An internal promotion—which happens when you advance in your position at your current company—can help you feel more engaged at work without having to get used to a new employer. But if you’re not strategic about it, saying yes to an internal promotion can hinder your chances of getting the salary you want. Many employers prefer hiring internally because it is easier, faster, and less expensive, as current employees are rarely expected to ask for significant pay raises. This means that if you’re being considered for an internal promotion, you should prepare to negotiate.
Why and when to negotiate salary for an internal promotion
Negotiating a job offer for an internal role is crucial, according to Tanisha Stokes, professional coach and owner of Gold Ink Consulting, LLC. “Salary negotiation is important because it’s another way to advocate for yourself and ensure that others know you have self-awareness about your worth and value as a professional,” says Stokes, who has been coaching clients in navigating internal promotions and career transitions for more than 10 years.
Ashley Cash, who describes herself as a “$100K Resume Writer & Career Coach,” agrees. “Nobody is going to knock down your door to help you increase your earnings. While companies have a responsibility to offer fair pay, as individuals, we have a responsibility to ensure they do so by being informed, having money conversations, and negotiating.”
Cash advises tackling these money conversations early. “I’m a fan of discussing salary sooner than later to avoid wasting time on either side. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to wait for the recruiter to bring it up but if they don’t bring it up during the initial discussion, you can ask before agreeing to the next interview. You can say something like, ‘Since we didn’t get a chance to discuss the salary range during our initial chat, can you share the range with me before we move further into the process?’”
You should only initiate this conversation if you already know your desired salary range, which you can determine by reviewing job market data and pay transparency resources, such as Salary.com and Glassdoor. But as an internal candidate, you may already have access to salary information that can empower you to negotiate more effectively. “In most cases with the clients I’ve worked with, it has been easier for them to find out the salary information for internal roles because they are already an employee. Even if it’s not directly posted on the job description, they feel more comfortable asking the hiring manager or someone within the human resources department about the salary,” advises Stokes.
You may also find that it depends on your company. Cash adds, “Some [companies] have really transparent pay structures while others, well, not so much.” A Glassdoor survey revealed that just 19 percent of employees reported that their employer shares salary information internally. “In organizations where salaries are treated more hush-hush, I recommend gathering intel from folks in the department. Bottom line, leverage relationships to find out the salary range. I promise you, there is one…even if people try to pretend like they don’t know what it is.”
The more you understand your company’s culture, the easier you will find it to research salaries internally and navigate the negotiation process.
Read more: How to Ask for a Raise at Work When You Know You’re Underpaid
How to negotiate a salary for an internal promotion
Stokes has served on multiple search committees and hiring panels to recruit talent, so she understands the importance of doing your homework before negotiating. “Research your industry and role salaries before you officially begin your job search. Have a strong understanding of your finances so you know how much you actually need to make. Know what number is a deal-breaker for you.” When considering your personal finances, be sure to include recurring costs, such as rent or mortgage, student loan payments, and utilities as well as sporadic expenses, including vacations and hobbies.
Once you’ve gathered your research, practice. “You want to go from uncomfortable to normalizing this and making it a natural conversation in which you present confidence, flexibility, and facts to back up your ideal salary request. I recommend you practice this with someone you trust or use your phone to record yourself verbalizing your response a few times until it feels right.”
You can even practice negotiating in your everyday life, says Cash. “Call your cell phone provider and ask for a better rate. Ask for a carpet cleaning if you re-sign your lease. Tell your nail pro you don’t like the color. Practicing on the small things helps you prepare for the big ones, learn how to handle a ‘no,’ and best case, save some money.”
Feel the fear and do it anyway
Even though you might already know the people you’re negotiating with, you might feel awkward asking for the salary you want; Cash says you shouldn’t. “Remember that a negotiation is a conversation that decision-makers are expecting to have, so don’t be scared.”
Instead, channel any nervous or fearful energy you have about negotiating into making a stronger case for yourself. Sometimes, being confident during a negotiation is about asking for exactly what you want, even if you’re doing it while your voice shakes or you stumble over your words a bit. Embrace fear as a part of the process and move forward.
Read more: 6 Reasons You Feel Uncomfortable Negotiating & How to Reset
If you look for reasons not to negotiate, you will find them—especially if you convince yourself that negotiating will compromise your job offer. “It’s very rare that an employer will rescind the offer because you tried to negotiate, so in most cases, the worst they will say is the number is firm due to what was budgeted for the position. In that case, there may be other perks that are flexible, such as additional vacation days, continuing education, or internet or phone reimbursement.”
In other words, getting the promotion is not enough. You should be compensated appropriately for the skills and experiences you can offer, so if you don’t get your ideal salary, be prepared to negotiate other forms of compensation.
Read more: 20 Job Benefits to Look For & How to Negotiate Your Best Offer
Prepare to provide a salary range before you’re ready
We’ve established that getting a salary range from the employer early is important but what if your employer pushes you to provide the range? “Try and avoid throwing out the first number,” Cash says. The first number that is mentioned by either you or your employer sets the tone for any future conversations about salary, for better or for worse.
If your employer insists you provide a salary range before providing their own, try a response like this:
“I would be comfortable accepting a salary between $75,000 and 85,000, based on what I currently know about the position. But I’d like to revisit this once we’ve gone over the position in detail, as it may change at that time.”
This response answers the employer’s question without locking you in before you know what you’re signing up for.
Balance your expertise with your desire to learn
One of the most prominent benefits of being an internal hire is that you already know how things work! Even if your promotion involves joining a new team or tackling new projects, you understand the basics and, therefore, have a shorter learning curve. Use this to your advantage by mentioning how much you can offer as someone who has already acclimated to company culture, expectations, and customer needs. At the same time, make it clear that, while you’re excited to bring your existing knowledge to the role, you’re also eager to learn, grow, and take on increased responsibilities.
How to rebound if the conversation doesn’t go well
Ideally, you will walk away from your negotiation with your new job title, salary, and a few perks in tow. But if your initial negotiation doesn’t go as planned, bounce back by identifying what went wrong and making a plan to fix the issue.
“If an initial negotiation doesn’t go well, you can try again when an offer is extended,” Cash shares. “But understand that some companies will entertain negotiations and others may have firm policies that they don’t.” If your employer doesn’t budge, you will need to decide whether you want to stay in your current role at your current salary, accept the new role at the offered salary, or seek job opportunities elsewhere.
If you do find that a redo is possible, Stokes recommends revisiting your research. “You should evaluate where things fell flat on your end of the initial conversation and work to polish that particular area to make sure the second conversation goes much better. Again, I would suggest researching, getting your facts and statement together, and then practice verbalizing this as much as possible until you feel confident enough to engage in the conversation again.”
Here’s an example of a brief email you can send to reintroduce the salary conversation:
“Thank you again for meeting with me last week to discuss the Operations Manager promotion. While I appreciate that initial conversation, I’d love another opportunity to share more about what I would need to thrive in this role, particularly when it comes to salary and benefits. It’s important to me that this is a collaborative process where we both get what we need. Can we find a time within the next two weeks to circle back to this conversation in person or via Zoom?”
This statement works because it is timely (occurring within one week of the initial conversation), professional, and adaptable for multiple situations. Use it as a starting point for getting your salary negotiation back on track and securing the job offer you deserve.