcome to our “SWW Family.” Sempre Famigila!

Best, Al Sklover   

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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