Follow these three steps to position yourself well before you ask for a promotion.

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Illustration of stairs to a promotion flag

If you’ve been cooling your heels in the same job for a few years, waiting for the economy to rebound, you’re not alone, says Joel Garfinkle, the author of Getting Ahead ($25, and a career coach in Oakland. Happily, financial indicators have been ticking up—meaning it’s time to make a play for the position you want. Not sure how to do it? Try this step-by-step plan.

Step 1: Establish work objectives. All too often, employees ask for a raise or a new title out of the blue. But first you need to set the groundwork for a promotion: Ask your boss for concrete goals that she thinks you should accomplish, says Jenny Blake, a New York City–based career coach and the author of Life After College ($17, “You want to make sure that you and your supervisor are working toward mutually understood objectives, which is the key to advancement.” Together, create an action plan that outlines core duties, bonus tasks, and performance expectations. “This won’t guarantee a promotion, of course, but it will ensure that you’re headed toward success,” says Blake. Establish a timeline for checking in with your boss to assess your progress.

Step 2: Participate in visible projects. When you volunteer to work on a difficult assignment or join a corporate community-service initiative, for example, you will be perceived as a team player. What’s more, senior executives will see you as “someone willing to wear multiple hats—which is an increasingly necessary trait as companies do more with smaller staffs and fewer resources,” says Garfinkle.

Step 3: Dont's pass the buck. It goes without saying that you need to maintain a positive demeanor. But something even more crucial—which even the perkiest workers may overlook—is taking responsibility for your actions. Everyone makes mistakes, says John Baldoni, an executive coach in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the author of Lead With Purpose ($23, But not everyone handles errors with aplomb. If, say, you’ve overseen a project that comes in over budget, tell your boss: “I want to explain what happened and let you know that I take ownership of it. And here’s how I will fix the situation.” Managers want to hear about solutions for the problems you present, so the more you communicate your ability to handle bumps in the road, the more likely it is they’ll start thinking of you as corner-office material.