You've worked hard. You've performed well, and your boss says, "Yes, you will be promoted during the next few months." Whew! You've made it, right? What does that really mean?
Well, first of all a caveat that every company is slightly different and your situation may, of course, vary from what happens here. But here's a pretty good idea of questions to ask and things to look for.
The raise may not be as big as it would if you were hired from the outside. Many companies have policies in place that prohibit raises above a certain percentage. Sometimes that's a low number, like 5 percent. Other companies are more reasonable with a 10 percent maximum. But this can mean that even if your promotion gives you more responsibilities, a bigger title and a bump up two salary grades, you may still not be raking in the big bucks. And, in fact, you may be making substantially less than your peers who are in similar roles. Why? If they were hired externally, there wasn't the artificial limit on the salary, and they could be paid the market rate.
If your raise isn't as big as it should be, inquire what your "compa-ratio" is. This is an HR term that puts your salary against the midpoint of the position. For instance, if the salary midpoint for the job is $50,000, and your salary is $45,000, you have a compa-ratio of 90 percent. If it's below 90 percent, ask them what the policy is for bringing people up to at least a 90 percent compa-ratio.
The higher up the food chain your boss is, the better your chance for a big promotion. I've seen a senior vice president promote a direct report and get a 40 percent increase approved. But, a first line supervisor may be lucky to get you 3 percent.
Is it a "bona fide" promotion or a "promotion in place"? The first is what we think of as a "real" promotion -- you get a new job, new title, new responsibilities, and someone else takes your old ones away. The second, you keep your same responsibilities and get more added, usually along with a better title (although similar -- from Analyst to Senior Analyst, for instance) and more money. It's always good to be clear on what is expected in your new role. Ask for a job description if possible and be clear with your manager on what your new goals are.
Remember that more will be expected of you. Sometimes it's a shock when the first performance appraisal comes around after a promotion. If you've always gotten "exceeds expectations" and you're still working as hard as ever it can be a crushing blow when you're appraisal is a mediocre "meets expectations." What happened? Well, now that you're in a higher role, more is going to be expected of you. Which means that you'll have to bump up your performance, even if you were a super star before.
You'll have to deal with your (former) peers. If you received a promotion in place, or growth promotion, you'll be doing a very similar job with a bit more work and it's most likely that your peers (if they are nice, normal humans) will say, "Congratulations!" and that will be that. If you're promotion is into a new position and it leaves a vacancy, you may find bitterness and resentment among your peers who have to pick up the slack. Or, if you're promoted into a supervisory role over former peers, you'll want to seek mentoring on how to switch from being a peer to being a boss. Don't just assume that everyone will be thrilled for you. Some may be pretty upset that it's you and not them.
It can be overwhelming. You've worked for it and wanted it, so why is it so hard? Because even though you're in the same company and even with many of the same responsibilities, think of it as a new job and allow yourself a learning curve. Don't be afraid to ask questions, and realize you'll probably make mistakes. Everyone does!
What if the promotion doesn't quite appear? The process of getting a promotion approved can be quite daunting, especially if your boss doesn't have a lot of clout within the business. Yes, it's true that HR can hold things up. It's also true that it may be that your department VP is on a month-long business trip to Australia and won't even look at the paperwork until he gets back and then he'll have six questions which will take two weeks to answer to his satisfaction, and then the HR person will be on vacation and, and, and... sometimes it takes a while. And, unfortunately, promised promotions don't always appear. Keep in contact with your manager who told you about this. Bring it up every couple of weeks until it either becomes clear that it's just not happening, or you give up.