How To Ask For A Raise At Work

Asking for a raise at work can be intimidating. We’ve assembled this guide of questions to ask yourself before you ask for a raise, and how to go about it once you decide to take the plunge.

Questions to Ask

Do I Deserve A Raise?  These questions first need to be answered in self-assessing your potential for getting a raise.  If anything, this is important for you to know where you stand in the marketplace, and can be an encouraging exercise if it turns out that you are actually being paid quite well for your position.  If some of these answers come back negative, you might want to take the next six months to a year to rectify them, and be proactive with your employer, so that everything lines up in your favor.  If it turns out you are actually being paid quite handsomely for your job duties, perhaps you should think about asking for increased responsibilities or a promotion, instead of asking for a raise. 

Does my boss like me?  This may seem like a silly question, but it matters.  If your boss doesn’t like you, your path to getting a raise from them is going to be an uphill battle.  This requires really pulling back your blinders to evaluate how your boss perceives you.  If you are a thorn in your boss’ side, chances are they would rather you take a hike than hiking your salary, even if it means they will have to get their hands a little dirty in replacing you.  Tune yourself in to your boss’ management style and personality, and try to jive with it as best you can.  Not everyone has a good boss.  Some people even have terrible bosses, or worse yet, bosses with prejudice or sexist tendencies.  Try and examine the members of your team the boss likes, and be more like them.  If your boss doesn’t seem like the type to enjoy small talk and chit chat about their family, best to keep things professionally focused.  If they seem to enjoy more personal interactions, you can make an effort to go outside your comfort zone a bit if you aren’t the most talkative person. 

How long have I worked at the company?  Have I received a raise in the last year?  Have I ever received a raise?  If you have worked at a company longer than a year and have never received a raise, chances are you are fairly worthy of one.  If you have managed to work at the company in a role for longer than a year without increasing your skill set or value to the company, it may be time to evaluate what it is you are doing with your time.  If you have received a raise in the last year, that doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t worthy of another one.   

The case has to be made that you are somehow adding a lot more value than what you are being paid – whether the increased value is coming in the form of measurable dollars (i.e. increased sales), or you are adding more value with your increased skills (i.e. productivity), vs. what you would be making on the open market with these more valuable skills than when you started.   

If you work in a highly structured environment, i.e. as a school teacher or checking groceries at the local market, you might have a harder time with asking for a merit-based raise out of schedule with the typical timelines for reviews or raises.  But, the best time to ask for a raise is actually not at review time, but before it.  This can give your boss the time to think about your value to the company in advance of your compensation being decided without your input. 

How is the financial health of the company?  This may be hard to fully comprehend depending on your position in the company, and some employers may like to lean on this as an excuse to deny you a raise.  But, it is a simple issue – is the company doing well, or not?  Is revenue increasing?  Is it decreasing?  Is the company profitable?  If the company has a negative outlook, your prospects for a raise are likely going to be dim.  If you are in the building products industry and you know the industry is doing poorly, asking for a raise may make you seem out of touch.  If you think you should be making more, you can still make your case, but if you really want to make more, you may have to pack your bags.  You may have to consider the financial health of the market if you want to pack your bags; if it’s not easy to make a jump, you may actually be doing okay where you are at. 

Does my boss know everything I am doing?  Are you doing what your boss wants you to do?  Are you worth being given a raise?  What have you accomplished?  Simply being a worker bee who puts their nose down and grinds it out isn’t necessarily going to impress your boss.  Sometimes we have to “toot” our own horn a bit to let people know all the value it is we are adding.  It is best to do this without being obnoxious, of course.  Do you have a standing meeting with your boss?  If so, you should make sure to keep them up to date on all the great stuff you are doing.  If you don’t think you are doing great stuff, you might want to hop to it before asking your boss for a raise.  If you don’t have a standing or team meeting with your boss, perhaps you can request one.  If your boss doesn’t have time for any kinds of meetings with you, you might send them status updates via email.  Again, not all bosses are the greatest, but you have to work within the confines of the hand (or boss) you’ve been dealt.  If you are making your boss’ life easier by making them look great to their boss, or by delivering them the results they want, you are much more likely to get a raise when you ask for one.  Make sure you know what it is that your boss wants you to do – if you aren’t sure, ask them.   

Keep track of the responsibilities you take on, the praise you receive, and the things you do that are successful.  You’ll need to make your case with this evidence when you’re asking for your raise.  Your argument is that your value to the company has increased, for reasons both past, present, and future.  Did you take on more responsibility?  Have you increased revenue, savings, retention, or productivity?  Document all of your value adds.  Did you implement a new system or project?  Gather positive feedback from peers, clients, your manager, other managers, and anyone else who has had a positive experience working with you (whether they emailed you or made verbal comments, make a record of it).  Even if you are a top-performer, you might not be “worth” what you think, so be prepared to take things in stride.

