Career Going Nowhere? Ask for What You Want

Do you keep repeating the same old lines about your career?

“I work hard but I’m going nowhere. I want to: 

  • Earn more money
  • Be promoted
  • Get interesting assignments
  • Work somewhere else.” 

Who are you actually saying this to? Yourself, close friends, coworkers, and even strangers at a party (how sad is that?). Is it helping? My guess is, “no.” 

Exactly what do you want, anyhow? 

We have an easier time saying what we don’t want than what we do. 

At work, no one is assigned to read our minds. (Where’s Johnny Carson’s Carnac when we need him?) 

We’ve likely spent little or no time thinking, planning, or positioning ourselves to be considered for real opportunities. On top of that, we haven’t told anyone specifically what we want or asked for help. 

Now what? 

We have to plan our own course: That includes making decisions and acting on them, being fully invested in outcomes, and not being afraid. 

Start with these steps which aren’t as easy as they sound: 

  • Decide on the kind of work you want to do and where
  • Find out the salary growth potential of that work
  • Understand the progression line of jobs that you’ll need to follow
  • Look at growth opportunities over the next 5 years
  • Commit to developing your knowledge, skills, and experience 

This is the front work that hardly anyone does. 

Be decisive. Commit to a specific career path for the next 5 years, even though what you want may come sooner or a little later. Follow your plan, capitalizing on opportunities and learning everything you can.  

Now, ask for what you want! 

“Asking” makes what you say you want real. That scares some people.   

It also means meeting face-to-face with the people who can help you, saying the words, and committing to a course of action. You’re now entering into a unique kind of partnership. 

Your first “asking” conversation would likely be with your boss or an influential colleague and should be big picture focused like this: 

“I want to grow in my career and be recognized for my contributions. I’m committed to doing the work that’s necessary. I specifically want to position myself for opportunities (like______) and am looking for guidance/support/mentoring (depending on whom you’re talking to) from you. Would you be willing?” (The follow up ask: “If not, can you suggest someone else?”) 

As things start to unfold, you’ll want to have targeted “asking” conversations with your boss and others like these: 

1. “I would like to create more stretch goals for myself this year so that I can continue to demonstrate my value. I would appreciate your input/support on these 4 new goals.” 

2. “During the year I took on additional duties outside my job description which was a cost-savings to the department. I would like to be considered for a raise and/or an exceptional contribution award for that work. Is that feasible?” (The follow up ask:” If not, what will it take to get a salary increase?”)

3. “I would like to be considered for an XYZ position when a vacancy opens up. What additional knowledge/skills/experiences should I work on to make me the strongest candidate. Would you be willing to give me routine feedback?” 

4. “I’ve always wanted to participate in the development of a new product launch. I see that the company will be forming a team this summer. Would you be willing to appoint/recommend me?” 

Asking is the first step: Reminding (not nagging) is the next. We need to keep our wants and expectations visible and in the right context. 

Remember, it’s your career 

We don’t always get what we ask for, but that doesn’t mean we give up. However, if things don’t progress according to our timetables, we may need a change of venue! 

It never hurts to ask. The worst that can happen is that someone says “no,” an important bit of information for your on-going decision making. 

How about taking a fresh look at the direction of your career? Then ask specifically for something you want. You might actually hear “yes”!

11 thoughts on “Career Going Nowhere? Ask for What You Want

  1. Dawn,
    Fabulous suggestions for how to ask for what you want. Aside from a generalized fear that people can have about asking for what they want, I also think they don’t know how to do it. You gave some great templates. Cherry

    • Thanks, Cherry! You’re right. Fear is a crippler. When we know how to phrase things, the conversation doesn’t have to feel uncomfortable or intimidating. Glad you liked the sample scripts! I hope they’ll net a lot of positives for folks who try them out! ~Dawn

    • I couldn’t agree with you more. Asking gives someone else an opportunity to help you and the company too. We should first assume that the person we’re asking wants to help rather than expecting to be rebuffed. Great perspective. Thanks for adding it! ~Dawn

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  3. Dawn –

    Unfortunately, most of us don’t realize we’ve already told ourselves no, loudly and clearly, by not asking. Interesting. We’ll accept an internal “100% no” with no chance of ever getting to a yes, without question or fear. But ask us to verbalize things, and risk a 50% chance we’ll hear no, we freeze. We lose sight of the 50% chance there could be a yes.

    Great post, solid examples of how to ask and a marvelous reminder of what I tell clients every day: “If you don’t tell them; they won’t know.” Thanks for sharing!

    • Dawn–This comment is just too good! I LOVE these two lines: “We’ll accept an internal “100% no” with no chance of ever getting to a yes,” and “We lose sight of the 50% chance there could be a yes.” That’s it in a nutshell! It’s the same when we’re job hunting too. I have a client desparating looking for a job for months. I kept asking, “Have you contacted key people who knew you in your last job?” He says, “No, I feel too embarrassed to ask them for help.” Well, what you get when you don’t ask is NOTHING! Once he overcame that, Voila!

      Thanks, Dawn, for a fabulous comment and for being out there pressing home the same message. I know we’re getting some to listen. I just want there to be more! ~Dawn

  4. Hi Dawn,
    I love how you really described this as a process, as a long term investment in self kind of a thing. It does seem to be true that the things we really want in life are things we kind of have to work for – make a large investment of time and energy into. Thanks for the post!

    • Thanks for your comment, Miriam. Yes, the things that are worth having require us to put forth the effort. But we have an opportunity to give each other a lift. We don’t know who needs one and what kind unless they let us know. That’s where the asking comes in. However,if we don’t know what we really want, we have a hard time asking and then committing to the work that needs to be done. It’s all about us taking responsibility for our own lives. ~Dawn

  5. Dawn, really valuable advice here, and loved the solid examples of how to make this happen. You covered several life principles that just plan work, such as “Ask, and you WILL receive!” Thanks for your post!

    • Athena, thanks for the wonderful affirmations. They mean a lot coming from you! Sometimes the simplest actions are most difficult to do. Asking is one…saying “thank you” another…and saying “I’m sorry” a big one! So kind of you to comment! ~Dawn

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