Getting a raise at work is sometimes as simple as just asking for it.
Yet most people never ask. According to PayScale, 57% of professionals have never ask their boss for a raise in their career. Yet if you ask the right way, you can earn more money and gain your boss’ respect at the same time.
The science behind your compensation – how employers decide how much to pay
When employers offer you a job, they look at a few different factors before choosing what salary to offer. They consider what you made in your last job (if you tell them). They look at what other people in their company are currently earning for similar work.
And they look at what other companies are paying people with your skill set right now on the open market. However, those last two factors change over time: Maybe your skills are more valuable now, maybe market rates have gone up, maybe the employer has paid newer people more money for the same job. (This is often the case. As a recruiter, I’ve seen that the lowest-paid people in a company for a given role are often the people who have been there the longest. Hardly fair, right?)
So that’s why I recommend asking for a raise if you’ve been in your current role for at least nine months, and haven’t asked for a raise already in that time period.
How to ask for a raise at work – setting yourself up for success
Ideally, you want to show your value to your employer before asking for more money. My favorite way to do this is to take on additional responsibilities within your current job before you ask for a raise. Most people don’t think to do this, so it’s a great way to stand out. I’d recommend looking for ways to take on more responsibilities as soon as possible if you want to get a raise in the near future.
Assuming you’re already doing a good job with your core tasks, go to your boss and tell them you want to learn and grow, and then ask if there’s an opportunity for you to be given more responsibilities. You can ask to:
- Help train new team members
- Create documentation/procedures to help new people who join the department
- Help with tasks/projects that are slightly outside of your normal scope of work, but still similar
- Lead a meeting or project
- Take on a higher volume of work (for example, if you manage nine client accounts, you could tell your boss that you feel comfortable with your workload, and would be happy to take on one or two more)
This will make the upcoming steps of asking for a raise much easier.
Preparing your argument before asking for a raise at work
The best way to ask for a raise is by using facts and logical arguments. There are a couple of angles you can take, so I’ll walk you through the different options. First, we already talked about taking on more responsibilities to increase your value to the employer. That’s one angle you can take. You can also point out how much more productive/competent you are since you joined the company and agreed on your starting salary.
Point out how you’re helping the company save money, make money, save time, grow, become more efficient, etc. (This will depend on your role). Reminding them of how much more you’re producing now compared to when they hired you (and assigned your salary) is one of my favorite tactics because it’s an easy argument that practically anyone can use. Finally, you can also research what your skill set is worth on the open market. How much are other companies paying people like you?
To get a sense of this, I’d recommend reviewing the following salary websites:
Try to find comparable roles in your specific city or region, and gather data from at least two or three of these sites if possible. This will make your argument more convincing if you use this to ask for a raise. If you only had one salary data point from one job board, your boss might say, “Well, I try not to put too much weight on any one single source, because these salary surveys online aren’t always the most reliable.”
Whereas if you have data from three or four of those sites, it will be more convincing. It’s also possible to combine these different angles; for example, you could present your salary research, and point to the fact that you’re much more productive and valuable now that you’ve been in your role for a full year.
How much of a raise to ask for
Now that you know some basic arguments you can make, let’s talk about how much of a raise you should ask for. You should ask for a number on the top end of what you feel is fair so you’re still left with a nice raise even if they counter-offer. However, you always want to be reasonable.
Asking for an unrealistic number will cost you the respect of your boss and possibly damage the relationship. So aim to get what’s fair. As a general guideline, it’s usually considered appropriate to ask for a 10 to 20% increase. Doing the online salary research via the websites I mentioned earlier will also help you decide how much is reasonable to ask for.
How to ask your boss for a raise: Starting the conversation
Once you’ve decided which angles/arguments to make, and how much to ask for, it’s time to ask your boss for the raise.
Start by scheduling a meeting. Don’t bring this up at the end of another conversation or weekly check-in. This is important and deserves its own time. Email your boss and say, “Do you have 20 minutes available to talk this afternoon? I was hoping to discuss something with you.”
When you go into the meeting, start off by saying, "Thanks for meeting with me." Don’t be apologetic or say, "Sorry to bother you."
Remember: you’re not taking up their time or bothering them. It’s literally part of your boss’ job to discuss this with you.
