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4 steps to help get ahead in your career

Ready to move ahead at work but not sure how to start the conversation with your boss? These simple tips can help you think through your achievements and goals, then initiate the discussion.

Asking for a promotion, raise or career advancement can be one of the most uncomfortable conversations to have with your boss. Many people don't know how to start the discussion. Use these four steps to help prepare for your own meeting.

1. Know yourself.

Before you meet with your boss, give yourself a personal review. Be completely honest with yourself regarding your contributions to date.

"Write down all the ways the company has benefited both directly (think dollars earned and saved) and indirectly (innovative approaches you've introduced)," says Roy Cohen, a career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide (FT Press, June 2010). "This way, when your boss asks 'Why you?' you'll be equipped with a defensible strategy."

2. Plan your presentation.

Prepare a script that sketches out exactly what you want to say and what you hope to achieve. "Don't open your conversation with 'When am I going to get a raise?'" suggests Mary Hunt, a personal money manager and author of 7 Money Rules for Life: How to Take Control of Your Financial Future (Revell, January 2012).

Instead, acknowledge the reasons why the time is right for you, referencing your prepared list of accomplishments.

3. Come prepared with alternatives.

Career advancement isn't just about a higher salary; savvy employers offer other perks as well. If your boss tells you that a pay raise just isn't on the table, be prepared to discuss other proposals, suggests Cohen.

For example, you might ask for:

  • Equity ownership (stock or stock options)
  • A transportation allowance
  • A flexible work schedule or telecommuting
  • Additional vacation days
  • Reimbursement to attend classes or industry-focused conferences

"By attending a conference, your company gets a business write-off and you get smarter and more valuable to the company," he says, which is a benefit both to you and your boss.

4. Be appreciative.

The way you approach the conversation is key: Go into the meeting with a heart of gratitude. "These days, if you're getting a paycheck, you have something to be grateful for," Hunt says. "If you walk in with that attitude, it takes the hard edge off."

Fast Fact: In an interview with National Public Radio in February 2011, Carnegie Mellon University economist Linda Babcock said: "I tell my graduate students that by not negotiating their job at the beginning of their career, they're leaving anywhere between $1 million and $1.5 million on the table in lost earnings over their lifetime."


Roy Cohen is not affiliated with the Principal Financial Group or any of its member companies.

Carnegie Mellon University and Linda Babcock are not affiliated with the Principal Financial Group or any of its member companies.

Mary Hunt is not affiliated with the Principal Financial Group or any of its member companies.

Insurance products and plan administrative services are provided by Principal Life Insurance Company. Securities are offered through Princor Financial Services Corporation, 1-800-547-7754, member SIPC and/or independent broker dealers. Securities sold by a Princor® Registered Representative are offered through Princor. Princor and Principal Life are members of the Principal Financial Group® (The Principal®), Des Moines, IA 50392.

While this communication may be used to promote or market a transaction or an idea that is discussed in the publication, it is intended to provide general information about the subject matter covered and is provided with the understanding that none of the member companies of The Principal are rendering legal, accounting, or tax advice. It is not a marketed opinion and may not be used to avoid penalties under the Internal Revenue Code. You should consult with appropriate counsel or other advisors on all matters pertaining to legal, tax, or accounting obligations and requirements.


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