What is the best way to get a promotion?

What is the best way to get promoted?

At the start of my career I was under the impression that working hard and doing great work would get me promotions. Over time, I was met with the harsh reality that hard work alone does not progress you forward in your career and that there are TWO other elements you have to focus on.

The light-bulb moment for me is when I learned that to ascend the corporate ladder it boiled down to PIE — a concept introduced by Harvey Coleman in his book, “Empowering Yourself: The Organizational Game Revealed.” Coleman became discouraged when he hit a glass ceiling in his career while others continued to surpass him with promotions. As an African American man in the corporate world, he suspected racial bias was at play. Yet, after extensive research, he came to realize that there is more to career success than being a top performer, and that a person also needs to bolster their image and exposure.

PIE stands for 3 factors to determine career success:


  • Definition: How well you do your job
  • Attributes to Career Success: 10%


  • Definition: How you are perceived by people who work with you
  • Attributes to Career Success: 30%


  • Definition: People know what you’ve done and how it matters to the organization
  • Attributes to Career Success: 60%

These numbers were astounding to me. Performance at 10% feels way too low, and Exposure at 60% makes me feel exhausted just thinking about it. But then it started to make sense when I thought of my career in terms of a product.

A product could have top notch technology and features, the Performance, but if the Image is wrong, such as the packaging doesn’t convey its value or stand out on the shelf, few people are likely to buy it. Additionally, if the Exposure is minimal, such as there’s no marketing, and essentially no one knows this incredible product exists, then it will fail. The greatest product, or career, can never reach its full potential if it doesn’t have the the right Image and Exposure.

Upon changing my mentality around promotions, I came up with three practical ways to improve Image and Exposure at work.

1. Change the way you talk about yourself

Self branding is ridiculous these days—I am not recommending that you start self-labeling to cringe-worthy levels that we have become accustomed to on LinkedIn:

Instead, you should start characterizing yourself in the way you want to be known. Such as let’s say you want speaking opportunities at events but no one has ever asked you. Write a post on LinkedIn that says,

“For your future events on digital education, I am available to speak on the following topics … ”

Then list some topics that may spur some interest. No one deemed you worthy to speak — you did. And by you declaring you should be speaking on those topics, that’s the first step to it happening.

Additionally, here’s a more in-depth example of an Office Manager who rebrands herself to ultimately be promoted to the Head of Corporate Events.

2. Tell people what you want.

I have a friend who was upset because she wasn’t nominated for the emerging leaders program at her company, so I encouraged her to tell her boss she wanted to join. When she did, her boss was thrilled that she was interested in joining the program and immediately got her into the program. It wasn’t that her boss didn’t think she was an emerging leader, he just didn’t realize that was something she wanted.

It’s incredible how many of life’s opportunities are given to people who ask for them. While we would all prefer that our bosses and colleagues would ensure we are afforded all the opportunities we deserve, people are usually too oblivious to realize they should help you.

So help them help you, spell it out for them. Tell them you want the promotion, you are interested in a specific project, you want to lead the next meeting, you want to go on stage during the magic show —whatever it is, make sure you tell others and they will very likely help you get there.

3. Debrief your major projects.

You just finished a big project, and instead of charging ahead into the next one, set aside time to do a retrospective with your boss. It’s not fun, in my opinion, to comb through a finished project to get all the data — but I promise that once you do, it is so gratifying to be able to articulate the journey you took and how you moved the needle.

In the debrief, emphasize the pain and problems presented at the beginning of the project — we often forget how bad things were. Then, take your boss through all the steps, the results, and key learnings. Don’t forget to toot your horn a bit:

“We made it by the deadline and under budget. I led the Peterson account which ended up securing us our biggest sponsor. Here is the feedback from that sponsor…They want to work with us on the next one.”

Every time I do this, it’s such a great moment of thoughtfulness, reflection, and celebration. Bosses feel proud when their team accomplishes great things, so make sure to provide them with that moment to understand how things went and praise you for it.

An example from my own career is that, on several occasions, I’ve heard my boss say that he is exasperated by the number of requests for money he receives to spend on different initiatives. I realized I was doing things on a monthly basis that were saving us money as a company, and it occurred to me that he would like to hear some actual good news instead of requests.

So I showed him how much money we spent per hire to recruit our team last year, and compared it to how much we spent this year, which revealed that the cost dramatically decreased and the quality of talent stayed steady. He didn’t ask for that information, and there is no one else on the team that would have pointed that out for me. Therefore it was my job to give my performance the exposure it deserved.

Make sure to find organizations where you can grow as a professional and then think about PIE as you set your sights on that next promotion. Performance isn’t everything, because if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, is it actually going to be considered for the regional supervisor position? Image and Exposure are essential to make it happen.

For more rapid-fire, battle-tested career tips and tricks, check out Self Made Millennial YouTube Channel.

This article first appeared on Quora.