Finance

How to Get a Raise at Work

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Asking for a raise can be a nerve wracking and uncomfortable process, but it doesn’t have to be. Learn how to get a raise by being prepared and confident.

Two women meeting to discuss salary expectations.

Asking for a raise and actually getting one is easier said than done.

Companies aren’t in business to hand out money to any employee who asks for it. Employee salaries are one of the most significant expenses for every company. Controlling costs is a substantial part of a company’s ability to make a profit.

What’s best for you in terms of salary might not be best for your employer.

That doesn’t mean the answer is always no, of course. It just means you have to be able to demonstrate your value to your employer clearly. You can get a raise with a solid case, good timing, and a strong presentation. That takes research, preparation, and practice.

How To Get a Raise

Here’s how to ask for and get a raise at your current job:

1. Know How Much You’re Worth

Before you ask for a pay increase, know how much money someone in your position with your experience level can expect to earn in your area.

Begin by checking out Salary.com or PayScale.com to get average salary figures. You can also use the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to see what professionals in similar positions make in your field.

These job salary websites are helpful, but they’re very general in nature. Differences in background, job title, geography, and more get lost when data is lumped together. The annual salary ranges they output might not reflect salaries in your market.

Ideally, you want to find out what the salary range is specific to your position and job description at your level at a company of a similar size in your town. So how would you go about gathering more precise information?

Start with your professional network. Industry contacts, former colleagues, HR people, and recruiters can be fantastic resources for current information on compensation, pay grades, and salary trends. Someone in your current position isn’t going to tell you their salary, but someone higher up who has done your job before might be willing to offer some guidance.

Local job postings can also give you a good sense of your market value. Not all job listings include salary information, but some will mention a range. That’s helpful intel, which makes scanning job listings in your area worthwhile.

Once you know your value in the marketplace, you can begin preparing to speak with management about a raise. You’ll have a target number and knowledge of market rates to back it up. You can mention your number confidently.

2. Ask for a Pay Raise At The Right Time

Finding an appropriate time to ask for a raise is critical to success.

What is the overall job market like? You might have a slight advantage in tight labor markets where there are more jobs than workers to fill them.

How often are employee evaluations conducted? When are raises granted at your company? Is it on the anniversary of your start date, or is it at the end of the year?

If you wait until your annual review to ask for a raise, it might not be the best time of year to put in a raise request. Your raise could already be decided or limited by budget constraints by the time your annual performance review rolls around.

If reviews are done at the same time every year for everyone, your boss might be drowning in employee evaluations and under pressure to get them done by a specific date. He or she might not be willing or able to spend extra time with you when your turn comes up.

Get ahead of your review date. Three months before your evaluation is a good time to start the conversation. You don’t want to have to wait until next year to make your case.

3. Research Your Company’s Health

Your performance isn’t the only thing that factors into getting a raise. The financial health of your company matters. It affects the likelihood of being given a raise, so find out as much as possible and then time your request appropriately.

You can find recent financials and investor sentiment with a few quick Google searches if you work for a publicly traded company. You’ll see if now is a good time to ask for a raise or if you should hold off until things improve.

If you work for a private company that isn’t required to disclose its financials, you can’t just walk up to the CFO and ask about profit margins and cash flow. But there are usually signs of a company’s health all around you:

  • Has your volume of work increased or slowed down?
  • Have there been shakeups in the upper ranks, or has management been stable?
  • Are you seeing empty desks or new hires?
  • Have you noticed a flurry of secretive, closed-door management meetings recently?
  • Are vendors complaining about not being paid on time or at all?

Glean what you can. Decide what it means to your chances of getting a raise.

Information is all over the internet as well. Find news about your company. Read online reviews to understand how your company is perceived by customers.

Industry trade publications are worth a read too. You’ll be on top of the industry, which could help your career in several ways. They’ll also give you a clue about where your industry is heading, both short-term and long-term. Is your company keeping up or getting left behind?

You’ll see announcements in the trades from competitors, partners, and possibly your own company. These announcements can reveal your industry’s and employer’s near-term and long-term future.

If your company is hemorrhaging money, conducting layoffs, or getting a lot of bad press, asking for a raise in the middle of the storm is a waste of time. But if the time seems right…

4. Schedule A Meeting With Your Boss

Meeting with the boss to ask for a raise.

Asking for more money isn’t a conversation you can have in the parking lot or break room. You’ll need to take some initiative and set an in-person meeting.

If you regularly meet with your manager 1-on-1 and are prepared, introduce the subject of getting a raise at your next meeting. Let your manager know beforehand that you’d like to discuss career growth, so they don’t feel put on the spot.