What is the image you project at work? The image you project at work is important.  If you seem overly complacent or comfortable, your requests for a raise are not going to be taken seriously.  If your boss is confident you are never going to go anywhere, there is no incentive for them to give you a raise. 

Am I being paid market rate?  Do I know how much similar positions would pay?  This may not be an easy question to answer.  There are numerous ways you can try to research your position and responsibilities on the open market.  Depending on your job title or role, you might have more luck figuring this out than others.  Glassdoor.com and Salary.com might be one avenue where you can research different job titles in your market to see similar salaries.  Accounts are free for Glassdoor, so we recommend just registering for one.  It can be tricky if there isn’t enough data, or if your role is too specialized.  Make sure to search multiple titles that might pertain to what you do.  One title at one company might mean something else at another company.  For example, Chief Marketing Officer, Vice President of Marketing, and Director of Marketing could be three different roles entirely, or could have responsibilities and job duties that are extremely similar.  Another good way to assess your worth is to keep your ear to the street, so to speak.  In other words, talk to recruiters.  See what you could get on the open market, and always ask for salary ranges of open positions.  Some job postings may even contain salary ranges, but often times not.  Another place to see salaries publicly posted is on H1B visa filings, which will be accessible if you are working in a place with lots of H1B workers (i.e. tech).  Finally, reach out to people in your network with similar roles, and politely see if you can figure out what they are making. 

Don’t get stuck on this step.  If you can’t figure out the market rate for your responsibilities in your area, you can at least ask for a raise based off what you make and your perceived added value since you began.   

What is the raise that I want? Are your expectations realistic? Keep in mind that raises generally happen as a percentage of what you currently make.  Thus, if you somehow conclude that the market value for your job position is 50% higher than what you are making, your best bet might be to take your skills to the open market, because 50% raises generally do not happen (with few limited exceptions).  Most bosses when confronted with a salary demand for 50% more than current are going to think you are insane.  Thus, if you have determined that you genuinely deserve a raise, it is good to have a concrete number in mind, even if you don’t outright ask for it from your boss.   

Keep in mind all industries are different – while a 10% raise might seem like a little in a very hot industry, a 10% raise might be huge for other industries.  Don’t be disappointed if you are only able to get a 3% or 5% raise, as that may be the norm for the industry you are in.  Even 3% or 5% adds up at the end of the year. 

Another important thing to consider is your value now vs. your value in the future.  Your company may give you a large raise now because they believe you are worth it for whatever reason – you are a top performer that is delivering results.  Know how you can deliver value on an on-going basis.  If you stop to deliver those results, for whatever the reason, you may be more likely to be cut if you’re earning a significant percentage more.  When it comes time to cut headcount, if you’re more expensive, you might be the first to go.  Furthermore, if you build a strong case for why you deserve a big raise for your future value to be delivered, you are going to have to deliver with results, as scrutiny on your performance may increase drastically.  In other words, be careful what you wish for, and know what you’re getting yourself into. 

Having another offer.  Depending on your situation, if you are able to secure another offer, you may be able to use it to get your current employer to counter-offer.  This, however, may lead to a decrease in the quality of the relationship with your present employer, and put you outside the “circle of trust.”  If you don’t believe enough in the company to sit there and drink its Kool Aid like the rest of the faithful, you may forever be regarded with a bit of distrust.  If you have another offer and other things haven’t been going great for you at your company, it might be best to take the competing offer, rather than settling for a slightly higher counter-offer from your present employer. 

Keeping a positive relationship with your employer and asking for a raise might mean that you wind up with a raise that is less than you think you are worth.  But, it’s important to consider the value of a positive working relationship when it comes to job security, potential for promotion, and your overall day-to-day interaction at the company.  In other words, don’t be greedy.  If you really want that 30% boost in pay, the best way to get it is likely to get an offer elsewhere. 

Asking For The Raise

Schedule a timeBe in tune to the kind of boss you have.  They might be more receptive to the kind of conversation over lunch, or maybe it is better to just request a meeting with them during work hours.  Don’t blindside your boss completely when requesting the meeting – you can tell them you would like to review how you’ve been doing, without outright saying you want to discuss getting a raise.  Again, as with determining if you deserve a raise, the timing of the raise ask is important.  If your boss has a busy month of travel upcoming, it is likely not a good time to ask for a raise.  Try to ask your boss for time during the week, preferably if they aren’t overly busy, and at a time of year that is not your company’s peak season. 

Put all your evidence together.  You’ve done hours of research, so now build your case convincingly.  You might be able to use charts or graphs to represent the added value you’ve delivered to the company.  You can make lists of things you now do better than when you began. 

