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How to ask for a promotion

Exactly how to ask for a promotion. Turn an uncomfortable conversation into an enjoyable discussion and a no-brainer decision for your boss.

Ramit Sethi

Asking for a promotion is an extremely stressful moment in your career.

  • “What if they say no?”
  • “What if they laugh me out of the room?”
  • “What if they don’t see the value I add to the company?”

Just thinking of the possible answers can make you sick.

But if you’ve tackled larger workloads and added tremendous value, shouldn’t your job title adequately reflect your increased value?

It’s time to ask for a promotion or a raise.

You’re going to learn exactly how to turn a typically uncomfortable conversation into an enjoyable discussion and how to make this a no-brainer decision for your boss.

Knowing how to ask for a promotion can make you rich

Consider these three points:

  1. A promotion conversation can take as little as 10 minutes.
  2. A promotion can propel you to the next level in your career.
  3. Many of my students and friends who’ve used the techniques I’m going to share have learned how to ask for raises of $10,000 or more.

Even if a promotion only gets you half of that (a $5,000 raise), it adds up dramatically over time.

Take a look:

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And remember — most people who get a promotion once tend to get promoted frequently!

Asking for a promotion is a smart and time-effective way to put more money in your pocket and improve your career.

So why do most people leave their career trajectory to chance? Simple: Fear. Most are afraid they’re going to be shot down so they don’t even try.

Luckily, you can combat this fear with some preparation. 

How to define your value to your employer (you’re probably doing too much)

How long have you been at your company?

2 years? 5 years? 10 years? Let’s just assume it’s been awhile.

During that time, you’ve definitely gotten better at your job. You’ve probably developed new skills and you’ve taken on new responsibilities. You’re probably helping the company much more than you did a year ago. So while your contribution continues to rise, your compensation has remained stagnant.

Many of us are humble and modest by nature — and that’s okay. But there’s a BIG difference between being humble and undervaluing yourself:

  • Humble: “I’ve done XYZ, and I’m proud of that accomplishment.”
  • Undervaluing: “Oh sure, I kinda helped out with that project, but it wasn’t just me. Besides, anybody could have done that, so why should I feel special?”

And as the bard once wrote…

Here’s an exercise you can do to break this limiting belief: List all the ways that you’ve become more valuable to the company since you started your job.

Be generous with your list, but push yourself to get specific:

  • Have you delivered specific results? Which ones? Estimate how much they were worth.
  • Has your communication improved? How so?
  • Are you more efficient than before? How do you know?
  • Do you know the business better? How does this translate to the company’s bottom line?
  • Have you developed new skills? What kind?

Keep in mind that achievements that seem mundane to you might seem exceptional to someone else. No achievement is too small. Write them all down.

This is your first step in learning how to ask for a raise or a promotion.

Now that you know the value you add, it’s time to prepare for the conversation with your boss.

The #1 mistake when asking for a promotion (or raise)

The absolute WORST mistake you can make when it comes to how to ask for a raise or promotion is to simply show up on the day of your performance review and ask for it.

If this is your plan, you will lose.

And what’s more, you deserve to lose.

I learned this lesson the hard way. When I was a student at Stanford, I did some work for a local venture capital firm. After a few months, I decided that I was going to ask my boss for a promotion — after all, I’m a smart guy and I’ve been working pretty hard, so I should ask, right?

The conversation went something like this:

Ramit: “Hi Boss, thanks for meeting with me. So, I’ve been working here for a few months now, and I think I’ve been doing a really good job. I’ve really gotten a good understanding of the ins and outs of the business, and because of that I’d like to discuss with you the possibility of a promotion.”

Boss: “Why do you think I should give you a promotion?”

Ramit: “Well … you know, as I mentioned, I think I’ve been doing a really good job, and I’ve been learning a lot about the company and how everything works here and … yeah.”

Boss: “No. Not gonna happen.”

Ramit: “Oh. Okay.”

It wasn’t pretty. And I was actually mad at my boss about it for two whole days (he said “NO!!’).

But then I realized I was being ridiculous. I hadn’t given him any legitimate reasons why he should be giving me more responsibility and paying me more. So why would I have expected him to?

I’ve gotten a lot better at negotiation since then, and this is the #1 rule I’ve discovered about negotiation:

80% of the work in a negotiation is done before you ever walk into the room

That means the conversation is only a small fraction of what actually makes or breaks the negotiation. In reality, when you’re learning how to ask for a raise or a promotion, it’s your PREPARATION that will determine whether you succeed or fail.

Put it another way, would you rather spend zero hours preparing and get immediately blown out of a negotiation — or would you be willing to spend 20 hours of preparation with a 70% chance of successfully negotiating a raise or a promotion?

Front-loading the work

Top performers are willing to put in the time and effort, which is why they can reap disproportionate rewards.

I call this “front-loading the work.”

Here are some examples of front-loading the work you can try (I cover even more of these preparation tips and other advanced career strategies in my Find Your Dream Job program):

  • Doing amazing work for at least three to six months, with written praise collected from your coworkers and your own boss.
  • Creating a five-page document of proof of performance, showing all the ways you’ve added value above and beyond your job’s requirements.
  • Practicing with another skilled negotiator, recording that on video, preparing for every contingency and objection that your boss might have.

Once you’ve put in the work and have done a decent amount of preparation, you’ll want to make sure your boss knows you plan on asking for a raise or promotion.

The timeline for negotiation

How long would it take for you to go from an average performer (where you are now) to a Top Performer (ready to negotiate your first raise)?

Three to six months in most cases. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but three to six months is usually an achievable goal.

This tends to surprise people.

“How can I negotiate my salary three months from now? I’m just lucky to have a job.”

