Are you wondering how to ask for a raise? This article breaks it down for you step by step.
Have you ever wondered how to ask for a raise? Most employees think about this at some point in their career. Asking for a raise can be a big deal, though, so it’s helpful to “get it right” and have a plan.
Before we dive into the details, let’s take a quick moment to review a common story.
Does this story sound familiar?
Your heart is racing, and you feel a little sick to your stomach.
You know that delivering for a tough customer brought in some big revenue for your company. Everyone on your team would admit you were the one who kept things moving and managed to close the sale, addressing every single concern until their signature was on the dotted line.
After 2 years in your position, you have steadily grown your client base and strengthened relationships with your existing customers.
So why is it so hard asking for a raise?
Many people think that they shouldn’t have to. And if your company has a formal review process and you are receiving annual raises that are commensurate with your changing position, that’s great. But if your employer is not spearheading the discussion, it’s up to you to take the lead.
It’s no secret to your employer that you work for money, so let’s get that awkwardness out of the way. Over time, your skills and responsibilities on the job expand, and so should your compensation. It is not asking for a favor or being pushy. Discussing salary adjustments is a natural part of being in the workforce.
You are not likely to face any backlash—in fact, if you do, that would signal a problem with your workplace. Your boss is likely expecting to have these conversations with you.
Why do you need to ask for a raise?
Your employer may be unaware of the current market range for your position. They may think you are happy with your position as it is and prefer not to rock the boat. After all, if you are happy with your salary, it’s a bargain for them.
They may be waiting for you to bring it up. They may be hesitant to bring it up with their superiors if it’s not on your mind. There are so many reasons an employer won’t broach the subject but you should.
Let’s talk about money.
A recurring theme in my work is the taboo of talking about money. Couples don’t want to do it, parents avoid talking to their kids, friends don’t disclose how much they make, and even in the workplace, unless you work in the public sector, salaries are kept confidential.
This can give the employer an unfair advantage. It’s not always easy to know how much you should be making, which makes you uneasy asking for more. Maybe you know people who are out of work. Your company is having an “off” year because of the pandemic stress, and you feel like it would be tone-deaf to ask for more money.
While timing always should be considered, your job has probably undergone changes of its own this year. If you have taken on more responsibilities for someone who left, or if you are working from home (at all hours), your boss may not realize the amount of extra work you are putting in.
If you are one of the millions of jobs now working from home, you have to promote your accomplishments all the more since you’ve lost the built-in visibility of being in an office.
Your manager may likewise be facing distractions, resulting from changes to their own schedule.
Even working in the office, your job likely changed to adapt to a changing market. If you created and maintained a new social outlet to help your company maintain visibility, you could have had a major shift in your workload. Whatever the circumstances, you deserve to be compensated for an increase in workload and responsibility.
Tiptoeing around the money conversation is a symptom of undervaluing your work. Being paid fairly for the work you do is not putting someone else out. It’s being compensated for the value you provide.
Discovering your worth and asking for that raise.
Sometimes we let our emotional baggage hurt our livelihood. When you are struggling to pay your bills, you may feel like you can’t afford to rock the boat. If you are ashamed about the state of your personal finances, you may feel that you don’t deserve more money. But accepting less than your worth to punish yourself helps no one. And aside from the toll it can take on your confidence, the state of your personal finances is a completely separate issue from your performance at work.
Assuming your workplace is not toxic, your employer wants their employees to feel fulfillment and motivation. Monetary compensation is a tangible way to show progression in the workplace, and additional income is a great way to help with paying down debt (although this should never be the reason for asking).
Selling yourself short by not negotiating your pay has a life-long effect. If you skip negotiating when a new job is offered, you start out earning a few thousand less than your counterparts. Over time, increases tend to be percentage raises, and the disparity adds up.
How much? According to one study, over $1 million dollars over a career, and women are disproportionately affected as they tend to ask less often. (The study also found that 89% of the men and women who asked for a raise, got one).
But… What about the gender pay gap?
