BD career month: How to ask for a promotion and pay rise

As seen in BD’s recent article about handling tricky situations at work, successfully navigating a career can be complicated. And for some, there’s nothing more anxiety-inducing than the thought of having to ask higher-ups for a promotion or pay rise.

But if you want to move forward in your company or field, sometimes it’s the best thing you can do for yourself. That’s why BD spoke with two HR experts, who both outlined the process from beginning to end, including all the best tricks of the trade.


First thing’s first – it’s imperative to get the timing right. Our first source, Brooks Brothers HR business partner, Victoria Wilk, said most businesses conduct an annual review and/or a mid-year quarterly process, both of which could present the perfect opportunity to discuss any issues or bring up requests.

On the other hand, she said it’s important to note that “while businesses will tell you they only do pay increases/promotions at set times in the year, there’s always scope to work outside of these parameters. So don’t be deterred by approaching it outside of these defined times if you feel it is justified to ask.”

However, if you do bypass traditional processes, Wilk said not to blindeside your manager or suddenly dump the request on them. Instead, you should request a formal meeting, stating your agenda to discuss your career/salary, as this leads to no surprises and gives both parties time to prepare.

As crucial as many areas are in the review process, our respondents believe that before anything, you need to consistently meet (and preferably exceed) set expectations.

“Start working on bringing your A-game daily” Wilk said. “It is important that not only your manager can see you are delivering, but your peers too. Start to get friendly with your manager and make sure that they are aware of your achievements in regular catch ups. The sure-fire way to secure a pay increase or promotion is to make yourself indispensable and an asset to the business. And the moment is now to put in some good-old fashioned elbow grease.”

Behind the scenes, Wilk revealed some of the aspects companies consider when reviewing performance: Whether you have had any notable performance issues, if set tasks/goals have been achieved or exceeded, whether you align with the culture and company ethos, and if you have demonstrated a time where you went above and beyond for the business.

According to our sources, preparation is another absolute must. From memorising your achievements to knowing how much you contribute to the business, you can never be too prepared.

Our second HR expert, who has been kept anonymous, stressed that you should always review your achievements and accomplishments and what you have contributed within the role, adding that: “It’s important to review the responsibilities when you started the current role and what the salary was, and be able to explain how your role and responsibilities have expanded in this time.”

Wilk agreed, but noted it’s also beneficial to look at the bigger picture, rather than making your request too personal. Additionally, she said considering the organisation structure always helps, as it can establish whether the business actually has the capacity to promote you.

“Are they looking at expanding the business? Do they have a vacancy of interest? Have you seen people in other areas get promoted? Even if you haven’t seen these things occurring, it’s still worth broaching the question. However, have realistic expectations when it comes to the response.”

Both of our respondents emphasised the importance of knowing your net worth and the market rate for your role. Wilk said there are plenty of ways to go about this, including online salary comparison tools, speaking to recruiters, registering with an agency, looking at job boards, or even (cautiously and considerately) approaching friends who are in similar positions.


What to do
You’ve done all the research, preparing yourself inside and out in every way possible, but our experts advise that this alone won’t get you over the finish line. Now, you need to successfully put theory into practice, demonstrating that you deserve what you’re asking for.

Our anonymous source said that speaking confidently is part of that process, as is remaining professional, honest, positive, factual and respectful about the role and the company.

Meanwhile, Wilk recommended treating pay/promotion reviews like a job interview, but with an “essence of familiarity”, saying that business professional confidence and awareness of self-worth are essential, alongside a degree of assertiveness.

“Let the business representative drive the meeting, but do not be afraid to have the confidence to steer it back to your goals if the meeting gets off track,” she said. “Be aware of your body language and posture, hold yourself confidently and maintain eye contact.”

Finally, Wilk suggested making sure you have been able to fully explain your reasons for deserving the promotion/pay increase, without fully dominating the meeting. Listen to what your manager has to say, too, as “people can be so focused on what they have to say that they can fail to hear what the business is saying during the meeting.”

What not to do
“During the meeting, avoid making it all about you and avoid phrases such as ‘I want, I need, I should’ and consider pitching how happy you are at the business, and your personal achievements then lead the conversation to discussions regarding pay/promotions,” Wilk said.

Other behaviours that our experts frown upon include bringing up what you think your colleagues are being paid, aggression and threatening language, with Wilk adding that “nobody wants to feel pushed into a corner.” After all, these things can deliver the complete opposite in gaining support from managers.

“Threats to leave also don’t tend to bide well with companies, and more often than not they may call your bluff,” she said. “Only threaten to leave if you definitely will see it through. One threat can be very detrimental to your future career, as the business may consider you a flight risk and not suitable for future opportunities."


If your request is denied, it’s not always the be-all and end-all, depending on your circumstances. However, if the promotion or pay rise is an absolute deal breaker for you, according to Wilk, you may need to start looking for alternative employment. This is because it can be hard to shift the feeling that you are worth more, and sometimes “the only option is to completely jump ship.”

Meanwhile, our anonymous expert recommended asking for feedback as to why your request was denied, as this may help you improve in certain areas.

“Ask for an understanding on how best to achieve the salary expectation that was requested,” they said. “Seek honest feedback on skill/development gap, budgetary limitation or others. This will allow you to better understand the current situation for your current and long-term goals.”

Don’t lose hope
Overcoming rejection may seem impossible, but Wilk believes if you remain working at the same business, shifting that feeling of resentment is essential for “continued fruitful employment” (for both you and your employer).

“Set up a meeting with your manager to establish new goals,” she said, explaining that post-rejection is actually an excellent time to create and redefine business goals, giving you something to strive for. “Aim for goals which will help you get closer to the desired outcome, and alongside these, try to get a commitment that if you deliver upon these goals you will have another review or even a defined pay increase/promotion.”