How to Make a ‘Big Ask’ at Work

Conquer your nerves and make this important career move.

Anslee Wolfe

September 19, 2017

It can be intimidating to ask your supervisor for something big—such as a raise, promotion, new project, or permission to spend some of the budget. But becoming comfortable with these types of “big asks” can be a crucial step toward success. They demonstrate your initiative, and let management know what your goals are. 

As Stephanie Dunn, CPA, a director with Katz, Sapper & Miller’s Business Advisory Group in Indianapolis, observed, “You are your own advocate, so you need to invest in your career. If it means asking for a project that will help you get experience to get a promotion later, you have to ask. You can’t wait for someone to come in and offer you these things.” 

Some approaches are better than others for such requests. 

“It can be pretty delicate. It’s something you have to handle with a lot of thought and consideration,” said Aaron Ackerman, CPA, CGMA, a consulting executive at HoganTaylor LLP who leads the Oklahoma City Financial Management Services practice.

Asking for something like a promotion or new project at work can be nerve-wracking, but taking a few steps ahead of time can help you feel calmer. Here are some tips for making major requests: 


A big ask is not something to make the same day you decide to pursue one. “If you’re not prepared, you’re setting yourself up for failure,” Dunn said.

Have your rationale ready. Being clear on what you want—and why—is critical, said Gretchen Pisano, CEO of p.Link, a global and virtual executive coaching and consulting firm. She suggests using concrete details. If you want a raise, for example, state how much you’re looking for in terms of dollars or percentage.

Succinctly state why you think you should receive your request, Pisano suggested. “If you lay out what you want, back it up with what you’re doing and what your results have been—not just technical outcomes but things that help build the business,” she said. 

Your list should include examples of how you’ve gone beyond what has been expected of you, Ackerman said.

“What have you done consistently that is above your job description? If you want to make the case you're ready for a raise or promotion because you’ve done your job well, that might not be enough,” he said. 

It’s also important to define how your request will benefit your organization, such as through increased profitability, productivity, or client experience. 

“You have to frame everything in terms of how this will be good for your organization, not how will this be good for you,” Ackerman said. 

Be confident. Defining ahead of time what you want and why leads to confidence. Practice what you’ll say, whether in the mirror or by role-playing with a mentor.

“If you can’t say it with confidence, they’re not going to buy it,” Pisano said. “You have to be able to speak it and own it.”

It’s OK to be nervous, she said, but it’s better to own your fears instead of trying to hide them. She suggests you acknowledge your nerves to yourself. When you speak with your supervisor, let him or her know “that you’re nervous and you are invested in having the conversation,” she said. “Both things can be true at the same time.”

Be ready for things not to go your way. “Part of preparation is getting OK beforehand with the answer being no,” Ackerman said. “If they say no, well, let that double your fuel and fire and perform at a high level and stand out.”


Use the right language. When scheduling to meet with your supervisor for your big ask, don’t be vague. Let him or her know in advance what you’ll be planning to talk about. You may say you’d like to discuss your plans within the organization as a way to frame it as a larger conversation, Pisano said. 

When you present your big ask, the wording you choose is key. 

“You don’t want to come in and be self-centered. You want to be team-focused,” Dunn said. “You’re more likely to succeed that way than coming in making a demand.” 

Be willing to compromise. One approach Ackerman has taken is asking for a promotion without a raise for a period of time, usually a few months, so he can prove himself before seeking more compensation. 

Follow up after your request. Whether you get a yes or no, Ackerman said, send a note thanking your supervisor for meeting with you that includes a brief statement of what you’ll do to meet your goals. 


Anslee Wolfe is a freelance writer in Colorado Springs, Colo. To comment on this article, email senior editor Courtney Vien.