If you’re a Top Performer, the time that you’re at the company won’t matter as much as the work you’re putting in.

This mindset is crucial to knowing your worth. If you’re skeptical of your own value, your boss will instantly ferret it out, costing you thousands of dollars.

It is possible to demonstrate massive tremendous value in three months — even as a new graduate. Even with few skills. Even in a crappy economy.

I’ll show you how to pick ambitious goals that actually matter to your boss and work collaboratively to achieve them. These goals will be strategic to negotiating a raise, all within a tight timeline.

And here’s what those three to six months would look like:

Negotiation Timeline

If you don’t get a regularly scheduled performance review, don’t worry — I’ll provide all the scripts you need to get your boss to agree to a salary conversation. But the basic idea behind your Negotiation Timeline is this:

  • 3-6 months before your review: Become a Top Performer by collaboratively setting expectations with your boss, then exceeding those expectations in every way possible.
  • 1-2 months before your review: Prepare the Briefcase Technique of evidence to support the exact reasons why you should be given a raise.
  • 1-2 weeks before your review: Practice extensively with the right tactics and scripts.

Notice that all of this is done BEFORE the actual meeting (of course, your friends will only see the results you got, not all the work you put in).

This timeline positions you best to ask for a raise or promotion.

Let’s start by learning how to set expectations for your boss.

3 – 6 months out: Prepare your boss for giving you a promotion by setting expectations

Your boss should NEVER be surprised by you asking for a promotion or a raise. If they are, you did something wrong and your chances for success drop dramatically.

Think about it: If you simply blindside your boss, you’re putting him or her on the spot.

Nobody likes being cornered, especially regarding money and promotions. Their natural reaction will be to become defensive. In psychological parlance, they’ll experience “reactance” (which is a fancy way of saying “no way, Jose”).

Instead, prepare your boss for giving you a promotion. I walk through exactly how to do this in this video:

Once your boss is prepared it’s time to prepare the Briefcase Technique.

1 – 2 months out: Prepare the Briefcase Technique to nail your negotiations

This is one of my absolute favorite techniques to utilize in interviews, salary negotiations, client proposals — whatever!

First, you’re going to create a one to five page proposal document showcasing the specific areas in the company wherein you can add value.

Then, you’re going to bring the proposal with you when you negotiate your salary. When the question of compensation inevitably arises, you’re going to pull out this document and outline exactly how you’re going to solve the challenges of the company.

Hiring manager: So what’s your price range?

You: Actually, before we discuss compensation, I’d love to show you something I put together.

And then you literally pull out your proposal document detailing the pain points of the company and EXACTLY how you can help them. (Bonus points if you actually use a briefcase.)

By identifying the pain points the company is experiencing, you can show the hiring manager where specifically you’re going to add value — making you a very valuable hire.

Approach the proposal as the most compelling menu they’ve ever received — complete with issues that they know about and how YOU are the person to solve those problems.

I go into even more detail on the Briefcase Technique in this two-minute video. Check it out below.

1 – 2 weeks out: Practice, practice, practice

The last step before your negotiation is to practice, practice, and practice some more.

It’s one thing to read about how to negotiate. Actually doing it, live and under pressure, is another experience altogether. The only solution is practice.

Amazingly, most people never do this. They simply consume information and think, “Yeah yeah, I got it,” or “I’ll do it later.” But they never follow through. Yet as little as one to two hours of practice could mean the difference between success and failure.

Here’s how to do it: First, sit in front of a video camera, either alone or with a friend. Then brainstorm as many different potential scenarios as possible and practice your responses live and out loud, just as you would in front of your boss.

For example, you might practice what you’d say if:

  • Your boss acts surprised or annoyed when you bring up salary.
  • Your boss asks you to name a number first.
  • He tries to turn you down with excuses like “It’s the economy” or “Everyone else is getting the same thing.”

Then, observe (or have a friend give feedback on) the following, and practice until perfect:

  • Your words. They should be compelling and concise, and free of rambling sentences.
  • Your body language. You want to be sitting up, leaning forward, and relaxed.
  • Your tone. It should be professional, positive, and energetic.

This works. I know because I used to suck in interviews and negotiations. I had no idea how to ask for a raise or promotion — but then I started practicing.

When I was in high school, I was having trouble landing any scholarships, even though I thought I was acing the in-person interviews.

It wasn’t until I recorded myself practicing on video that I realized the problem: I never smiled. I seemed stern and unfriendly. When I started smiling regularly, I started to nail scholarship after scholarship — enough to pay my way through undergrad and grad school at Stanford.

A while back, I decided I wanted to get better at doing TV interviews, so I got some help from professional media trainers. Again, I thought I was already pretty good. But in my very first videotaped answer, the trainers showed me about a dozen subtle mistakes I was making.

They showed me how to correct them and we tried again and again. After each round, they showed me the before-and-after video. The difference was night and day.

See for yourself the difference that even a few minutes of practice can make:

How to ask for a raise and boost your salary

The Boys Scouts know it. The Lion King knows it. And now, YOU know it.

Be prepared.

It’s the most important element when it comes to how to ask for a raise or promotion. With a little bit of preparation, you’ll be ahead of 99.9% of the population — instantly improving your chances of nailing your negotiations.

If you’ve made it to this stage, the final step is knowing simply what to say when you finally ask your boss for a promotion. You want to make the conversation flow as smoothly as possible. The discussion should be mutually beneficial so your boss sees the tremendous value you’ve delivered.

I’ve gone the extra step and included word-for-word negotiation scripts here. Now, you’ll walk into your discussion confident and skyrocket your odds of getting a better title and a better salary.

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