It’s easy to feel “ungrateful” asking for even more. Here’s when and how to negotiate a promotion, anyways.
So, you’ve earned a promotion. Congrats! That’s no easy feat, and you should be proud of your accomplishment. It likely means you’ve shown initiative, done exceptional work in your current job, and taken on new responsibilities. So, it’s entirely appropriate to want to say thank you and move on to celebrating this valuable career stepping stone. But, before you do, make sure you’re getting the most out of it. Should you be asking for more—money, responsibility, ownership, etc—even though you are generously being given a promotion already? Maybe. But navigating how to negotiate a promotion can be tough.
As the Head of Executive Recruitment and Talent at IAC, I have the unique opportunity to work closely with a diverse portfolio of digital businesses. I structure and recruit leadership teams — with a focus on the C-Suite—for innovative media and internet companies such as Vimeo, The Daily Beast, Daily Burn, Investopedia, and more. Of course, all of IAC’s businesses are distinct, unique and operate autonomously, but there are a few common threads I’ve observed when it comes to accelerating career growth with an eye toward cracking into leadership roles.
Here are 7 tips to keep in mind, as you decide whether or not you want to ask for more than you are being offered (plus, how to negotiate a promotion and actually lay out your ask!):
Know Your Numbers
When you anticipate a promotion is in the works, you have to commit to doing your homework. Gather data (this can be through networking, research, or other tools like the H1B Salary Database) on your market value. It can feel uncomfortable, but push yourself to talk to peers in competing businesses, and enlist the guidance of mentors and advisors. Mine your industry and try to build an informed case for yourself. Once you are appropriately armed, pitch for your desired compensation without regard to the percentage increase beyond your current salary. For example, if you discover that the competitive pay for your role requires a $50K bump, which happens to be much higher than the hypothetical 5-10% compensation increase aligned with company policy for a promotion, then lay down all the research and fight for it. This is when you have to ride that high of confidence and stand tall.
It sometimes helps to discuss your compensation expectations in advance so that your manager and HR can plan accordingly. You can also ask for this after your promotion has been communicated if the compensation increase either didn’t happen or was unsatisfactory. The important thing is to be educated on the market and to know your numbers well in advance of making the ask.
Beyond More Money, What Do You Really Need?
When negotiating, it’s important to identify what’s most important for you to be successful in your newly minted role. Is it an increase in compensation or more flexibility? Will you need expansion of management responsibilities? More decision-making power? More resources? More autonomy? It’s likely a unique mix of all of the above. There is no “one size fits all” answer here—and the combination of factors important for you today will likely change over time, too.
There are those who are quick to push for a higher compensation without much regard for expansion of responsibilities with a promotion. I recommend negotiating for both so that you continue to develop in your new role, and stay marketable. If you are doing the same level and extent of work as someone with a lesser title, you risk running in place. For anyone in the earlier stages of their career, I always recommend prioritizing pushing for an expansion of responsibilities and management responsibilities as it enables effective negotiation of a higher salary in the future.
Ask for What You Want and Explain Why
In a case where your employer is offering you a promotion with no additional compensation, it’s easy to feel like you should just be grateful for what you are getting, and ask for the additional money later on. But think about it: Typically, a higher title will mean greater responsibility, more accountability/visibility and requires greater investment of your time—all of which has a value. So ask for the compensation increase, too (backed up by that research we talked about earlier).
The good news is we are seeing a shift in how conversations around promotions take place, which has the potential to even the playing field. HR departments are now increasingly focused on what an individual has accomplished and the value they add to the business instead of focusing purely on tenure. This opens an opportunity for all employees to negotiate.
A few things you should keep in mind when you do negotiate: First, be prepared and direct in justifying your ask. Make it about the value you bring to the company (not your personal needs, or the state of your bank account) and back it up with data whenever possible. So, “The product feature I had a big role in designing last quarter has converted X users to paying subscribers, which has increased revenue by X percent. I would like to see an $X increase in my compensation so that I’m better aligned with the impact I want to make.”
Be Firm, But Also Flexible
Your promotion is a clear message that you are CRUSHING IT! Your organization obviously values your contribution. But how do you silence that little part of your brain that worries about seeming ungrateful when asking for more? First of all, remember that you earned this promotion through hard work and that no one handed it to you. So, appreciate that recognition with grace, and push forward with conviction.
That said, it also helps to be flexible. Not all departments have the budget to accommodate unexpected swings in compensation and often start-ups struggle to stretch every dollar. This is where you can get creative. If budgets are an issue, let HR or your manager know that you are open to compensation in the form of a higher bonus target, a more aggressive commission split, or company stock. You can also push for other, intangible rewards that can further your development. One example: partial tuition reimbursement and a flexible work schedule while you earn an MBA.
Keep Your Eye on the Prize
Though it may not feel timely, you are already working towards your next promotion. Now is the time to architect a long-term path toward your future goal. If you are a product manager offered a director of product opportunity and your eventual goal is to one day be a CEO, you might want to start thinking of ways to build a path from director to senior director to VP to SVP to chief product officer and then CEO.
Sit with HR (or your manager if you are in a smaller company) and have candid conversations around expectations and responsibilities for the roles in your department. Takeaways from this will then give you the tools to start building a growth plan for your next promotion. While each organization is different, certain core competencies that will help to achieve your overall goal remain consistent. For example, to be a candidate for a CEO, you will need to have people management skills and at some point, financial responsibilities. It’s never too early to start looking for ways to take on more and get exposure to these types of responsibilities.
Keep Laying the Groundwork
Advancement is never “one and done,” but rather it is a series of conversations that continue over time. So, consider this promotion the start of that journey and update both your direct manager and your HR team on your goals and progress clearly and often. This can be during the formal review process or during quarterly check-in’s. Ask for specific feedback and advice: “I would like to work toward having people management responsibilities in the future. Which projects can I jump in on that will help me get closer to my goals?” Imprint the image of yourself as a rising leader to HR and your manager early, and ensure they are brought along on the journey of your progress
By laying the groundwork early, you are then able to refer back to these conversations once you’ve actually nabbed that promotion, demonstrating a positive career trajectory and follow through. In all conversations, be ready with data on how your work has increased the value of the company.
Don’t Forget to Celebrate!
You did something that was really hard and that deserves recognition! You won’t always get what you want when you ask for more, but now you’ve laid out what you need looking ahead—and at the very least you have built a stronger foundation for the future.
Continue to do great work, elevate your game, and remember to keep clear lines of communication open about your ambitions. Transparency builds trust and it goes both ways.
Now, order those fresh new business cards and enjoy them