If you don’t have a standing meeting with your manager, you need to get on their calendar so you can prepare and ensure a meaningful salary discussion happens. Pick a day and time you’re not sandwiched between several other meetings. You don’t want your boss watching the clock while you’re trying to prove your worth.

Once the meeting is set, start prepping.

5. Think About Ways You’ve Added Value and Done Excellent Work

If you can’t identify how your performance has helped the company, you probably don’t have a strong enough case to get a raise. If you need some help identifying your strengths, answer the following questions:

  • What are your unique contributions to the team?
  • How did you influence the company’s success?
  • Do you have any glowing testimonials from customers or praise from higher-ups?

Once you’ve established your starting point, get a sheet of paper or open up a Word doc and…

6. Write It Out

One of the best ways to get ready for anything important is to write your plan. Preparing to ask for a raise is no different.

Open up a new document in your word processor. This will be your success file.

The question you should be asking yourself is, “Why should I get a raise?” Type up your answers. Don’t leave out any details.

Make a list of your accomplishments. Highlight any important projects you worked on and what your contributions were.

Got any nice notes, positive feedback, or praise from clients or colleagues? Copy and paste the best parts into your document.

Getting your thoughts out of your head and into a document is the best way to organize your key points and prepare for your meeting. You’ll be clear on what to emphasize. You’ll gain confidence from knowing how strong your case is.

7. Be Specific

Be as exact as possible when writing down your accomplishments so you can point to specifics during your meeting. Demonstrate how your work has directly impacted your department or company.

Tell your boss how much the company saved when you found a way to slash costs by 10%. Mention those five new clients you brought in. Remind your boss how you streamlined a process that resulted in a 7% increase in sales. Bring up the fact that you’re managing three more people now than you were last year.

It’s hard to argue with numbers. Go armed with what you have, but don’t take credit where it’s not due. If you’re part of a team, you can’t take sole responsibility for the team’s outstanding performance.

Once your document is prepared, you’ll have a set of talking points and a strong case. Now you need to work on delivery.

8. Practice

Person practicing what to say when asking for a raise.

Asking for a raise isn’t at the top of anyone’s list of fun things to do. It’s a difficult conversation. Especially if you’ve never done it before.

Minimize the awkwardness with practice. Know what you’re going to say before you get in front of your boss. You don’t want to sound stiff, or like you’re reading off your notes, but you don’t want to sound unprepared or sheepish.

Practice in a mirror. Build comfort and confidence by talking about what you’ve accomplished and what you want.

Download a voice recording app to your smartphone if you don’t have one. Record your argument.

Without being overly self-critical, how does it sound? If it sounds terrible to you, it will probably sound bad to your boss as well.

Practice with a friend. Practicing with another person and getting their take on your pitch will be even more helpful.

Look for honest feedback, though. Your incredibly supportive spouse or proud mom are not the best people to ask.

Don’t ask a colleague, though. Telling a coworker you’re going to ask for a raise and then giving them your script could bite you.

The more you practice, the more confident and less nervous you’ll be.

9. Stay Positive

You might be unhappy with your current compensation, but that’s not the mood you want to set. You want to establish an air of collaboration and mutual respect. Don’t make the tone adversarial.

Open with how much you enjoy being at the company and how challenging you find the work. Segue into the purpose of your discussion without using loaded words like “underpaid” or “unfair.”

10. Bring Your Success File

Remember that document you put together with all your kudos? Bring it with you.

Your clients and coworkers might love working with you and be very grateful for the job you’ve done for them. They might express their gratitude to you, but not all of them will go out of their way to tell your manager.

There are things you do in your job your manager might have no clue about. Your manager might not understand how much your customers and colleagues appreciate your work. Make sure your manager knows how you contribute and how valued you are.

Your success file is concrete proof. Use it.

11. Don’t Sell Yourself Short

That $40,000 salary you took was acceptable at the time, but is $40k a good salary given all you’ve accomplished since you started? You know you’ve earned that raise. That’s why you’ve done your homework, built your case, and scheduled a meeting.

You’re making a reasonable request for higher pay. You have the data to back it up. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.

Don’t sabotage yourself by using weak words that minimize your contributions. You don’t “feel like your compensation could be more aligned with industry standards.”

You’re confident you’ve earned a salary increase based on your accomplishments. Speak that way.

12. Ask for a Range

Instead of asking for your desired salary or a specific percentage increase, ask for a range that includes your target number.

