How to ask for what you want at work

At some point in your career, you’ll need to advocate for yourself.

Whether you’re negotiating a job offer, seeking a promotion or different job responsibilities, you need to understand and articulate the skills, talents and experience you possess that add value to your organization. You should be clear about what you want and the value you bring that justifies your request.

While this approach seems logical in an effort to move to the next level in your career, it’s difficult for most people, especially women. For example, 49 percent of Americans (and more women than men) never ask for more than is proposed, despite the fact that 79 percent of employers expect to negotiate.      

The reason for these statistics is rooted in cultural conditioning that suggests you downplay what you do well, supposedly to keep you from appearing arrogant and self-centered. However, keeping a lid on your best traits can backfire by blurring or diminishing in your own mind the strengths and abilities you offer. In addition to a tendency to bend to cultural norms, your mindset can also factor into whether or not you ask for what you want.

Research shows that if you feel in control of your life and believe you can make things happen (as opposed to believing that others control your circumstances), you are more likely to ask for what you want, and, therefore, influence the outcome. But if you think your fate is in someone else’s hands, you may not even imagine there are options other than those presented to you.

Begin to shift your behavior, and ultimately the outcome, by focusing on what you really want; resist assumptions that are based in fear or limiting beliefs—they’ll keep you from realizing new possibilities. Once you are clear about your desires, you can create a goal and the steps to achieve them.

Your goals may require you to request something from your employer or to negotiate a job offer. To ensure the outcome you want, be prepared to put your best self forward confidently in the following ways:

Prepare and articulate a clear and concise statement of your skills and at least two examples when you’ve demonstrated each one.

Create a complete and effective Linkedin profile that conveys your professional value and expertise in the marketplace. This important social media channel is the one that 97 percent of hiring managers turn to first.

Craft a resume and customized cover letter that show impact and relevance to the desired position. Don’t just identify the tasks you’ve completed in past positions.

1. If it’s been years since you’ve conducted a job search, or if you’ve never successfully asked for what you want at work, consider meeting with an experienced career counselor to bring you up-to-date on an effective strategy.

2. If your goal is to ask for a raise or negotiate an offer, consider two important factors: what the marketplace is paying for similar positions and the value you bring or will bring to the organization based on your relevant experience and demonstrated competencies.

3. To determine what the marketplace pays, you’ll need to do research online (—click on the “jobs” tab, and Search by position and location to see a median salary range. Then you’ll have a base from which to negotiate.

4. Next, carefully review the job description and highlight the requirements and job responsibilities. Write examples of several instances when you demonstrated each requirement and times when you had similar responsibilities.

5. Come up with a counteroffer that you can justify from your research and experience.

6. While it is rare that an employer will rescind an offer, I know of an instance when a person (not my client) asked for $20K more than what was offered. This request was way out of line with the marketplace data and the prospective employer knew this and withdrew the offer. Never let greed, or how much you need to pay your mortgage, influence your negotiation.

7. With your salary request in mind, arrange a meeting to review the offer. Express appreciation for the offer before you present your counteroffer.

8. Keep in mind that vacation time, a flexible work schedule, additional time without pay, professional development support, 401K contributions and health benefits can all be part of your negotiation.

9. When you take time to prepare before you ask, you’ll increase your self-confidence as well as create a win-win result for you and your employer.

Barbara Babkirk is a Master Career Counselor and owner of Heart At Work Associates, a career counseling and outplacement firm in Portland. For more info: and


Maybe you’ve been floating around your own business idea for years. Or maybe you’re rightly inspired by the women you’re reading about in the pages of Maine Women Magazine (we sure are). If you’re interested in starting your own business or growing a business that already exists, there are plenty of resources in Maine to help you get going (or keep going).

Here are few:

Women’s Business Center
The Women’s Business Center at Coastal Enterprises Inc. offers business counseling, workshops and events for women in business, whether you’re just starting out or expanding. The Women’s Business Center also has an Entrepreneur in Residence Program to connect women business owners with experienced entrepreneurs in their field. It has southern Maine and rural Maine programs. For more information:

New Ventures Maine
Formerly known as Maine Centers for Women, Work, and Community, New Ventures Maine helps new and experienced business owners find resources, develop business plans and grow businesses through one-on-one coaching and free classes and workshops. There are locations in central, midcoast, southern, western and northern Maine. For more information:

With chapters around the state (including Augusta, Auburn, Portland, Bangor, South Paris and Ellsworth) SCORE boasts a host of workshops, events and business mentors to help with all aspects of business-building. It’s free to meet with a mentor and most of the workshops also are free or low cost. For more information:

Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development
The Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development provides an array of resources, including mentoring, workshops (Lunch and Learn and Table Talk, which are open to the public), and the Top Gun Prep program (a statewide online course). Top Gun Track is a 5-month-long program that combines mentoring and weekly gatherings. For more information:

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