Chances are you’ve never asked for a promotion.
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.
While your contribution continues to rise, your compensation may have remained stagnant. Maybe you know you deserve a raise, but you don’t know how to ask for a promotion.
Lucky for you, we’ll show you how.
How to Ask for a Promotion in 7 Steps:
- Define your value
- Avoid this common mistake
- Front load your promotion request
- Determine the timeline for your promotion
- Set expectations with your boss (3-6 months out)
- Prepare the briefcase technique (1-2 months out)
- Practice Practice Practice (1-2 weeks out)
Asking for a Promotion Step #1: Define your Value
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?”
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.
Asking for a Promotion Step #2: Avoid this Common Mistake
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?
Asking for a Promotion Step #3: Front-load your promotion request
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.
Asking for a Promotion Step #4: Determine the timeline
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:
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.
Asking for a Promotion Step #5: Prepare your boss by setting expectations (3-6 months out)
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. 3-6 months before you plan to ask for a raise, meet with your boss to talk about what they want from you in your role. Ask them what you would have to do to get a raise, and make them get specific. You’re not asking for a raise right now, but just getting an understanding of what their expectations are.
Once your boss is prepared it’s time to prepare the Briefcase Technique.
Asking for a Promotion Step #6: Prepare the Briefcase Technique (1-2 months out)
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 where you add value. Pull from the conversation you had with your boss where they told you what you’d need to do to get a promotion.
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 show exactly how you’ve exceeded all the requirements your boss set for getting a promotion.
Here’s how to use the Briefcase Technique:
Asking for a Promotion Step #7: Practice, practice, practice (1-2 weeks out)
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.
See for yourself the difference that even a few minutes of practice can make.
My word-for-word scripts: How to ask for a raise and get promoted
The Boys Scouts know it. The Lion King knows it. And now, YOU know it.
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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