There are so many un-fun things about being an adult: being sleepy all the time, having to remind yourself not to ruin your appetite before dinner, and being responsible for your own professional advancement.
I have no tips to offer you if you’re trying to sleep more and snack less. I, too, am groggy and have consumed one—OK, 10—too many Nutter Butters on a bad day.
However, despite my personal shortcomings, I’m actually pretty good at advancing my career.
Throughout my career I’ve received a handful of raises, all of which were connected to my strong work ethic, original idea contribution, dedication to a job well-done, and my continued willingness to learn new things.
But even if you’re an amazing employee—and you know it—asking for a raise can be really, really hard. It’s never fun to ask people for money, even if you’re asking for it as deserved compensation for your labor.
You might be afraid of a potential conflict or confrontation with your boss if you ask for a higher salary. You might be unaware of the definitive steps you should take to prove that you deserve more money. You might not know how to articulate the reasons why you should receive a raise. And finally, you might not know what to do if you’re told “no.”
Fortunately, I’ve reached out to some experts for their tips on effectively combating each of these problems and I’ve put together a step-by-step guide on how to ask for a raise.
How to ask for a raise: A step-by-step guide
Walking into your boss’s office and saying, “Can I have a raise?” is a strategy that has worked for zero percent of people. I don’t have stats to back me up, but that’s my solid educated guess.
Before you bring up the idea of a raise, you should ask yourself if you’re even in a position to do so.
Crystal McFerran, VP of marketing for Velo IT Group, just went through her own raise discussion. She says, “If you’ve become a key player, add value to the organization, and are seen as an asset they don’t want to lose, you’re ready for this conversation.”
In other words, if you’re doing the bare minimum or performing at an average level, you should reconsider asking for a raise for now.
But if you think McFerran’s description sounds like you, I’ll walk you through the steps you should take to request a raise, backed up by tips from people who have either received or granted raises.
Read on for your road map to the salary you deserve.
Step 1: Tell your boss what you want
The best way to get something you want is to tell someone what you want. A raise is no different. Telling your boss that you’re aiming to get a raise in the near future indicates a few things:
- You’re invested in working toward a long-term goal.
- You’re open to guidance and feedback related to achieving your goal.
- You’re willing to put in the work to benefit both the company and your professional development.
Below are a few things you should do to communicate your desire for a salary increase.
It’s vital that you’ve already had discussions about the aspects of your job that you need to improve on before you launch into asking for a pay increase. I suggest that, if you’re asking outside of a typical review, email your boss a quick note that indicates that you want to discuss your salary.
Your boss is the one who knows what they need to see from you in order to grant you a raise. It’s the smartest (and most efficient) method to go to them and ask what factors they consider when making decisions about employee salaries.
If you’re not sure how to broach this subject with your boss, Zach Hendrix, co-founder of GreenPal, suggests the following email to inform your boss of your goals:
An email that Zach Hendrix, who’s “had several hundred people work for [him] over the last few years,” guarantees will work on “any rational and reasonable employer”
Set a date for a performance review: With an email like the one above, you can make sure you and your boss are on the same page as far as which actions and efforts are deserving of a raise. By setting a meeting to discuss your progress, you can also essentially set a deadline for when you need to have all of your raise research done, which we’ll discuss next.
Step 2: Put in the work
As you’ve already told your boss in your email, you know you won’t get a raise just for clocking in on time every morning. Now that you and your boss have created an action plan and discussed what it would take for you to be considered for a raise, go out there and get to work.
In addition to those action items, you should consider a few other ways you can make yourself stand out from the rest.
Specialize in something: A guaranteed way to stand out from the crowd is to be the only person who can do a particular thing. Ky Trang Ho, founder of Key Financial Media LLC, shares her success story in this department:
I made myself indispensable by becoming the resident exchange-traded funds (ETF) guru at Investor’s Business Daily (IBD)… As the go-to ETF expert, the company depended on my insights to lead the development of the new ETF specials in the newspaper and website. I volunteered to create a blog about ETFs to drive more traffic to IBD’s website, write a chapter about ETFs in the company founder Bill O’Neil’s new book, speak at Meetups, and train to do on-camera reporting for the website.
