The super secret key to success: Ask!

38 thoughts on “The super secret key to success: Ask!”

  1. Very good summary, starting with the very good point that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, or the job as the case may be. I might add one thing to it. If you really want to move high, go wide not deep. That levels not for everyone, but if that is the goal most upper level management folks are looking for a breadth of experience over experts in a specific widget.

    1. That’s very true, FTF. Very specific knowledge is good for very specific kinds of jobs. Management, very often, needs folks who are widely experienced in most areas of business. 🙂

  2. Great advice, Steve. What I struggle with the most is trying to make everything perfect, which leads to a fear of failure. Sometimes I have to kick my subconscious in the ass and just dive right in so I’m not paralyzed when a situation isn’t perfect. Showing what you bring to the table and asking what you want is key in any walk of life. If you’re a great guy but are too afraid to ask a girl out, then she’s not just going to magically come to you.

  3. Hard work is easy advice to give, that’s why everyone says it! 🙂

    The reality is that you need to make your own way. Every construct that exists was made by people and can be broken by people just as easily. If you were going to be poached by another company, would your boss say “sorry, we can’t do anything to try to keep you, this is outside our ‘poaching from another company schedule’? so bye” — no.

    Of course not.

    1. Ha! Good point, Jim. The fact is people, just like most organizations, can do whatever the hell they want to do. Policies be damned. If something is valuable enough, they will find a way to make it happen. 🙂

  4. I’ve always been intrigued by how many people claim to WANT success and how few people ACT on that desire. Success is elusive enough, at times, even if you’re busting your butt and making it known to everyone who matters that you want that raise, promotion, etc. Waiting around for good things to happen doesn’t work, but that’s what many people do.

    I have to agree with you about the managerial life, Steve. Much like you what you described, I moved into a similar position but didn’t really have the opportunity to do much leading. I was constantly told to take initiative, yet my supervisor complained that I was overstepping when I did so. Pushing paper was by far the worst aspect of that job. But I’m glad I had the experience because it helped me redefine the paradigm of success I had shaped for myself.

    1. I agree with Superero here about pushing paper in the job he was in (and I am currently in). Moving into administration was one of the best and worst things I could have done. I was “tapped” to be put into an administrative coursework program and gladly took it and ran with it. I am a strong leader in some ways – but not in others. But I never would have known it if I just kept teaching for 32 years. I also doubt I ever would have considered retiring early without the move into administration, so there’s definitely an upside to that decision too!

      1. Amen to that, Vicki. I think my move helped push me towards early retirement as well. And I think that’s one of the morals of the story about corporate America – the more you move around and try new things, the more experienced you get and understand what is truly important to you.

    2. “But I’m glad I had the experience because it helped me redefine the paradigm of success I had shaped for myself.” – Absolutely spot on. It did much the same for me as well. I didn’t like the job, but it definitely taught me a great deal about working in corporate America from the other side.

      Sometimes, it’s better to DO the work than to MANAGE it.

  5. Great post! I agree, I’ve always found it best to be transparent about what I want and why I deserve it, especially with a boss whose trust I’ve earned. However, I do have a caveat. In some organizations, there is a distinct culture that must be understood and managed to a certain degree. I’m in a large organization with a distinct culture, and there are cultural realities to deal with at every level, from leadership on down. There can be a competition for personnel and resources that you’re not even aware of until much later on in the game (and you might be a pawn in that game). It’s not always cutthroat, it’s just the way it is. What I’ve learned is that when my boss is behind me and the winds are favorable, I push hard. When my boss is lukewarm and the winds are not favorable, I bide my time. Good topic to think about .. –R

    1. That’s smart, Rich. There are definitely wrong ways to go about this, and understanding your organization and how it operates is the key to getting what you want. It is amazing how much goes on above your level…things you have no idea are happening until you’re there. I found that out, too, when I served as the Director. It’s definitely something that I never want to experience again!

