Does your blood pressure rise at the mere thought of your next performance review? Do you start to sweat a bit at the idea of asking for a promotion or raise? If so, you are certainly not alone. Most people don't know how to ask for a promotion or raise.
Annual reviews are stressful under the best of circumstances. In fact, one survey of 1,500 U.S. workers revealed that 18 percent of women and a quarter of men reported that they have cried before, during, or after a performance review. And if you need to ask for a raise or a promotion, your anxiety about the meeting could be exponentially higher.
But don't break out the Kleenex just yet. Being well prepared to ask for a raise or promotion can reduce your stress levels significantly – and increase the likelihood that you will get what you're asking for.
LiveCareer spoke to four seasoned managers who have collectively been a part of scores of conversations about pay increases and advancements to find out what works and what doesn't when an employee asks for a promotion or raise.
What Are Some Tips for Getting a Promotion or Raise?
1. Be realistic
Before an employee can – or should – ask for a promotion or raise, they should do a true and thorough evaluation of their own performance over the preceding year, explains Kirsten W.*
Kirsten, who manages 12 employees in the insurance industry, said that this important first step can help prevent uncomfortable conversations about pay increases or promotions. If you haven't performed well, she advised, skip the conversation altogether.
"In that case, there is zero reason to ask for a promotion or raise," she said. "As a manager, what I am thinking about during these conversations is whether I am willing to lose the person who is asking. I'm asking myself, 'Is this a person I am willing to go to bat for?' If you aren't performing well, the answer will be no. So, you better have a really solid performance record over the past year, or be able to show that your performance has improved over, say, the last five years before I'll consider your request."
In addition to being real about how you have performed, it's a good idea to reference a salary calculator before you decide to ask for a promotion or raise. Plug in your zip code and your title, and a salary calculator will tell you where your salary falls on the spectrum in your area. This is useful information to have in your back pocket as your formulate your thoughts.
2. Collect your evidence
The managers we spoke to agreed that a significant component of getting what you want when you ask for a promotion or raise is presenting evidence to support your assertion that you deserve it.
For Amanda Kennedy, a business consultant and digital strategist for Morgan & Co. Media, employees who have taken the time to map out their achievements against the goals of the company are most likely to get what they want when they ask for a promotion or raise.
"If you've ever watched crime dramas you've probably heard the phrase, 'Follow the money," Kennedy said. "Just like the money trail leads you to the crime boss on television, employees who can show that their work performance is aligned with their company's business goals are the employees who are most likely to advance into more senior roles and better salaries."
She said that the best conversations she has around pay increases and title changes happen when an employee can show how their performance positively affected productivity and profitability. Being able to show this, she said, demonstrates that an employee is invested both in their own professional growth and in the success of their organization.
3. Ask in advance
By the time your performance review comes around, it's likely that decisions about whether you'll receive a raise or a bonus have already been made. If you plan to ask for more than just a cost of living increase, you'll need to present your argument in advance of your meeting.
The managers we spoke to agree that a simple Word document with your achievements and requests laid out will suffice.
4. Don't skimp on data
Metrics matter, says John S.*, a vice president of marketing. He says that his most successful employees prepare not just a list of achievements but specific measurements of their impact.
"I don't just want to see a document that says, 'I got Initiative XYZ out the door,'" he said. "I want to see specifics like, 'I got Initiative XYZ out the door three weeks early, which increased conversion by 3% and was worth $3.2 million for the company.'"
This, he said, proves that his direct reports have thought through their performance and have evidence to back up their claim that they are outperforming their peers and adding value to the organization.
5. Illuminate your irreplaceability
For Daisy*, who owns a small business, the health of her company's finances is always a factor when she is deciding whether to give an employee a raise. If you work for a small or medium-sized business, keeping the cash flow of your employer in mind is important, especially when it comes to pay increases.
Some good advice: Ask yourself what you do for your company that no one else can do before you ask for a raise or promotion.
"Whether or not I give raises always depends on what I can afford that year," Daisy said. "That said, I've had employees who have done such great work that they have become very valuable to my business, so much so that I can't afford to lose them. In those cases, I've been willing to stretch my budget because I know doing so and keeping those employees will be worth it in the end, so I'll go out on a limb for that person."
6. Come to the table with the right attitude
Have you heard the adage "you can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar?" According to the managers we spoke to, you might also catch a raise or promotion that way.
There is a fine line between being assertive and being rude when you ask for a promotion or raise. Keeping your attitude in check before discussing advancement with your boss is critical, especially if you aren't a top performer.
"Coming to your boss with hubris and with the attitude that you are the best thing since sliced bread doesn't work either," Kirsten W. said. "If you are entering the conversation with this attitude, you have to be prepared to find out that you might not be as great in every area as you think you are. Everyone has areas they can work on."
Kirsten said that one of her top performers' most notable traits is their attention to the continued quality of their own performance. Not only do they work hard, Kirsten said, but they end every one-on-one meeting with this question: "What can I do better?"
"They are constantly thinking of how they can improve, and that is a major reason that they are my top performers every year. They bring that same attitude to their clients and are constantly looking to do better."
7. Remember that it's a two-way street
Regardless of how well you've done at work this year, there are always areas where an employee can improve their performance or stretch their goals. These personal performance goals should be part of the raise/promotion conversation, even if you get what you want.
According to Kennedy, "I have concerns when employees don't have personal improvement goals or a wish list of how they can contribute to team success down the road. A good employee could tarnish my view of their performance if they only discussed their recent work without also thinking about their future goals and contributions."
8. Play the long game
Ask and you shall receive doesn't always apply when it comes to raises and promotions. For a variety of reasons, you should always go into negotiations about raises and promotions with the understanding that you won't always get what you want.
Whether it's a matter of improving your performance or increasing your experience level, your manager may not be able to offer you exactly what you are asking for this year. They should, however, be able to offer you a plan for how to arrive at your desired destination.
Your boss should be your ally, Kirsten said. Be open to working with them on creating a timeline of tasks, goals, professional enrichment courses – whatever it will take to make you the most qualified to earn the money you seek or gain the title you crave.
"I have someone on my team right now who is in this position," Kirsten said. "He has made it clear to me that he loves his job, but that he is ready for the next opportunity. He and I have come up with the steps he needs to take so that he is ready the next time an appropriate opportunity opens. I am working with him to keep him on track, and I have let my bosses know about the steps he is planning to take so that they are tracking his progress, as well."
*Some names have been changed.