How to Ask for a Raise — and Actually Receive One

How to Ask for a Raise — and Actually Receive One

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According to a recent PayScale survey of over 160,000 employees, only about 30% of people who choose not to ask for a raise experience a salary increase. By contrast, of those who do ask for a raise, just over 70% are successful. The bottom line is, to earn more money, you’ll probably have to ask for it!

While a conversation about what you earn can be stressful, the right approach can make a big difference. Here’s how to get ready to ask for a raise.

Do Your Homework

I still get a sinking feeling in my stomach when I remember how I learned the importance of research and preparation, over two decades ago. I strolled into my boss’s office first thing on a Monday morning and practically demanded a raise.

Then my boss asked me to explain why. I was completely tongue-tied! I vaguely recall stammering about the rent hike on my apartment and all those unanticipated vet bills — and the withering, dead-eyed stare of my boss as he let me blather on. Then I backed up and mumbled about my achievements. But by then it was just too late. I stumbled out of that office a sweaty and disheveled mess.

I thought attitude and confidence would see me through. And worse, I hadn’t done my homework.

Here’s how you can do better:

  • Don’t Get Personal: Deal with tangible data, and leave your personal reasons for seeking a raise out of the conversation.
  • Combine Research With a Firm Grasp of Your Achievements: Research from Columbia Business School suggests a precise target salary or a well-defined salary range is an important foundation negotiating a raise. Don’t guess at what you’re worth; find out through research. Glassdoor and Payscale are great places to start.
  • Practice: Practicing will help you feel poised in the heat of the moment. Develop a script and repeat these statements out loud until they flow effortlessly.

Here are some responses to commit to memory:

“Based on my research, the market rate for this position is between [lower $ amount] and [higher $ amount].”

“Payscale and Glassdoor place the salary range for my position at [lower $ amount] and [higher $ amount]. I’m requesting that my compensation be adjusted to [desired salary].”

Avoid Ultimatums

A George Mason University study assessed the most effective strategies for earning a raise. A collaborative “win-win” approach was found to yield the greatest success.

Here’s a practical illustration of how ultimatum avoidance can work. A few years after my first raise attempt, I was working in a new management position and feeling fed up with being short on salary and long on overtime.

ask for a raiseThis time, I made a solid approach. I researched the market rate for my position, and, with the lyrical poise of a rapper, could rattle off half a dozen reasons I was invaluable to the company. Despite a killer pitch, I could instantly tell it wasn’t going to happen. My boss agreed with my assessment but explained the company was in a tight position. She just didn’t think she could make the argument stick with her higher-ups.

In the end, not because of any great cleverness on my part but because I was too lazy, I stuck around. I soon realized that my request hadn’t simply vanished into a forgotten conversation. My boss (being awesome) quietly lobbied on my behalf and at my next performance appraisal, I was offered a nice, juicy raise and an upgrade to my position description.

If I had demanded immediate results, my boss simply wouldn’t have had time to shift heaven and earth for me. So, what did I learn by accidentally getting this raise attempt right?

  • Avoid Ultimatums: Building a solid case for your raise isn’t always enough. Your company may need time to play ball with your raise request. Negotiating for the win-win makes you much easier to work with!
  • Think of Asking for a Raise as the Beginning of a Conversation: Companies are complex. You may not get a simple yes or no response to your request. Never be afraid to offer a plan B. Would you accept more flexible working hours or stock options in lieu of a raise? Then, by all means, float these possibilities and see where they lead.

Here are some conversational gambits to build into your raise request:

“I understand that the compensation I’m looking for is difficult for the company to accommodate at this time. But I’d like to work with you to find a salary level that recognizes my contribution and experience and still acknowledges the company’s financial position. Can we continue this conversation later?”

“If the level of compensation I’m looking for isn’t an option at this time, would you be open to discussing [name the non-financial remuneration you’re seeking]?”

Build more leveraging power: Learn how to make yourself truly indispensable at work.

Time It Right

As with so many aspects of life, timing is everything. The expert advice on how to time a raise request is dizzying and granular. Should you request a raise right after you successfully complete a project? Is it better to ask on a Thursday? There are countless opinions on the subject.

But it needn’t be quite so complex. My company, rather unexpectedly, won a high profile client. Feeling a confusing soup of anxiety and exhilaration, I watched as a flurry of new hires and added responsibilities found their way into my purview. The company was clearly relying on me to make good stuff happen.

My next performance review was scheduled in a few months, but I realized now was the time to pounce. On a quiet afternoon after a particularly productive staff meeting (and a staff birthday party with really good cake), I sat down with my boss and laid it all out. I talked about where the company was at and how I saw myself fitting in with that future.

My boss nodded along and his only comment was that he was relieved I wasn’t quitting. Within two weeks, payroll had processed my raise. Bam. I felt like I might finally have genuinely learned something:

  • Apply Commonsense: If you pay close attention, your instinct will often provide useful insight on timing. Choose a quarter when your company is in a good place financially. Choose a week when you feel your contribution is particularly valued. Choose a day when your boss has the mental bandwidth to hear you out. If cake is somehow involved, consider it a bonus!
  • Know Where Your Company Is Heading: Is your company planning expansion into a new market area? Or is it working hard to consolidate its position against stiff competition? Whatever its position, if you play an important role in what happens next, leap with abandon.

Try familiarizing yourself with these kinds of phrases:

“My role has expanded a lot since I came on board! Given the company’s plans for my role and the increased responsibilities that come with it, I think now might be a good time to discuss an increase in my salary.”

“I’m excited about where this company is headed! I see my role expanding in the near future to incorporate [describe how you think your role will grow]. If you’re in a position to move my salary to [enter your magic number], I’d be excited to move forward with that.”

Get That Raise!

When all’s said and done, you’re the best person to convince your company to award you a raise. If you do your research, work hard to find a win-win, and time it right, you’ll be in a solid position for success.

Do you talk to your coworkers about your salary? Here’s why you might want to start.


Mark Lambert
About the Author
Mark Lambert

Mark Lambert started his career as a project manager, but soon developed a tragic and lifelong allergy to spreadsheets. Fleeing the horrors of conditional formatting, he instead embraced a career in management and professional training. Mark now writes about professional communication and getting the most out of corporate life.

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