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Want to Advance in Your Career? Start by Asking for What You Want

If you're formulating a career advancement strategy, you may want to heed some advice from Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evens, authors of Love It—Don't Leave It: 26 Ways to Get What You Want at Work. “Ask and you may receive.” Many people don't speak up, write Kay and Jordan-Evans. They expect their bosses to read their minds. However, as the authors point out, “If you don't ask, you're less likely to get what you want.”

Those who are solid performers, say the authors, will find that “your managers want to know what will keep you engaged (satisfied, productive) and on the team. They don't want to lose you, physically or psychologically.”

Kaye and Jordan-Evans offer a three-step strategy for career advancement:

Step #1: Be crystal-clear about what you want. If you're dissatisfied with your job, ask yourself the following questions. Your answers will help you clarify what you really want:

  • What about my job makes me jump out of bed in the morning?
  • What makes me hit the snooze button?
  • If I were to win the lottery and resign, what would I miss the most?
  • What would be the one change in my current role that would make me want to stay for a long time?
  • If I had a magic wand, what would be the one thing I would change about my department or team?
  • If I had to go back to a position in my past and stay for an extended period of time, which one would it be and why?

Step #2: Consider who, when, and how you'll ask. Identify the advice givers and decision makers who possess the information you need to pursue your goal. When approaching them, consider which method would be most appropriate:

  • Should you request the conversation by e-mail, telephone, or face-to-face?
  • Is it best to meet early in the morning or over lunch? Monday, or later in the week?
  • You also need to consider how you will initiate the conversation. Should you thank the person for his time and say you have a request or get to the point and then ask for advice or feedback?

Step #3: Identify the barriers—then bulldoze them. Barriers come in all shapes and sizes. Kaye and Jordan-Evans list some common ones:

  • Fear. It may help to remember that a “no” is not life threatening. So why not ask?
  • Your boss's (or other decision makers') mindsets, constraints, or concerns. While it's true that these individuals may be bound by rules, policies, guidelines, and cultural norms, you may be able to present your request in a way that overcomes the problem. All you need to do is to anticipate the potential barriers to your request.
  • Lack of WIIFT (what's in it for them.) “Before approaching your request granter,” say Kaye and Jordan-Evans, ask yourself, ‘Why should this person want to grant my request?'” Find the WIIFT and you'll increase the odds of getting a"yes."

Worst scenario: the answer is “no.” Listen to the reasons for the no, then:

  • Ask again (in a different way or at a different time).
  • Ask how you can make it work (brainstorm possibilities).
  • Ask someone else who can help with your request.
  • Ask what is possible and when.
  • Don't give up. “The best advice I ever got was from a salesman,” says Kaye. “He said that every ‘no' he received got him closer to the inevitable ‘yes.'”

Excerpted, with permission, from Love It, Don't Leave It: 26 Ways to Get What You Want at Work, by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans (Berrett-Koehler, 2003). For more information, visit www.LoveItDontLeaveIt.com