Wait…I’ve heard that asking for a range is a terrible idea. You probably have since many career experts seem to think so.

The conventional wisdom is that the decision-maker will only focus on the low end of whatever range you throw out there. However, traditional thinking isn’t always your best bet for getting what you want.

A series of studies at Columbia Business School suggests that asking for a range is the better play. That might not be intuitive, but it’s easy to understand why it works.

Requesting a range appears more reasonable. That leaves the door open for counteroffers and negotiations. Being seen as reasonable also won’t harm your relationship with your boss.

Asking for a specific number looks rigid, which makes negotiations less likely. Being perceived as inflexible will not do your professional relationships or career path any favors.

The study also concluded that both the high and the low end of the range are perceived as signals of what you really want. People don’t just focus on the low number, as you might assume.

So if your target is a 10% pay increase, ask for 10-15% instead of just asking for the 10%.

When suggesting a salary range or a percentage bump, make sure it’s reasonable. You’ve gathered your salary data and researched your company’s health, so you shouldn’t be making any outrageous requests.

Don’t ask for a raise that will not make you happy if you get it. If you want 6% but ask for 3-6%, getting 3% might feel like a gut punch.

13. Discuss Your Short-Term and Long-Term Future at the Company

Employee asking for a raise at work.

You’re asking for a raise today because of what you’ve done in the past. But what about the future?

You won’t get a raise and then start slacking, right? Tell your boss how you plan to continue to perform and grow.

How will you make your manager’s life easier? How will you make the company better and contribute to its growth? Make sure your pitch isn’t all about you.

You’re a loyal team player dedicated to growing professionally. You want to help the company grow.

Get that message across. Demonstrate what’s in it for your boss and what’s in it for the company if you get a raise.

What Not To Say When Asking For A Raise

Knowing what to say is extremely important when trying to get a raise. Understanding what not to say is just as important.

Starting off with anything that sounds like a grievance undermines your case. You can also make a persuasive argument and then completely trainwreck it by veering down the wrong path. Some examples:

1. Don’t Say You Haven’t Had a Raise in a While

That sounds like a complaint. Complaints weaken your argument for a raise by stealing focus from your achievements.

2. Don’t Mention That a Coworker Makes More Than You

Another gripe. Different employees earn different salaries for many reasons. Those reasons are none of your business.

Throwing someone else’s salary out there lets your boss know you openly discuss compensation with your colleagues. Your boss will assume you’ll blab to everyone if you get a raise. That can be offputting and make management less likely to give you more money.

3. Don’t Say You Do More Than Others

We measure ourselves against others all the time. It’s completely natural. It’s not a very productive habit in the workplace, and it’s wildly inappropriate to do that while you’re asking for a raise.

Comparing yourself to others to your manager sounds arrogant and envious. It’s not your responsibility to oversee your colleague’s work. Your boss will wonder why you’re worried about someone else instead of focusing on bettering your own performance.

It also puts your boss on the defensive, which makes you the opposition. Creating an air of conflict practically guarantees you won’t get a raise.

4. Don’t Make Threats

Person threatening to quit work over salary demands.

You’re playing a dangerous game if you threaten to quit unless you get a raise.

It better be true if you say you have another job offer. You should also be prepared to take the offer you’re using as leverage. Your boss might encourage you to accept the offer if they know the company can’t or won’t increase your salary.

If you have an offer and use it as leverage, you might get a counteroffer from your present employer. You might also get escorted out of the building. Some employers would rather replace you than negotiate with you on a matter they consider already settled.

If you manage to get a raise by threatening to quit, that might leave a bad taste in your manager’s mouth. The perception of you as an employee could change dramatically.

You could be seen as always having one foot out the door. You might be labeled selfish or not a team player. Management might question your commitment to your job and the company.

Once your boss perceives you negatively, it’s hard to turn that around. It takes time and a highly focused effort. If that negative feeling lingers too long, nothing good happens.

Opportunities for advancement disappear. Maybe management starts looking for your replacement. Or you get overlooked repeatedly until you’re eventually pushed out.

Don’t make threats. There’s not much upside.

5. Don’t Talk About Your Feelings

Does your current salary make you feel underappreciated? Do you feel overworked or stressed out? Do you spend most of your time at work feeling underpaid?

If so, that’s unfortunate. Let all that go when you’re asking for a raise.

You called the meeting to talk about why you deserve more money. Money is emotionless. So is a well-constructed argument based on research and specific examples of your value.

6. Keep Your Personal Issues to Yourself

Ask for a raise. Don’t ask for sympathy. You probably won’t get either if you let your personal challenges enter the discussion.