The gender pay gap is real. Although the Equal Pay Act was passed over 50 years ago, women are paid significantly less than men across industries. Payscale showed the median salary for men in 2020 was 19% higher than for women.
The workforce rewards those who speak up for themselves, and women tend to be less self-promoting.
One reason women have come to accept smaller paychecks is because of the motherhood penalty. This is the widely accepted convention that women tend to take more time off of work to have children, and later accept lower-paying jobs for more flexibility. The undercurrent is that time away from the 9-5 workforce shows a lack of work commitment and is detrimental to your future contributions.
Covid has exacerbated this problem, with women disproportionately leaving the workforce to help with virtual learning and care-taking. Even those who didn’t want to leave their jobs were more likely to be sent home as the childcare and services industries most impacted were more likely to be female jobs.
However, even when the study numbers were adjusted to compare men and women in the same job with similar education and experience, men still made 2% more. Meaning regardless of life choices, your salary may be lower just because of your gender. And women are consistently under-represented in higher paying jobs and leadership roles.
While this disparity is unfair, hopefully it encourages you that there is room for negotiation and growth in your industry. Don’t make the assumption that pay is equal and fair. The scale is not naturally balanced, and speaking up is the only way to know if there is money on the table.
Running a Small Business? Asking yourself for a raise may mean adjusting your business plan or raising your rates.
So what if you work for yourself?
Many small business owners don’t pay themselves for their time. Yes, you are bootstrapping your business, and sometimes you have to make sacrifices in the beginning on your way to living your dream. But you should know what you would pay someone else to do the same job, and set a timeline for when that “salary” is non-negotiable for yourself.
Paying yourself is important for a few reasons. Besides the fact that you have to eat, if you are always getting by on whatever is left over at the end of the month, you may be in denial about the state of your business. Your pay should not be an afterthought. It’s time to be honest about the sustainability of your business before it ruins your personal finances.
Adjust your business plan, not your salary. Determine what your revenues must be to pay yourself a living wage. You may have to raise your prices.
Many people start a business with the goal of passing it on or selling it one day. If your model does not make room for self-sufficiency—for someone else to step in—consider the position this creates for you. For your own sanity and livelihood, it has to be in the black eventually or it risks becoming a very expensive hobby.
Likewise, if you want to expand your business one day, you will either have to be flush with cash, or have to prove its success on a balance sheet in order to get funding from an outside source.
Okay, okay! It’s time to ask for a raise. Where do I start?
While the conversation doesn’t have to be a long one, you will want to prepare for the best possible outcome.
Research what you should be making. Especially if you have been in your position for a long time, you need to put out some feelers to understand the salary range in your industry. While you can start with sites like Glassdoor, Salary.com, and Payscale, keep in mind that the name of a position can mean very different things depending on your company. And the location of your company makes a difference too.
If you work for a larger company, you may be able to find a specific range for your given position. Talk to human resources or even an outside recruiter or headhunter about salary ranges for a similar type of position—how much would someone with a four-year degree and 5 years of experience in brand marketing expect to make as a marketing manager for a Fortune 500 company?
A study at Columbia Business School found that it’s better to ask for a precise amount. Researching pay in your industry will give you more confidence going into the discussion. If your wages seem low, it’s time to speak up. If you are at the top of the payscale already, maybe it’s time to ask for a promotion.
Keeping track of your contributions and “wins” at work.
Keep track of your wins at work. The projects you lead, the money you save, the surveys you collect.
Women are less likely to ask for a raise compared to their male counterparts. They don’t want to self-promote and tend to take on more work without expecting anything in return (!) in an effort to please everyone. In my discussions with clients, I tell women to ask for 50% more than the first number they come up with. They consistently undervalue themselves.
While it is good to take on more responsibility, there is a difference between being a team player and being a doormat.
When you offer to take on more at work, consider whether those tasks are really helping you shine and up your value. Offering to take minutes at every meeting might be a lot of extra work that doesn’t showcase your skills. Sure, it’s something no one else wants to do, but you may be setting yourself up as the person who will take on thankless extras.
