Asking for a Raise: How to Ask, When, and What to Say to Get Paid More

Cole Mayer  | 

It seems like a daunting, Herculean task. You’ve recently taken on more responsibility at your company, and you are producing quality work. Why, then, is it so hard to simply ask your boss (or whoever makes decisions) for a raise?

In 2015, 57 percent of people did not ask for a raise in their given field, with 28 percent not feeling comfortable doing so, and 19 percent not wanting to come off as too pushy. Of those polled, 38 percent admitted they received raises without needing to ask at all.

But these numbers don’t lie: asking for a raise can be an uncomfortable conversation. However, if you know you are worth more than you’re being paid, and feel you deserve to be compensated for the value you bring to the business, then asking for a raise is not just important, it’s a necessary step in your career path. At some point in your career, you will need to ask for a raise, and knowing how to ask can be enough of a confidence booster to help you achieve success.

How should you ask for a raise, and when? What evidence — if any — should you be bringing to the conversation? How can you convince your boss that you deserve accurate compensation?

Let’s look at how you can face your manager and confidently ask for a raise.

When to Ask for a Raise

It might seem silly or obvious, but timing really is vital in business. That includes your timing when asking for a raise, promotion, or any other career advancement. You have to be conscious of multiple factors, including:

  • How the business is performing
  • How you are performing
  • Your boss’ schedule
  • How the economy is fluctuating

Much of your ability to get a successful answer will depend on all these external factors. If the business is struggling, your boss is overloaded with work and stressed out, and the economy is tanking, then asking for a raise might need to wait.

However, there are some other factors to consider, depending on your circumstances. Here are some examples to be aware of:

After a Major Achievement

If you’ve recently been recognized for landing a big client or some other major achievement that greatly benefitted your employer, then you could always capitalize on that success and ask for a raise.

Moments when you really shine are some of the most opportune for asking for a salary raise. In general, you want to provide proof as to why you are valuable to the company and why you deserve a raise. However, if you’ve recently proven yourself, that will be fresh in the mind of both your boss and other decision makers in the company. The sooner you ask after proving yourself, the more recent the impact will be for your employer.

While Business is Booming

Although you might not have an intimate knowledge of the business’ financial situation, it is still important for you to know if your business is succeed or struggling before you ask for a raise. Is the business financially healthy or not?

If there have been recent layoffs, or sales figures have been subpar, it likely isn’t the right time to ask for a raise. The company simply might not be able to afford it right now. In this case, you may need to wait – having a job is more important than getting a raise. All is not lost, however. If your manager is more concerned about personal performance rather than the business’ financial situation, you may be able to convince them of the value you provide on a daily basis.

Timing is extremely important when asking for a raise, so be sure to consider when you ask. Some ideal times to bring it up might be:

  • When new funding comes in for the business (new client, improved sales, etc)
  • At the start of the fiscal year (they can better plan out their financial situation and might not be pinching pennies like they would at the end of the year)
  • When the business is expanding or experiencing a swift upturn in their profit margin

Essentially, any time the business is showing an increase in profits, anytime you believe you helped improve those profits, or anytime the business is able to be more flexible with spending, then you should utilize that opportunity to ask for a raise.

You’ve Initiated the Meeting

One of the lesser known bits of information about asking for a raise revolves around who initiates the meeting. If your boss sets the meeting time to discuss performance, then they’ve already made a decision about your performance: they know what you’re capable of and they’ve placed a price tag on that information. However, if you have the opportunity to initiate the meeting, then you have the upper hand in the negotiations.

It’s also extremely important to set up a meeting in the first place. Discussing a pay raise is not something that should be done in passing. Like an interview or asking for a promotion, you need to be serious about your request for a raise. Ask your boss if they can set aside some free time for you, and be honest about your intentions. Tell them you would like to discuss your performance and get some feedback. Let them know you intend to discuss your position in the company.

Additionally, make sure you practice your speech before you walk into that meeting. Discussing a raise requires thorough preparation.

You Are the Best

Lastly, you can ask for a raise when you are positive that you are the best in your position. You produce the best results and are eager to tackle new challenges. You do the work of multiple people, and maybe even have your own side project going. You are very intentional with your work, and everyone knows that you’re the best at what you do.

In these situations, your value is very apparent, and you have the upper hand in initiating a salary raise conversation with your employer. The value you provide the company is not up for debate, and you can easily show why that is so.