Stating your case for why you deserve a raise
Once you’ve sat down face-to-face, it’s time to state your case. You want to start off by sounding grateful/positive about the job. You’re not there to threaten or give ultimatums. That’s NOT how to get a raise. Tell them you’re excited about how things are going and you’re really happy to be on this team and in this company. Then be very clear about why you wanted to meet.
Present your facts and reasons and then tell them you were hoping to receive a raise, including the number you were hoping to receive. Use clear, direct language: “I wanted to ask if my base salary could be increased to $59,000.” Or: “Based on what we’ve discussed here, I wanted to ask if my salary can be increased by $3,000.”
Don’t ask for a range. If you say, “I was hoping my salary could be bumped up by $3,000 to $5,000,” your boss will immediately be thinking of the bottom number of that range. There’s no point to doing this. Instead, plan on asking for a precise number and taking the negotiation from there. Then stop. Don’t ramble on. Don’t keep talking after you’ve made your main point.
The best thing you can do at this point is go silent and let them respond. They might agree right away. They might ask you further questions. They might try to compromise and meet you in the middle.
A lot of things can happen from this point, so here are some negotiation tactics to help you navigate the conversation after you ask your boss for a raise.
Overcoming obstacles when negotiating your raise
If you don’t hear "yes" right away, don’t get discouraged. There a couple of tactics you can use as the conversation goes on to back up your argument. Many top negotiation experts, like former lead FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss, suggest empathizing with the other person and showing you understand their perspective before trying to push your point.
Here are examples of what you might say:
- "If I understand correctly, it sounds like you’re saying ___?"
- "It sounds like your main concern is ___, is that right?"
The goal here, according to Voss, is to get them to say, "That’s right." Once you’ve done that, you know they feel heard, which now means they’ll be more receptive to listening more to your side! If you’re not sure what their main concern is to begin with, try asking open-ended questions. If you’re not familiar with open-ended vs. closed-ended questions, I’ll explain.
Closed-ended questions are questions that can be answered with a "yes" or "no." They provide you with very little information, especially if you’re not sure what the other person is concerned about or bothered by. Instead, try to ask open-ended questions that allow the other person to speak freely and feel relaxed.
Here are some examples of open-ended questions:
- "Tell me about ___."
- "What about this doesn’t work for you?"
- "What are your thoughts on ___?"
- "What would you need to make this work?"
Another tactic you can use is allowing them to negotiate against themselves. For example, if you ask for $55,000 and they say that they just can’t fit that into the budget, you could say, "OK, I understand. What’s the best you can do?"
Now the pressure’s on them to come up with their best possible offer without you having to keep going back and forth. If you reach an impasse and can’t seem to get around it, also remember that you can also discuss forms of compensation other than base salary, like bonuses and profit sharing.
However, when it comes to maximizing your compensation in the long term, you should negotiate for base salary first and foremost.
Mistakes to avoid when asking your boss for a raise
Now that you know the steps to follow when you ask for a raise, let’s cover a couple of mistakes to avoid. First, never position your request as a threat or ultimatum. You shouldn’t be positioning this as, “If I don’t get this, I’m leaving.”
That’s not as likely to get you a raise, and even if it does in the short-term, it could severely damage your relationship with your employer and cost you your job in the long run. The next mistake to avoid is acting emotional or bringing personal reasons into the discussion. You’re more likely to receive a raise by sticking to fact-based arguments like we discussed earlier.
I’m not going to lie and say I’ve never seen someone get a raise using personal reasons (long commute, gas prices, etc.), but it’s not your best shot. Finally, don’t make it sound like a big deal when you ask for the amount of money you want. Even if this is a lot of money to you, it’s probably NOT a lot of money to the company. So remember that.
I’d recommend practicing at home a few times to make sure you sound confident and casual when saying the dollar figure. You can practice in the mirror, or my personal favorite is using your smart phone sound recording app and then playing the recording back to hear how you sound.
Asking for a raise is a win-win if you follow the steps above
If you ask for a raise using the steps above, you’ll give yourself the best possible chance of success, while also strengthening your relationship with your boss and employer. Not every boss will have the budget to boost your salary immediately, but you’ll find out the best they can do while setting yourself up for long-term success with the company as well.