  6. I’ve asked and I haven’t received, though there is one in the makings for me in April. We will see how it goes. With more money, comes more responsibility. At this point, I want to explore opportunities outside of the work place – leveraging my paycheck and time to build platforms and passive income on the side! Exciting times we live in… W2’s aren’t for everyone!

    1. Ah – “Ws aren’t for everyone” – love it! And I agree, they aren’t. I think you hit the nail on the head about knowing what you want. More money often does come with more responsibility. But, when people focus solely on the money, bad things happen…and quickly.

  7. ThinkSaveRetire,
    What about working for school districts? That’s where I’m at. I find your philosophy still sort of applies. If not exactly “asking” for your promotions, then seeking out ways to get those promotions WITHOUT asking. For example, there are all sorts of hidden programs that will pay you for getting your masters, running some races during the year, coaching, etc. And no one can say no to these “requests” for raises! Booyah!

    1. I certainly can’t speak for *every* industry. Ultimately, understanding your organization/industry will be your best tool to getting where you want to go. I can definitely see how those kinds of school opportunities can lead to bigger and better things. 🙂

  8. I was a great producer who was asked to join management. A mentor told me, “Never give up your book.” To this day I enjoy client work more than the endless meetings, performance reviews, and political crap involved in senior management. Mind numbing is being kind.

    I would only add, also be very careful when you’re asked too!

    Great stuff.

  9. This is an area I struggle with. I feel weird and awkward when I think about asking for a raise or a promotion. I’m pretty sure that this has cost me over the years. I need to get over myself and play the game the way it is meant to be played.

    1. A LOT of people have that same apprehension, Mrs. BITA. People undersell and undervalue themselves all the time. It definitely takes some time (and practice) to master, but once you do, it immediately gets easier.

  10. Really good advice. One of the common traits I’ve seen among “successful” people (as measured by traditional career track-type measures, which aren’t quite what I would call “success” but are helpful for accelerating the path to FIRE) is self-advocacy. I asked for a raise once, and I went big — practically asking for my salary to be doubled. It wasn’t particularly well timed, it took months of negotiating and building my case, and I didn’t end up getting nearly what I asked for, but it did get me a raise and more recognition for my contributions. Well worth the effort. You’re right that you might not always like the end state, but then you can always make another change.

    1. Nice, Matt! Go big or go home, I guess. You chose to go big. And like you said, getting *something*, even if it wasn’t exactly what you asked for, is definitely better than nothing. 🙂

  11. I’ve never asked for a raise while at a job (not a long enough history), but I’ve done tough negotiations while accepting positions. I’m a woman, so I’m hyper-sensitive to the pay gap issue, so I fight for my pay.
    I’ve been undercut twice and completely walked away from the deal. The companies came back with higher offers each time. Sometimes you have to play hard ball and follow through with consequences if you can’t get what you want.

    1. That’s perfect, Mrs. Picky Pincher. Be prepared to walk away. And like you’ve noticed, negotiating a bigger salary going in is your very best tool to making a ton of money. Counting on raises doesn’t work quite as well as going in with a bigger salary. Get it from the beginning! 🙂

  12. Great in theory Steve – hard to implement in real life. At some jobs, I’ve asked for both promotions AND raises and never received any, despite asking. It’s not like I was a slacker either. It just depends upon your manager, and the environment your business operates in. Sometimes businesses literally don’t have extra money for raises and promotions.

    It’s also worth mentioning potential negative repercussions for asking for raises. I was literally fired once for asking for a raise. This was after getting promoted two years in a row. Ask for a raise, and then boom… fired a week later for no discernable reason.

    It does happen.

  13. Great article and one I certainly relate with. The old me constantly wanted to be given the slap on the back as the guy that gets it done. I use to feed off of that type of recognition (along with the increase in pay). However, that all changed for me after I lost 2 children over an 18 month time frame. That was in 2004 and 2006 and over the last 10 years I’ve hit rock bottom and have bounced back with a new outlook. Corporate BS is just that, BS.