If you ask for a raise and leave it up to your boss to decide what you are worth, they may come back with a number that is lower than yours – in which case, you would say you were hoping to get this other higher amount.  For example, you have determined you want a 7.5% raise.  You might go to your boss, outline the reasons you are worthy of a raise, and tell them you feel like you are worth more than you are being paid.  If your boss comes back and offers you a 5% raise, you might tell them you had hoped to get a 10% raise.  This then leaves you room to settle in the middle at the 7.5% raise that you wanted.  You might opt to ask for the raise outright from your boss as opposed to beating around the bush, but it might be best to add a little extra on top to leave room for negotiation.   

Since I’ve begun here, I’ve taken on additional responsibilities such as X and Y.  I’ve increased X number of performance, and decreased Y amount of time to do it.  I would like to discuss increasing my compensation to reflect the added amount of value I am bringing.  *Show examples* 

I want to talk to you today about my job performance.  I have an excellent client retention rate, and I’ve substantially increased the amount of profit for the company.  The CEO says my work is fantastic.  I was hoping we could increase my salary to reflect how I’ve improved.  Based off my research, someone with my skills could be earning X at other companies.  *Show examples* 

I love the work I am doing here, and I want to stay with the firm long term.  Based off some research I have done, I think the caliber that I am performing at dictates I should be making X. *Show research* 

I’ve taken on these responsibilities, have more complex work, spearheaded this project, and accomplished these key things.  Given the increases in responsibility and accomplishments, I believe I should receive an increase in compensation.  I’ve seen market value for similar roles and responsibilities that is higher than what I am making. *Show examples and research* 

Be confident.  You need to practice.  Do role-play with a friend or significant other in advance of asking for the raise, and ask them to play hardball with you – give them a list of possible “no” reasons, and prepare responses for them.  If you go into the meeting with your boss nervous with sweaty pits, your voice will be shaky, and you will not be controlling the conversation.  If you are truly worthy of the raise, you are in a position of power – you have valuable skills that your employer needs, and if you don’t get what you want, you can give yourself an even bigger raise by landing a new job. 

Some common no reasons and potential rebuttals: 

We don’t have budget for a raise.  Explain why it is that the budget would be even worse without you this year. 

Company performance is down.  Explain how company performance would be even worse without you.

We don’t do raises outside of the review period.  Revisit your reasons why you believe you are entitled to this merit-based raise.

You haven’t been here long enough.  Highlight the reasons why you are entitled to a merit-based raise in such a short amount of time.

You will get a raise soon.  Highlight the reasons why you believe you are worthy of a merit-based raise now.

Don’t threaten to find a new job.  Just because you know that you can find more money at a new job, don’t say so.  This can leave a bad taste in your employer’s mouth, and ruin a potentially great relationship.  The “shock and awe” methods of threatening to leave (or worse yet, telling them you have another higher offer that you in fact do not have) can be very risky, and might even lead to your losing your job if you play your cards wrong. 

Burn no bridges.  Don’t lose your cool when asking for a raise.  I’ve been on the opposite side with an employee who lost it while asking for a raise, and it did not exactly endear me to them.  Make sure you ask for your raise with a level head, and check yourself if you start to get emotional.  If you are denied the raise you asked for and if you truly believe your worth, you should be able to get it on the open market.  The true barometer of one’s worth is what they can get on the market; if you can’t get the amount you are asking from your present employer on the market, you aren’t truly worth that amount. 

It is important to avoid entitlement mentality, especially prevalent along the millennial generation.  Companies are going to try to keep you for as cheap as they can-that is their prerogative to shareholders.  The idea that you deserve a raise and they did not give it to you on their own is not cause for confrontation.  The case to be made is all about you and your contributions – don’t point to other departments or individuals in the company. 

What to do after asking

Get it in writing.  Nicely ask your boss if you can get your approved raise in writing.  You can be the judge if this is a necessary step or not.  It could make things awkward, and could lead to a combative situation with your employer, which is not what you want. 

Greener grass.  You asked for the raise, and maybe you didn’t get it.  Or, you asked for a raise, and you got a smaller raise than you wanted.  Perhaps it is time to consider moving on.  The grass is often greener on the other side.  This saying shouldn’t be an excuse for why you should settle, or why you shouldn’t strive for more, but it is important to consider the role your job is currently playing in your life.  Do you enjoy your job?  Do you dread going to work?  Do you enjoy your work/life balance?  If you find your job to be enjoyable or at least tolerable, it’s important to remember that if you make a switch, you might land yourself in a place that you wind up hating. 

They denied your request for a raise.  Find out what it would take to turn a no into a yes.  Ask your boss the steps you can take to make more money.  Or, go find what you’re worth on the open market.  It is important to continue to handle yourself with tact if you are denied a raise.  If your job performance decreases, if you begin to complain or sulk, or if you start instigating any trouble, it could spell your way out the door. 

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