Jens Oliver Meiert

5 Tips for Your Next Promotion or Salary Raise

Post from February 3, 2021 (↻ July 20, 2021), filed under .

How do you approach promotions and salary raises? Are these tied to an annual meeting with your manager, to other cyclical events like performance reviews, or do they depend on your own initiative? Do you invest into building your case, or do you wing it? Do you go for nuance, or do you, “just in case,” ask for the moon?

I’ve sat on both sides of the table, successfully and unsuccessfully, and will here sketch my main ideas on what can help your chances of getting that promotion, or getting that raise.

Contents

  1. Prepare Your Case
  2. Use Metrics
  3. Avoid Positional Bargaining
  4. Give Yourself Time
  5. Ask

1. Prepare Your Case

The most important thing is to prepare: You may be convinced that you should get a promotion or a raise—but even for yourself it can be useful to lay out why exactly. Think about that, set up a document, write it down. Write it to be shared. Make it easy for your manager or the committee, in your own best interest.

Once you wrote down the arguments why you should get a promotion, review and question them. Are these all reasons? Are these good reasons? What’s missing, what can be added? What’s superfluous? Edit and refine your list.

2. Use Metrics

Try to argue with metrics. What demonstrates, what proves your performance? How many tickets did you take care of (that can be useful data), how much code have you committed, how did you score on individual and team goals, how do other metrics for your work look like, what did you contribute to the success of the organization, and, if you can present it in a friendly way, how does this compare to others on your team, in other teams, or in the field?

Make it easy. Make it measurable.

If you don’t have any metrics to work with or your metrics don’t look good, stop. Do you simply not have enough data yet, and need to collect more? Or… is your performance not as strong as you thought? Even if this probably isn’t what you wanted to hear, this may actually be good for you. It could be a smart move to delay the promotion or raise, and to step it up, get more data, and build a new and stronger case.

3. Avoid Positional Bargaining

This one is dear to me: Don’t go for positional bargaining. What’s that? The common but questionable (and well backfiring) way of making an outrageous demand in the hope that you meet in the middle.

It’s the style people learn on markets and bazaars: You see an art piece, the price tag says “$100,” you offer $50, or just $20 (and don’t see what a move that is). The seller is offended, you get nervous, and you both start haggling: “I can give it to you for $90,” “no, $30,” “that’s ridiculous, but I can offer it for $80,” “no, $35 is my last offer,” until the merchant gets you kicked out or you give up, disappointed that your negotiation strategy didn’t work. (Or it did, and you didn’t care about the disrespect you or both parties showed each other.)

The point is, positional bargaining aims for the opposite of what you want to accomplish in a negotiation: a win/win. That’s the goal, and it requires respecting and understanding the other side. It comes with a strategy and it informs tactics, like focusing on the relationship and making the pie bigger for everyone involved.

If you aim for a win/win, you recognize that there’s much more in professional relationships that promotions and raises: There are bonuses, there are special responsibilities, there are privileges, there are titles, there are vacation days and work hours and and and—and you have seen it all, most people only go for the promotion, or the raise, and then it has to happen, now.

Call me overconfident, but read that last paragraph again. This is the situation in many if not most workplaces. It doesn’t have to be as sad and ineffective. Before we move on, the best book I can recommend about negotiating is Stuart Diamond’s Getting More; Fisher’s and Ury’s Getting to Yes is pretty good, too.

Now work with the document you created, and enter your promotion or salary conversations with it. Communicate the document as a sketch, as a basis for discussion. This is a huge one, then, especially if you’re not in a work culture where people are used to prepare that much. This kind of preparation, if it’s humble and fact-focused, may leave a big, positive impression.

4. Give Yourself Time

Whether you’re looking at promotions and raises in general or you just prepared (or perhaps presented) your case, it can be useful to be patient. That may not sound enticing, especially when you already feel undervalued or underpaid, or when it’s been a long time that you were shown some form of recognition, however patience can be smart. Why?

First, you don’t necessarily “lose” anything. A premature promotion attempt can be much costlier for you, not only from a monetary but also a clout side, than taking the time to build a stronger case.

Second, a strong case should be the priority, not a fast case. Yes, you can be lucky and happen to pack all the right gear for a trip through the Antarctica, but most of the time a little prep work helps you make that trip more effective and comfortable. It’s similar for our careers.

Third, it reduces everyone’s stress levels. You can focus on the package; if you’ve already started the process it may give your manager time to support and strengthen your case; and after a promotion or raise it’s also easier to focus on your next goals if you—give yourself time to do so.

5. Ask

The last tip is to—ask: Ask what’s needed for your promotion, ask what’s needed for your raise. Now, yes, you may have a competency or some other framework in place that gives you concrete guidance, but even then, and also even after a “lost” case you can still—ask.

Isn’t this obvious? I think it isn’t. I still miss this; I see others regularly miss this. But it’s generally a sound and at the same time humble thing to ask, your manager, about their view and about any advice they can give you on not just promotions and raises but about anything related to your work.

Now, you may have a manager who for whatever good or bad reason doesn’t give you useful advice. But still ask them. Work with them. Manage up.

❧ These are five tips on your next promotion or raise. If you were to adopt only one, pick the last one and ask. For two, scrap positional bargaining—even if you had some lucky results with it, it’s a terrible, condescending negotiation tactic. Three? Prepare. And four? Measure. And if you do want to follow all five, then absolutely, cultivate some patience. That may generally be a nice trait to own.

Assuming you do good work these should all serve you well. I wish you much success!

The great forest becomes more open. Hugh falls in beside [Val] and says, “Over yonder hill is King Arthur’s army. I will await you here.”

Figure: What’s awaiting us next. (Copyright King Features Syndicate, Inc., distr. Bulls.)

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About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on April 29, 2020.

I’m Jens Oliver Meiert, and I’m an engineering manager and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to the W3C and the WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. Other than that, I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.

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