    I am currently in a corporate job and have turned down many opportunities to “move up the ladder” or on to other organizations for larger roles. I have a completely different perspective on what is important in life now. I do my job, but I don’t kill myself and I don’t take it home with me. But I do just enough to still be an important player in the organization. I have since written a book for grieving dads (Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back) that has made its way into the hands of the men who need it around the world. I hear from men everyday trying to survive the aftermath of losing child and I received a sense of purpose through my work with grieving dads.

    There was a time I wasn’t sure if I was going to survive the losses. It brought me to my knees for several years. I made a commitment at that time that if I survived it, I was going to work towards living a life compassion and being free and clear. I never want to feel owned or in a position that I can’t take time to weather a shit storm when they hit, believe me, they will. I am proud to say, I will be free and clear at the end of this year. I will be able to walk away from the corporate paper pushing job and pursue something much more rewarding that allows for freedom.

    Thanks for the article.

    1. It’s funny how our perspectives change, isn’t it? And I’m totally with you in regards to moving up the ladder. Been there, done that. It ain’t as fun as it sounds. It does depend on the organization that you’re at, but “at the end of the day”, management is management. You gotta be cut out for that stuff. I’m definitely not.

      “I never want to feel owned or in a position that I can’t take time to weather a shit storm when they hit…”

      Well said, my friend. Well said.

  14. Great post, Steve. I once approached the President of our North American business and asked to be consider for a Plant Manager role which had opened up. I was in Sales at the time (NOT the normal place they’d pull somebody from to run a plant!).

    I got the job.

    My career took off.

    The rest is history.


    1. Thanks Fritz! It’s funny how powerful just asking for something can be. If you express interest in something bigger and better, MOST people respect that sort of thing. 🙂

  15. Raises, I haven’t succesfully negotiated. But I’ve generally done alright at positioning myself for promotions. Success requires both hard work and good fortune. I have experienced both fortunately, but could as easily have worked as hard and not gotten the same lucky breaks. Working for good leaders makes a difference!

    1. Hi Sarah – I definitely agree that working for good leaders makes a huge difference. Fortunately, I’ve worked for more good leaders throughout my career than I have bad. 🙂

  16. Gotta love corporate America! I truly believe that there is a way around most things. I have heard so many stories about people interviewing for jobs they weren’t qualified for but getting them based on personality, raw talent, or persistence. It truly does pay!! Hmmm….which now that I think of it, perhaps it will come in handy to just ask about a little idea I have. Lately I have been talking to a lot fo new hires about money – they are absolutely clueless about our 401k options, ESPP, and other retirement benefits. I have an idea to come up with a class for new hires to attend as they go through training. Maybe a one or two hour more in depth overview. I have been talking myself out of it because I don’t have a background in finance, or any education really, but perhaps I should just put it out there and see what happens? What’s the worst they can say?

    1. Good on you, Miss Mazuma! I think that’s definitely a worthy proposition. You’re right, most people don’t really understand that stuff beyond simple “retirement savings”. I’d say explore your idea and flush it out (if you haven’t already) and see where you might be able to provide that value. You just never know!

  17. We can definitely relate to the “be careful what you wish for” statement. A few years ago my wife advanced in her job to become a supervisor. She loved the work but soon became fed up with dealing with the daily drama of her employees. It really started to consume her to the point of switching jobs to get out of the supervision role. I hate to say never but I am confident to say she will never do that again. Great post.

    1. Thanks Defined Sight. Your wife experienced what I experienced. It was fun at the beginning because it was new and exciting, but once the routine set in, so did the monotony. Management definitely isn’t for me.

  18. Performance reviews are simply checking a box for all parties involved. So true…so true. My organization takes it a step further and has HR conduct discussions with all teams (management is not present for these discussions), to obtain feedback on what management can do better. I try to be optimistic that positive change will come about, and I give my honest feedback, but it really is just lip-service. I’ve been through enough of these cycles to know that nothing really changes, and unfortunately, there’s a better chance that what you say will be used against you than it will be used to make things better.

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