If you believe you are the very best at what you do but still aren’t paid a fair wage, then build up your case and present it to your boss. Save emails or memos from clients or coworkers that highlight your exceptional work. You stand above all the rest, and you deserve to be compensated for your hard work.

How Much of a Raise to Ask For

Now that you know when to ask for a raise, you need to start planning your approach. Additionally, you have to consider how much of a raise you would like to get. Here’s some tips to help you better prepare for your meeting:

Do Your Research

Just as with a job interview, asking for a raise requires research and preparation. You can’t simply walk into the meeting with a number and expect a yes. You have to provide them with evidence as to why you deserve the raise, and research what other people are being paid in your position.

Start your research by evaluating your worth. Are you being paid the industry standard for your position? Does your experience and qualifications warrant a jump in your pay? Asking for a merit-based raise between 1 and 5 percent is fairly safe, assuming you have the evidence to justify the increase. Make sure you collect and present that evidence during the meeting.

When researching how much you should ask for, make sure you don’t settle on an exact number. Similarly to negotiating a starting wage, you’ll get more traction or success with a pay range than an exact pay increase. Flexibility is often preferred by employers, as it gives both you and them a chance to meet in the middle.

Also, be sure to plan your approach based on your specific manager. Is your boss more data-driven? Have those facts and figures from earlier ready and clearly laid out. Lead with your research, and segue into your request for higher pay. However, if numbers aren’t the bottom line for your boss, the process may be more subjective. For these managers, speak more to your worth at the company, how you work with your peers and clients, and any new responsibilities you have recently taken on. Again, lead with evidence to back your claims. Emails of praise from coworkers, previous evaluations, new projects you have taken the lead on – all will work in your favor.

Finally, practice. Don’t memorize a speech and recite it. Instead, memorize talking points. Look in the mirror. Be sure to practice remaining calm while speaking, don’t let your emotions dictate your talking points, composure or volume. Keep practicing until you are comfortable. Make sure you also dress appropriately for the meeting. Every little detail will matter to your employer.

Know Your Limits

As you’re doing all this research and building up your case, there’s one important factor that you need to consider: are you ready to take on the challenges that this raise might entail? Although the business might be doing well financially, and you believe you deserve more money, asking for a raise still often includes an increase in responsibilities, expectations, and performance standards. Will you be ready to step up and meet these challenges?

Additionally, consider the limitations your business might have on raise increases. Do they only hand out raises every year, six months, or every quarter? Is there a strict seniority structure to pay, as well? If that’s the case, then you might not be able to negotiate a raise at this time, but can prepare for the next opportunity.

No matter what, make sure you know your limits — both in your ability to increase your workload and the business’ ability to hand out raises — and make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew.

What to Say When Asking For a Raise

Your company has been hiring and is doing well financially. You’ve got evidence to support your worth. You know what type of information your manager will want to see. You’ve practiced what you want to say, memorized the major points you want to make. It’s time to ask for a meeting to your boss.

When you’re planning your speech, you’ll want to make sure you cover all the talking points that might come up. That includes preparing for a potential “no” from your boss. Here are some aspects you might want to consider while planning your meeting:

Making Your Case

Prepare to present your research to your boss. Remember that although the raise may seem warranted in your mind, your boss might not be able to see it. Convince them that you are ready and capable of tackling more challenges and being paid more for it. Spell out what you see as your future with the company. Demonstrate not only your worth now, but in the future — including both your hard and soft skills. How have people responded to your work in the past and how can this translate to your future with the business? What needs does or will the company have that you are in a position to fulfill?

Leverage this potential. Don’t be afraid to talk yourself up. Once you fully understand the value you provide the business, you just need to be able to accurately communicate that value to achieve a pay raise.

Ask for Feedback

No matter what the final answer is from you boss, you’ll want to ask for feedback. This is beneficial for both you and the employer. It gives you the opportunity to better understand your boss’ priorities and expectations. In turn, it provides your boss with the opportunity to lay out guidelines and let you know how your performance is benefitting the business.

Whatever knowledge your boss shares with you in their feedback, you can use that information down the road to ask for another raise or maybe ask for a promotion.