Trang Ho’s specialization and expertise in a topic opened doors for her to contribute to and lead other projects, which helped her showcase the kind of work she was capable of doing and how she could continue to go above and beyond for her organization.
Learn new things: Want to know how I’m trying to fast-track my next raise? Video skills. Capterra wants to do more with video, but we currently don’t have a lot of people on staff who can make that happen. I’m taking classes at a local television station to learn how to operate a camera, edit footage, and even put a podcast together.
Taking these classes doesn’t guarantee that I’ll get to lead or even contribute to future video projects, but it does expand my skill set, and it shows that I’m taking the initiative to be ready to contribute to the video production process.
Even if you want to learn something that doesn’t seem to directly connect to your current position, it never hurts to develop your skills both professionally and personally. I started working with Capterra’s content team while I was on the product research team. I write comedy sketches as a hobby, and I knew the content team was trying to put a funny video together. I just wanted to help with a project that sounded fun, but it ended up turning into a whole new job within the company.
Step 3: Do your research
Asking for a raise includes a lot of research and prep work. As I’ve already mentioned, you should know and accept the fact that you don’t get a raise just for showing up to work every day for a year. You need to figure out all the reasons you actually deserve more money. To do that effectively, you need to conduct some research in several different areas.
Research your market: Before you ask for a raise, it’s helpful to figure out how much other people who have your job report that they’re making. Glassdoor, LinkedIn, and PayScale offer tools to help you start researching average salaries for people with similar positions in your city.
McFerran suggests that even if you find that your salary is below the market average, “Don’t use that as your only argument. It’s about value. Your salary could very well be below market average. If you’re asking for a raise, your performance should be above average.”
When discussing a potential raise with your boss, you can use the numbers you’ve found to say, “I know the average person in my position makes around X dollars per year. However, given my Y contributions to the company in the last year, I’m hoping to receive Z salary.”
Research yourself: Speaking of contributions, you need to prove that you’ve done more than is expected of you. Ian McClarty, CEO of phoenixNAP Global IT Services, recommends the following process:
Start by creating a list of accomplishments you have achieved with the company… document costs savings, productivity improvement, significant projects completed, customer service examples, and ways to which you have contributed more than your job required.
It’s not enough just to make a list of accomplishments. You need to be able to point to exactly how your actions benefited the company and created value in your industry.
Jyssica Schwartz, author of “Write. Get Paid. Repeat.,” negotiates fees from regular clients as a full-time freelance writer and editor. She suggests the following structure for concisely discussing your contributions and showing how they positively impact the company:
Since I took over X project/Y department, sales have gone up 10% (or work is completed more efficiently or client feedback has been much more positive, etc).
There’s another benefit to this process, which Heidi McBain, a licensed therapist who provides professional counseling for women and has been on both sides of raise conversations, points out. Not only did documentation of her “worth as a fantastic employee” get her a raise, “but it also made [her company] realize that if they were not going to pay me my worth, I was going to take my skills elsewhere.”
Research your boss: The meeting you scheduled with your boss before actually asking for a raise should give you a good idea of what they’re looking for in a “promotable” employee.
If it seems like your boss is focused on efficiency over financials, for example, you should be sure to emphasize how much time you saved your team. You can still mention how many accounts you upgraded or how much you increased your team’s sales revenue. But you should make the details you know will blow your boss away a priority.
Research your company: You should know what your company is trying to achieve. This goes beyond being profitable. Maybe your company is trying to be the go-to resource for small business software. Maybe they hope to be known for their stellar customer service or amazing work culture. Whatever your company wants to achieve, you should tie your achievements directly back to your organization’s overall goals.
When prepping for your discussion with your boss about your raise, you should also be able to articulate how, if you get your raise, you’ll be better able to continue furthering your company’s goals. How would a raise help you continue to add more value to your team?
Step 4: Rehearse
Before going into your raise negotiation, you should try to anticipate the specific questions your boss will ask and practice your answers and delivery.
Lisa Holmes, an HR executive, executive coach, and chief business strategist for Strategic Performance of Los Angeles, suggests going as far as preparing a script, saying, “Undoubtedly, you’ll be nervous.”
But by “practicing your script and tying any objections back to your quantifiable results,” she says you’ll hopefully dispel any anxieties and start building confidence.
