How to Get a Raise at a Minimum Wage Job

FT Contributor
A man celebrates his raise as his coworkers cheer in the background.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

More than half of workers in the U.S. work for hourly pay. About 542,000 earn the minimum wage. The cost of food, rent, and utilities tends to go up faster than earnings, making it difficult for people to live independently making minimum wage. Finding ways to make more money is essential to stay afloat these days.

You work hard for your money. Therefore, asking your boss for a raise is a reasonable request. Here’s what you should know about how to ask for a raise when you are underpaid to improve your chances of success.

Steps Before Asking for a Raise While Earning the Minimum Wage

Before you request a raise, you need to evaluate your work history and the company itself. If you have a limited employment history of just a couple of months, it’s probably too soon to ask for a raise, unless your role in the company has changed. Wait at least six months before you open a conversation about a raise to give yourself time to show what you can do and establish a track record.

Gather Intelligence During the Performance Review

A performance review will provide you with valuable information on your supervisor’s view of how you’re doing. Most companies conduct performance reviews at least once per year, if not every six months. If it’s been more than six months since your last performance review, consider asking for one.

Your performance review will likely give you a good idea of whether your boss is pleased with your work so far. Don’t be afraid to ask questions during the review. Ask about how the company is doing and if it’s meeting its goals. If your review is positive, ask your boss what future they see for you within the company. If your employer tells you there’s room for improvement, ask what goals you can set to strengthen your skills. Use the information you receive during the review to plan how and when you will ask for a raise.

Know Your Worth

Before you make a request for a raise, you should know your worth. The more prepared you are with statistics and facts during the conversation, the more convincing you’ll be.

Visit job websites such as Monster and Indeed to collect information on what other companies pay new hires for the job you’re currently doing. Find out if others typically earn minimum wage for your role. Create a competitive analysis of your worth by making a list of the work you do, according to your job description, and list what other companies pay for employees with matching skills to yours.

Presenting facts and statistics confidently about what you’re worth to your employer shows you value your work. Successful, abundant people know their worth. Showing your employer you’ve taken the time to do your research and can present it objectively is likely to be taken seriously by your employer.

Assess Your Employer

Consider your need for a raise in the broader context of the company’s financial wellbeing. Collect information based on conversations during your performance review of how your company is doing, what other employees have to say about the company, and any publicly available information about the business to get an idea of whether it’s the right time to ask for a raise.

You may know the company’s sales are rising. Or that the business is short-staffed and in search of new hires. Those are good signs to ask for a raise — and maybe even a promotion. But if your company is suffering financially, you may be less likely to get a raise. Save the information you’ve gathered to ask at a better time.

Tips for Discussing a Raise

Once you have all the information you need, you’re ready to ask for a raise. It’s best to discuss a raise at a different time of your performance review to make sure the company is happy with you first. If the review is positive, ask to meet again to discuss your future in the company and use that time to ask for a raise.

Focus on the Positive

When discussing your need for a raise, don’t inform your employer of your financial hardship or that you need more money to make ends meet. Instead, focus on the value you bring to the employer. If you’ve hit a performance benchmark or completed a major project recently, focus on those successes to illustrate your worth.

If you notice a gap in the company you believe you can fill, suggest how you can help by taking on an expanded role. Be proactive, professional, and positive during your conversation. Avoid talking about your personal issues and limitations, and focus on how you can help your employer instead.

Script for Asking for a Raise

Scripts aren’t a good idea — they may sound unnatural and over-rehearsed. Instead, write out a rough guideline on how you will request a raise from your employer. All you need is a brief checklist to help stay on track so you can focus on a casual and fluid conversation. Refer to your points only to remind yourself that you’re covering the most important ideas. Here is a script you can use for guidance:

  1. Greeting: Warm and to the point, thanking your boss for their time and explaining you’d like to briefly discuss your future in the company and how a raise could be a win-win situation for both.
  2. Your progress: List your top one to three accomplishments and successes.
  3. How you can provide more value: Include suggestions on how you could continue to add value to the company and/or provide better service.
  4. What you’re asking for: Present how much of a raise you’d like and the facts on what other employers are currently paying for equivalent work.

Your employer may be unwilling to pay you what you’re asking and may counter with a lower offer. Ask how he or she came up with the amount. If you’re happy with the offer, accept it. Or kindly push for a bit more if you feel confident in your reasons why. Once you feel your employer is no longer willing to negotiate, accept the amount, or ask to think about it and get back to your boss within 24 hours, for example.

If You Don’t Get the Raise …

Getting a raise requires patience and persistence to get there — don’t become discouraged if you don’t get a raise. Remain calm, and don’t make threats to quit. Even if you feel this way, it’s best to keep that to yourself while you search for another job.

Listen carefully to the reasons your boss gives you to understand why you won’t get a raise at this time. It’s likely that your employer hasn’t taken the possibility of a raise off the table for good, and is willing to revisit the conversation at a later date. Don’t be afraid to end the conversation by asking when you can discuss a raise again and follow through when the time comes.

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