NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Asking for a promotion is like asking for seconds: you want to satisfy your hunger without looking greedy.
Recent news of an improving labor market -- and its implicit prospects of a better job elsewhere -- may have you thinking about your value to your current organization. Perhaps it's time to be asking your boss for a promotion.
Looking for a better opportunity, either within your firm or at another one, doesn't make you a career-driven opportunist. It's what people do in strong job markets.
Still, the jobs picture isn't so bright that companies are desperate to keep people. To maximize your chances of getting what you want, it pays to be systematic in your approach.
"People don't get promoted on potential," said Harry E. Chambers, the author of Getting Promoted: Real Strategies for Advancing your Career and president of Trinity Solutions, an Atlanta-based consulting firm.
Today, according to Chambers, added responsibilities tend to precede title changes. "We used to promote people and hope that they grow into the job," he said. "Now, we give them the job and hope they grow into the promotion."
Even if you have already assumed some senior responsibilities, there are a few more things you should add to your "to do" list.
Nearly everyone knows getting in early and staying late makes you look like an all-around hard worker, if not someone who doesn't have anything better to do outside the office.
Perceptions and personality weigh just as heavily as overtime, so reinforce that "nice guy" image with other actions.
Get a grip. Neatness counts, Chambers says, because it demonstrates you have some control over your domain. "If you appear to be overwhelmed in your current job you are not going to be promoted," he surmised.
Meaning, if your inbox is overflowing with outdated memos and you have 35 folders lying haphazardly on your desk, the boss isn't going to think you have a handle on your current job.
Take a few minutes every evening to sort through memos, organize those folders, and clean off your desk to make it look as though you also have a clear head.
Avoid the water cooler. Do you know who's doing what and who isn't doing what they should be? That may be juicy gossip but refrain from sharing it with even your closest colleague.
"You've got to create friends, not enemies," said Robin Ryan, a career strategist and author of What to Do with the Rest of Your Life. "If you think your boss is an idiot, tell your friends at home. Not anyone in the office."
If gossiping weren't fun, people wouldn't do it. Just remember that anything you say can and will be held against you by either your boss or colleagues.
Show and tell. If a tree falls in a forest in and nobody hears it, does it make a sound? Yes, but if no one knows about it then it doesn't matter whether lightening struck it or you chopped it yourself.
"Make sure you are getting credit for what you do," said Ryan. Your boss doesn't have a scorecard to remind him who did what well, but you can remind him of your accomplishments by soliciting feedback.
Schedule quarterly performance reviews with your boss or go to lunch occasionally so that you can gauge where you stand and let your boss know what you've done.
Pair up. "Your current boss, whether you like him or not, holds the key to your immediate future," Ryan stated.
Think about it: your boss knows which positions are open and which will soon be. He's also more likely to promote someone he works well with, and you want that person to be you.
Your goal here is to position yourself as a partner, not a pal. Ally yourself with your boss by making his priorities your own, delivering the results he expects, and demonstrating that he can count on you in a pinch.
Be the go-to (wo)man. "Today, we hire specialists not generalists," Ryan noted. "I don't need 10 people contributing the same skill."
If you don't quite have the know-how to do a higher-level job, it is incumbent on you to gain those skills. Many companies offer tuition reimbursement or on-the-job training so use those programs to your advantage.
But if you find your skill set doesn't quite match your company's current needs, it may be time to mount a full-scale job search.
"Some of the largest promotions come from quitting one employer and moving on and up with another employer," Ryan stated.
"Take inventory of what you're really good at. Are you in a place that is going to allow you to flourish doing that? If the answer is 'no' then you have to move on."