While you can always practice in your bathroom mirror, rehearsing this conversation with someone else will give you the chance to get feedback from a third party, as well as expose you to questions or ideas you might not have thought of on your own.
Practice with a friend: Write out some questions you think your boss will ask during an interview and ask a friend to think of some standard questions of their own.
Have your friend sit down with you and pretend to be your boss. This is a low-pressure situation that allows you to practice your answers and get feedback from a casual observer.
Practice with your direct supervisor or a co-worker: It’s possible that your direct supervisor isn’t the one who can approve your raise. If that’s the case, tell them about your goals, and ask for help.
Have a practice meeting with them where they can give you professional feedback and advice. If your direct supervisor does have the power to grant you a raise, practice your raise discussion with a co-worker who’s willing to give you candid professional feedback.
Prepare to brag about yourself: If you’re a typical Midwesterner like me—ope, hey there!—you might be socialized to never talk about what you’ve do well.
In my last performance review, I was told to start owning my achievements, and the idea was anathema to me. However, when you’re asking for a raise, that’s pretty much all you’ll be expected to talk about. No one will know how well you’re doing unless you tell them.
You shouldn’t lie about anything you’ve done, of course, but, as my boss told me, you should “place your accomplishments in the best possible light.”
If you worked with a team, you can mention the fact that you had help, but you’re not asking for a raise for everyone else. You’re asking for your own raise. Focus on what you, specifically, bring to the table, even it makes you feel uncomfortable.
Step 5: Be ready for a ‘no’
Even if you’ve done everything your boss wanted you to do and more, the answer might still be “no” for a variety of reasons. If a tight budget is the problem, a raise might be unrealistic or nearly impossible. There are a couple ways you can handle a “no” when it comes to a raise.
Be respectful: If your boss says “no” to a raise, don’t get angry. Be understanding, but ask to set a timeline for when you might receive the salary you’re asking for and what you can do to ensure that you’ll get it when the time comes. Jyssica Schwartz does a good job of putting this into perspective:
Never threaten to quit if you don’t get a raise. You’re an adult and that is a childish reaction. You can quit a job at any time, ever. You don’t want to make demands and threaten consequences. You just want to ask for what you deserve, and their answer will let you know whether you should think about looking for another position. And threatening to quit will not make management want to give you anything or fight on your behalf.
Burning bridges is rarely beneficial in the professional world. Even if you decide that no raise means searching for a new job, you’ll probably still need a recommendation from your boss who turned you down.
Remember that money isn’t everything: Keep in mind that, while more money is great, you can ask for other things from your boss.
Career coach Roy Cohen points out that, “There are a number of alternatives to cash or a bonus. Equity ownership (stock or stock options award), a transportation allowance, and reimbursement(s) to attend conferences,” are all valuable without requiring a large long-term expenditure for your company.
More vacation days, a flexible work schedule, or days when you can regularly work from home are other options that don’t involve a direct paycheck increase.
Are you ready for a raise?
You are not what you make… but what you make can make a huge difference. If you’re putting in an over-the-top effort for your job and creating value for your company, then you might deserve more. Once you’ve identified all the ways you overachieve, it’s probably time to ask for a raise.
If you’ve gone above and beyond, earned astronomical amounts of money for your company, added crazy value to your organization in one way or another, and still don’t get a raise, you might need to consider what your job is worth to you.
Earning less while working more can mean lost wages and lost opportunities. If you’re getting paid less than what you want and your job doesn’t offer many opportunities for career growth, you might want to think about moving on.
Luckily, if you’ve gone through the process we’ve described, you already have a document detailing all of your amazing achievements. Say hello to your updated resume and get started on your job search!
Do you have any raise negotiation advice of your own?
Have you ever asked for a raise and gotten it? What did you do to start earning the salary you wanted? Let me know in the comments below!
If you need additional resources on raise discussions, check out these articles:
- A few things you shouldn’t do when asking for a raise.
- If it’s time to look for new opportunities, check out these tips for writing a resume that will get you noticed.
- I won’t sugarcoat it: Women have a harder time getting raises than men, which is why I decided that two-thirds of the tips in this post should come from women who have successfully negotiated a raise. You can find out more about why those differences might exist in this report from McKinsey and LeanIn (p. 10 in the full report).
Looking for Talent Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Talent Management software solutions.