Offering to head up a project with visible results is a more resume-worthy contribution. Be sure to keep a list of your contributions on projects. It especially helps to quantify the results. If you awarded business to a new vendor and cut costs by 5%, make sure this information is shared!
Tact and timing
Timing is important when asking for a raise. It’s certainly appropriate to share your wins and ask how you can position yourself for next steps when you’ve been at a new job for 6 months. That shows initiative. But unless the job turns out to be very different from the original offer, or your responsibilities change drastically due to a restructuring, you should be at a job closer to a year before you request a raise.
Consider the person on the other side of this conversation. You don’t want to catch them at a time when they are in a rush to their next meeting, or in a hurry to get out the door on Friday afternoon. Pick a time when they can truly listen.
If it doesn’t look like something you can slip into a normal day, ask for a brief meeting to discuss compensation. It’s not a secret you have to hide.
If you know something at work has gone particularly well and you were a part of it, this is ideal timing, especially if there was a positive revenue impact. An annual review is your stage to share projects and request changes in compensation.
Once you have an idea of how much, and you have examples of ways you have contributed positively to the bottom line, what do you say when asking for a raise? Make sure you aren’t apologizing and practice speaking with confidence, even if you don’t 100% feel it. This doesn’t have to be a long soliloquy. To the point is best.
“I am really happy with the response from the Pearson project. I’d like to revisit my salary given the extra work I have taken on managing more servers/ new clients/ additional content.”
Once you have a succinct script, practice how you will wrap up your request and wait for a response. Being nervous often makes us feel like we have to keep talking, to back up what we have just said. But this can undermine a powerful argument and make you seem uncertain.
Anticipate the questions they will ask you. Be prepared to give details about projects you have worked on, teams you have led, your role in recent successes. Your boss may not be aware of the work you have put in. That said, they should be aware if you have been regularly updating them with your wins!
The importance of picking your number
If you don’t lead with an amount, you should at least know the number you want. When they ask you should tell them.
The person you report to may need to talk to their boss or HR and will likely need time to get back to you. It may help to provide a bullet-point list of some of your recent on-the-job accomplishments. Ask when you can follow up. If all increases are budgeted at the end of the year, ask when you can get feedback on your next raise.
If you do face push back, make it clear that you are interested in doing more and progressing in your career. Find out what it will take to get there, and what that timeline would look like.
It’s important that you always tie the request for more money to the value you are providing. Never disclose that you really need the money or suggest that they owe it to you. Show how your effort has expanded and you deserve that additional pay.
While you never want to threaten, you can share some of what you have learned about commensurate salaries. If you know a coworker is making more for the same job, you don’t need to mention them specifically, but you can share salary ranges you have researched to show that you have done your homework. Especially if you know you are underpaid, this approach may be necessary. Make sure you can back up your data to show that you have the qualifications and you are truly comparing similar positions.
What if the answer is no?
If you do get a “no”, the reason can give you important information about your workplace to help you calculate your next move. If it’s because of the way the company is structured or because you are at the top of your position already, what needs to happen to move to the next level? It is good that your employer knows you are thinking about next steps. It shows initiative. And if your current employer doesn’t show interest in growing your career, that’s good to know too.
While you should absolutely shoot for more money, there are other parts to your compensation. Your employer may be more willing to give you additional vacation time, more flexibility, the ability to work remotely. Consider ahead of time whether these would be valuable as bargaining chips. Just don’t settle for something that doesn’t add real value for you. All the casual Fridays in the world will not compensate for being underpaid.
The main thing about asking for a raise is to ask. Prepare for questions but expect a positive experience. The outcome of this conversation will be either more money, or at the very least, new perspective to the internal workings of your company (that will help you negotiate in the future). Employers know it takes courage to have this conversation. They have likely initiated it themselves.
The best chance you have to increase your pay is to ask! You’ve got this!