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The Riley Guide

Writing Proposals

You've been rolling along at your job for a while, picking up experience, winning over colleagues and building your reputation as a trustworthy employee - but what happens when you think you're ready to move up the ladder? Promotions don't usually come your way all on their own - even if a position for which you're qualified has opened up, you'll likely have to ask for it at least, and possible even argue for your eligibility. This negotiation process doesn't have to be stressful, though, provided you've done your homework and can present your case clearly. Here's how to get started.

Requesting a Raise or Promotion

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Salary negotiations can be tricky - and they can seem even trickier once you're already settled into the groove with a long-term employer. But if you've got a solid record with the company, a list of concrete accomplishments and an established expertise, you may have more leverage than you think for requesting a higher position or salary.

Start laying the groundwork now by volunteering for projects, putting in extra hours, and making your value clear to your employer in any other ways that make sense. You can also bolster your position by gathering backup from colleagues who agree that your proposal is a good idea - and the higher up in the hierarchy those colleagues are, the more their opinions will count. Keep an eye on your timing, too: Your request stands a better chance of success if you bring it up during a good earnings quarter or at the completion of a profitable project.

Although it's important to present your proposal with confidence, it'll hurt your case if you come off as cocky - so take time to do some research on the salaries other professionals in your field are getting for positions like the one you want (a great place to start is the website of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic, BLS.gov) and what their job duties are. Also, be sure to contextualize your proposal in terms of the company's current needs and goals. Your boss probably has years of practice at dealing with raise and promotion requests, and will be able to tell if you've taken the time to research and consider these factors.

Though it's important to present your proposal with confidence, too much cockiness can hurt your case...

Once you actually open the negotiation, the key is to be specific about what you're asking for. As a publication editor recalls in this article, "I sat down with my boss to talk about how to get a promotion, but I never sat down and said, 'Give me the exact dollar amount.' He was offered about $4,000 more but was hoping for $10,000 because he would be a supervisor." Even if you're more interested in a new position than in a sizeable raise, you'll boost your chances if you can lay out the details of the position you want (whether it already exists within the company or not), explain how your skillset and experience are ideally suited for it, and emphasize your proven loyalty to the employer.

Propose a New Position

Ideally, you'll walk into your promotion negotiation with a prepared proposal of your new job duties - but if you don't, your boss is likely to ask for one, verbally and/or in writing. This is actually a chance to strengthen your case, as long as you play your cards right. If you can clearly demonstrate that you'll be more useful to the company in the position you're proposing, then your boss will have a responsibility to seriously consider the idea.

As with any employer negotiation, you'll be doing yourself a favor by delving into the company's current needs and financial situation, and framing your proposal in financial terms. Though you may not have access to your employer's actual balance sheets, you can still put together some reasonable estimates based on typical salaries and time investments. For example, if you're proposing a position as a liaison between two departments or offices, estimate how much money is lost due to poor communication between them. If you're proposing an administrative position, estimate how much could be saved if high-level executives didn't have to spend time on certain admin tasks.

It's helpful to include a clear transition plan in your proposal for a new position...

It'll also be helpful to include a clear transition plan - who'll take over your current role, which of your current duties can be folded into your new role, when's the most practical time to make the switch, and so on. Again, frame these suggestions in terms of the company's bottom line: How and why is your plan (raise included) cheaper than hiring a new employee? At the same time, be wary of suggesting that your current position could easily be eliminated - for obvious reasons.

Job Descriptions

Whether you're transitioning to a new role or just filling out your regular performance review, chances are your employer will ask you to put together a job description for your current role with the company. The wording of a review like this doesn't always come naturally - you live in your role every day, and it can be tricky to figure out what's worth including, or how to describe some of the responsibilities you've taken over. The good news is that most job descriptions follow a specific format, and it's a pretty easy format to learn.

Most job descriptions follow a specific format, and it's pretty easy to learn...

Job descriptions are typically broken down into one-sentence descriptions of each of the job's major duties, and each of those sentences usually follows a similar formula:

  1. An action verb: "prepare," "assess," "develop," etc.
  2. A noun or phrase: "project proposals," "department budgets," "advertising copy," etc.
  3. The job title or department for whom the duty is performed: "project managers," "IT staff," "clients," etc.
  4. A brief explanation of the reason: "in order to increase sales," "to prevent workflow disruption," "to facilitate communication across departments," etc.
Follow this formula for all your major job duties, and you'll soon find that your list starts to assemble itself.

It can be all too easy to fall into overly vague "corporate-speak" when composing your job description, and there are a few easy ways to offset this. The easiest is simply to include specific names and numbers, where applicable. Also, as you read over your descriptions, consider whether someone outside the company would be able to get at least some idea of your work by reading them. Once you've got a list of eight to ten clearly worded duty descriptions, you should be all set.

Helpful links

Raising the Raise Issue -- A look at why it's crucial to be specific in your raise negotiations - and at how to present your case.

How to Propose a New Position to the Company -- A step-by-step guide to preparing and presenting your position proposal.

Sample Job Descriptions -- An extensive collection of job description examples for a variety of positions and industries.