Don’t tell your boss your rent went up. You might be drowning in student loans or credit card debt, but your personal finances are not your manager’s problem. The company doesn’t care that you need more money for your daughter’s karate lessons.

Talk about how you’ve added value to the company. Don’t talk about what the extra money can buy you. Keep the conversation strictly about your achievements.

What To Do After Asking for a Raise

Companies consider many variables when assigning salaries and granting raises. Some of them have nothing to do with you. All you can do is make your case and hope for good news.

What happens after you request a pay increase is out of your hands. However, you’re not done trying to get a raise as soon as your meeting ends. You can do a few things to improve your odds of getting a salary increase.

1. Send A Follow-up Email

After meeting with your manager, send an email summarizing your discussion and reiterating your request for a raise.

Why send an email about something you just talked about?

Documentation, for one. You and your boss will have a written record of your request. It could prove helpful at formal review time whether you get the raise you asked for or not.

Secondly, and more importantly, your manager now has something to forward to anyone up the chain who has to approve the request. It’s better than your boss sending an email to the higher-ups based on a vague recollection of your conversation or a message without any details, simply stating you asked for a raise.

You typed out all your achievements and successes in preparation for your meeting. Use that document to draft your email. Add anything important that came up during your discussion.

Your email should get right to the point and be skimmable. Don’t write your autobiography or a history of everything you’ve done at work.

Open with a thank you for taking the time to meet. Reiterate your request for a higher salary. Include bullet points with your best achievements and most impressive accolades.

Close with a sentence or two stating your case, then sign off.

2. Be Patient

You probably won’t get an answer right away. Don’t read too much into not getting an instant yes or no. Your boss might need a few days to think about it or they might not have the final say.

If you haven’t heard back after one week, it’s OK to follow up. But not before a week has passed.

3. Listen To Feedback

Listen to your manager’s feedback very carefully. What you hear could be very revealing regarding your future compensation and your future at the company.

Your manager might feel you don’t have enough experience in your current role to justify a higher salary. You might find out that your request was poorly timed for other reasons. Or you might value specific skills and outcomes more than your company does.

All of that is valuable feedback. But it’s hard to hear. Don’t let it discourage you.

Take any constructive criticism on board. Use it to find ways to improve or deliver more of what your manager wants to see.

What If You Don’t Get Any Useful Feedback?

Your manager will probably not sit stone-faced and silent throughout your entire meeting. Unfortunately, not all bosses can provide constructive feedback or guide your career development.

If you don’t get actionable insights you can use to help further your career and reach your goals, then it might be time to do some soul-searching. The salary you deserve might not be available in your current position or at your company.

What If The Answer Is No?

Rejection stings. But it doesn’t have to end there.

Hope for the yes. Create a backup plan in case the answer is no.

A backup plan doesn’t mean storming into your manager’s office and quitting in a huff. Here’s what you can do instead:

Formulate Plan B

Person looking for a new job online.

If the answer is no or not right now, ask what it would take to get a raise in the future.

If you don’t get an answer, that could mean you work for an awful manager. It might mean the company is not as successful as they’d like you to believe. No explanation could also suggest that employees are not valued where you work.

If you’re unable to get any direction, Plan B might involve thinking long and hard about your future and then seeking other opportunities.

If your boss gives you an explanation, ask for help creating a growth plan. Build a timeline for you to reach your salary goals. Doing this shows you’re interested in growing with the company, and you get a clear road map that you and your boss agree on.

Plan B then becomes stepping up your effort, developing your skills, and documenting your successes. Look for opportunities to exceed the expectations set out for you. Demonstrate precisely what your boss wants to see.

Plan B can also be about something besides a bigger paycheck. You didn’t get a raise, but are there any benefits you’d find acceptable in place of a salary increase? Perks like flexible hours, extra vacation days, stock options, or allowing you to work from home part of the week can be easier for employers to provide than money.

Can I Get A Raise Without Asking For One?

It is possible to get a raise without asking. If you don’t ask, your employer might give you a slight pay increase yearly to keep up with the cost of living, but most significant raises are merit-based. If you want a better raise, you’re better off demonstrating why you deserve one and asking.

Make More Money Without a Salary Increase

While a raise is an excellent way to increase job satisfaction and improve your finances, getting a pay increase is not always possible. If a salary bump is not in the cards for you this year, you can look for ways to make more money in your spare time. Other ways to increase your income include getting a second job or finding a side hustle with a low startup cost.

Image credits: Pexels

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