Career Planning in Tough Times | How to Ask for More

Career Planning in Tough Times | How to Ask for More was originally published on Idealist Careers.

Illustrated by Marian Blair

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected your organization. But that doesn’t mean that you have to put your career goals on hold for 2021. Though the idea of asking for more responsibility or a raise may be anxiety-inducing right now, it doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable experience.

As long as your asks are realistic, you should still feel comfortable asking your employer for more—whether that’s more responsibility, more compensation, or both.

Setting realistic goals

The COVID-19 pandemic made last year challenging, but you have likely become more flexible and efficient as you balance your work and personal responsibilities—often in the same space. True, there’s no clear end date for when we can safely return to some semblance of work normalcy, but we can still take the time to set our 2021 career goals.

Before you look forward to the new year, take a few minutes to reflect on what you have accomplished this year. That means answering these questions for yourself:

  • What were your primary work responsibilities and to-dos this year?
  • What are the top three challenges you faced and how did you overcome those challenges?
  • What have been your measurable contributions to work?
  • Are you fairly compensated for the efforts you put into your job?
  • What do you want to do less of next year?
  • What do you want to do more of next year?

These questions will help you recognize which strengths you nurtured, what you have achieved, and what are the next steps for you on your career path. Your answers to these questions will serve as the foundation for your 2021 goals.

COVID considerations

Because 2020 was an unprecedented year for you and your employer, you need to make sure that your goals are taking into account the current context. Even though mass vaccinations are on the horizon, that doesn’t mean that your employer will immediately be able to return to “business as usual.”

To help you understand your organizational context, here are some questions to answer:

  • How has your organization adapted to the challenges of this year?
  • Has your organization had to engage in significant layoffs this year?
  • Has your role increased, decreased, or remained the same in scope this year?
  • Have you received any communications regarding your compensation structure for 2021?
  • Have you received any communications regarding working arrangements in 2021 (i.e., work-from-home, flexible arrangements, work schedule)?

Your answers to these questions will further help you to shape your goals. For instance, if based on your contributions and results this year you want to ask for a raise, you need to understand how likely that is. Your biggest cues will come from actions your organization has already taken—such as layoffs, suspended hiring, or program rollbacks—as well as any communications that have been sent to you.

After taking the time to set your own goals and consider how your organization has been responding to the pandemic, you are ready to approach your manager with your ask.

Asking for more responsibility

Asking for more responsibility can feel a lot easier than asking for more money. However, you still need to be prepared to make your case based on how well you have honored your basic responsibilities (e.g. those that would be listed in the job description for your role), and how you have gone above and beyond.

There is a certain amount of flexibility in asking your manager for more responsibility—it all depends on what you want. For example, if you find yourself finishing your basic responsibilities quickly and have time to spare, you can simply let your manager know you have the time to commit to more.

If, however, you want to be eligible for a big promotion, then approach your manager more strategically. Let them know that you want to be promoted. To support your ask, remind them of what you have accomplished in your role, as well as noting how you have gone above and beyond your role to contribute at work.

Asking for a raise

When it comes to asking for a raise, approach your manager much in the same way you would if you were preparing your candidacy for a promotion. The biggest difference with a raise, however, is that you need to temper your expectations before walking into your manager’s office.

Asking for a raise can be uncomfortable, but this year it can feel downright awkward. If you believe your contributions deserve a raise, you can absolutely ask for one—but only after you have done your homework. Your homework entails answering the above-mentioned questions. You want to pay attention to how your organization’s financial situation may have changed in 2020 and how that has affected their forecast for 2021.

If, for example, your organization’s fortunes have significantly changed for the worse, approach your manager with realistic expectations. When you make your case to them, you may even want to say something like, “I know that last year was difficult for our organization, but here is why I’m asking for an X% raise.” By being proactive and acknowledging the proverbial elephant in the room, your manager will appreciate that you see the challenges but that you also brought clear value to the table.

Asking for a promotion

And what if you want both more responsibility and more money—also known as a promotion? In this case, your approach will be similar to asking for a raise. You will need to come prepared with clear evidence of your effectiveness in your current position.

Perhaps your organization has a clear hierarchy or pay grade system. In this case, you may easily be able to access the core competencies of each job grade and demonstrate how you’ve been going above and beyond in your current position.

If you work at a smaller organization or one with a flat hierarchy, the path to a promotion may not be so clear cut. But you could, for example, express your desire to manage a project or team (or at least a few interns!) and have a title bump to more accurately reflect your new responsibilities—this could be something like moving from an “Associate” to “Senior Associate” position.

Stay front of mind

There is a chance that your manager is convinced by your case, but cannot commit to promoting you or raising your salary until later in the year. This may be disappointing, but keep in mind that this isn’t a sly brush-off—it’s just the nature of the times we live in. Your task, then, is to follow up with respect and consideration so that when your organization is ready, you’re the first person who comes to mind.


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By Nisha Kumar Kulkarni - Idealist Careers
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