Preparation and a mindset of giving over getting will ease the way.
There is an action I took early in my career that has significantly impacted the trajectory of my professional (and personal) life.
When I graduated from Syracuse University with a communications degree, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I started working at a credit union as the assistant call center manager three years out of college. This was my first true management position—I was supervising 10 call center representatives, and I really enjoyed the management aspect of the role.
A little over a year into that position, I decided to focus my career on human resources. I enrolled in an HR course on my own time and requested a meeting with the VP/HR. I shared with her my interest in HR and moving to her department. She was pleasant and supportive but told me that there weren’t any opportunities available.
Six months later, she called to let me know the credit union would be posting a human resources generalist position and she knew I might be interested. I would have to apply and be interviewed just like any other candidates. After the interview process, she offered me the job. Although another assistant manager with more management experience and tenure at the credit union had applied, she chose me because I was clearly passionate about pursuing a career in human resources.
I didn’t realize at the time the impact the decision to speak with the VP/HR would have on my career. She became my mentor and gave me the opportunity to learn every function of human resources and training and development. She rewarded me with promotions and raises and, when her husband was transferred out of state four years later, she recommended me for her position. A week after my 30th birthday, I was promoted to VP/HR. Had I not shared with her my career aspirations when I was in the call center, I most likely wouldn’t have had the opportunities that led me to not only a great executive career, but also prepared me for starting my own leadership consulting business years later.
In my last article, How to Confidently Ask for What You Want (and Need) at Work, I shared that women tend to spend more time overthinking and analyzing rather than asking for what they need. According to Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of The Confidence Code, women tend to avoid risks, underestimate their abilities and spend more time thinking about the consequences of failure. Kay and Shipman suggest that, in contrast, confidence comes from taking action. We need to think less and act more.
Much has been written about the lack of women in CEO roles in credit unions and the business world as a whole. There is no simple solution to alter this trend, but it is clear that we need—and credit unions will benefit from—more women in leadership roles.
So how do you successfully and confidently ask for a promotion or a raise? Below are four strategies to increase your chances of a positive outcome.
Share your professional goals. This many sound obvious, but in my experience, most professionals are not clear about their goals. Even if they have clear goals, they don’t always share them with their manager. Don’t keep your career goals a secret—share your ambitions with your manager. When you are up front about your goals, a good manager will support you by providing meaningful feedback, stretch opportunities and mentoring. I used to love when an employee would tell me his or her goal was to have my job one day. That gave me clarity on where to focus my development efforts to help that person reach that goal.
Take ownership of your development. While many competencies and characteristics are important for success, a trait that can have a significant impact on your career is taking initiative. Of course, an ideal manager would ask about your professional goals and work on your development accordingly, but in my experience, this often doesn’t happen. Development is a two-way street—you are just as responsible for your own development as your manager should be. This might mean taking courses outside of work, joining a professional association, or reading articles and books about your chosen field.
Create an ongoing dialogue. Once you have shared your goals and begun to take active ownership of your development, create an ongoing dialogue with your boss about your career. Share your accomplishments and ask for feedback. It’s important for you to know what skills and competencies are necessary for the position you desire. Ask your boss to share what those expectations are so you can work on developing them. As you continue to frame the conversation around your goals, in time, a raise or promotion might seem like the next natural step. You might say something like, “I enjoy being on your team and want to continue to make more of an impact. What would it take for me to move to the next level?”
Go above and beyond. When young leaders ask me how to get promoted at work, one suggestion I give is to become indispensable to your boss. Very few people go above and beyond the scope of their work. And many professionals have the mindset that they will give more effort once they get the promotion or raise. You have to put in the effort before you get the recognition. The main reason most people aren’t granted the raises or promotions they want is that they ask before putting in the effort. sWhat does becoming indispensable to your boss look like? Asking for more responsibility. Offering to take on a new project. Offering help. (If your boss has a lot on her plate, ask what you can take from her.) Thinking through solutions before bringing her a problem. Being the one person on her team whom she can rely on no matter what. This extra effort compounded over time will reap rewards and certainly make you stand out.
The above recommendations are important in laying the groundwork for asking for a raise or promotion. You will have a much easier and more successful conversation if you spend time and effort building a relationship and putting forth maximum effort before you ask. You may not always get a positive response, but you can increase your chances significantly by having the mindset of giving rather than getting.
Tips for the Tough Conversation
Below are four tips for facilitating the conversation to ask for a raise or promotion. Although the conversation may not be comfortable, in most cases, the worst that can happen is that your manager says no. If you ask in a professional way, your manager may even respect you more for speaking up about what you want. Anxiety around the conversation is normal. You will rarely get what you don’t ask for.
Consider the timing. If your credit union is having financial challenges, or if your boss is inundated with projects, it’s not the best time to ask for more money. Pick a time when your boss is in a good frame of mind. After you successfully complete a major project or exceed a performance goal is a good time to ask, because you can tie your request to your performance.
Prepare for the conversation. Document the value you have brought to the organization over the last two years. You want to be prepared if your manager asks why you deserve a raise or promotion. Also, know what you want. Do you have a specific title or job in mind? Is that position available, or would your promotion lead to creating a new position? Do your research. You also want to be realistic. Asking to double your salary may come across as greedy and can shut down the conversation.
I once asked my CEO for a raise after he told me I was one of the best executives he had worked with. I knew I was at the lower end of the salary range for a VP/HR, and I respectfully pointed out that if I was a great executive, shouldn’t I be higher? He told me he would think about it and eventually raised my salary $16,000. I was dreading the conversation—I had anxiety for days before—but it resulted in a significant salary bump.
Focus on the benefits. A mistake many professionals make when approaching the conversation is adopting a pushing style. In some situations, it is appropriate to advocate for yourself, but when asking for a raise or promotion, I recommend focusing on how your request will benefit your boss and the organization.
I had a client who called me once to get advice on how to ask for a promotion. She shared what she planned to say, and the approach felt more demanding than collaborative. I suggested she come from a place of collaboration by sharing how her education and accomplishments have benefited the company and how a promotion would give her more authority and influence to get even better results. Your request should show mutual benefit.
Be prepared if it’s no. If your initial request is not granted, thank your manager for considering your request, then ask what you can do to work toward a raise or promotion in the future. You may ask, “What are two specific things I can do to prepare myself for the next level?” or “What can I do over the next six months to better support the team and earn a salary increase?” Really listen to the feedback your manager gives you. The information can be invaluable as you continue to manage your own development.
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of Envision Excellence, LLC in the Washington, D.C., area. Her mission is to create exceptional cultures by teaching leaders how to be exceptional. Maddalena facilitates management and executive training programs and team-building sessions and speaks at leadership events. Prior to starting her business, she was an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or firstname.lastname@example.org.