Be Prepared for a “No”

Despite all your hard work, your raise may be rejected, but the negotiation does not have to be over. Be sure to prepare for any instance in which your negotiations are turned down. Instead of a raise, perhaps you’ve earned a bonus, or more flexible working hours. You can also find out what it will take to turn the “no” into a “yes” in the future. What can you do to earn a raise that you haven’t done, in your manager’s eyes?

Instead of a negative, turn it into a positive – a goal that you can aim for. Ask for an actionable plan and follow-up meetings, paving the path to a raise when you are eligible. Continue to keep yourself abreast of the company’s financial information. Continue gathering evidence of your progress. Next time, you’ll have even more confidence, more data to show, and an even better chance for a raise.

Mistakes to Avoid When Asking For a Raise

When building up your case, there are also some talking points that you need to avoid. Although it can be hard to hold back your emotions, pay raise meetings are the wrong time to let your emotions guide your discourse. Here’s some examples of things not to say during your meeting:

Complaining

It’s possible that it has been years since you’ve seen a jump in pay, and you may be feeling unfairly treated. Although this is valid, complaining about your situation isn’t going to help you.

Negativity in pay raise discussions are generally frowned upon, and for good reason. The person who has the power to increase your pay isn’t going to respond well to a negative tone or approach.

Try to avoid bringing up the obvious — they’re most likely aware of your hard work and lack of pay raise — and instead focus on what you can control: your performance. Even if they still say “no,” ask for feedback on what you can do to secure a pay raise in the future. It could be that the company is currently struggling, or that you’ve fallen short of what’s expected of you.

No matter what the answer is, remain positive and thankful for the opportunity. Complaining will only make your boss less likely to consider you for a raise in the future.

Demanding

You certainly want to be assertive and confident, but you have to walk that fine line and make sure you don’t sound too demanding. You may deserve a pay raise, but nothing is truly owed to you. It’s important to remember that you control how others perceive you, and if you come across as entitled, they’ll be less likely to fulfil your request.

Entitlement and demanding a raise will only hurt your argument.

Comparing Yourself to Other People

Highlighting your value to the company should never devolve into a comparison of your skills or workload vs. other employees. Be assertive and persuasive that you have earned a raise, rather than complaining or feel it is something you are inherently owed. Showing you have confidence in yourself means the company’s confidence is not misplaced.

Additionally, although you may find that other people are making more money than you in the office, you shouldn’t bring this up in the discussion. Knowing other people’s salaries can help you in researching your salary, but you can’t compare yourself to them when at the negotiating table. Discussing what could be seen as “office gossip” will only hurt your argument.

Making It Personal

Make sure that your argument focuses on why you deserve a raise, and not why you need one. Even if you are in desperate need of a raise — such as your spouse lost their job, your bills are piling up, or you need to save money to send kids to college — bringing up these points to your manager won’t help your argument as they don’t justify why you should be paid more. Focus on the merits that prove you deserve a raise, and avoid more personal reasons on why you need it.

Making Threats of Issuing Ultimatums

Lastly, although it might be tempting to proclaim “Give me a raise or I’m leaving!” this approach can actually hurt your argument and your position more than anything. Some business guides might suggest this tactic, but ultimatums rarely work out in your favor. Issuing an ultimatum can actually cost you your job, and that’s the exact opposite reaction of what you want.

Again, avoid coming off as demanding, and instead focus on your ability to persuade them.

However, if you do decide to use this bold approach, make sure you follow through. If you’ve found in your research that other companies are willing and able to pay you more, than make sure you apply to new jobs and quit your current job in a professional manner. Otherwise, if you issue an ultimatum but don’t follow through, your boss will know that you were bluffing, and all future negotiations will be lost.

Using Evidence and Persuasion to Get the Raise You Deserve

Negotiating a pay raise is definitely a daunting task, and there are many talking points and tactics that you have to be aware of before you can meet with your boss. However, no matter how stressful it might be, you know that your work can speak for itself. You deserve to be paid for the exceptional work you’re producing, and all you have to do is convince your boss of your worth.

You have the tools, the evidence, and the research needed to build your argument. Now all you have to do is set up the meeting. You’ve got this!


Image Source: ReynerMedia on Flickr

A former newspaper journalist, Cole spends his free time reading, writing, playing video games, watching movies, and learning about every subject under the sun. He lives with his wife and daughter in Idaho. Follow Cole on Twitter: @ColeMayer42

This post was updated April 2, 2018. It was originally published January 12, 2017.