How To Ask For a Raise – And How Not To

I shall now tell you your desire. Wait, don’t say it… I can get this…

You want a raise!

Know how I knew that? Because everyone wants a raise. You’re about as unique in this desire as you are in liking cake. So now that the cat’s out of the bag and we all know that I’m no psychic, what shall we do about getting you this raise that you seek? When it comes to milking more money out of your employer, there’s sadly no magic bullet. We’re at the mercy of budgets, emotions, parity, revenue forecasts, the economy, and a host of other factors.

Mostly, there are three things that are going to influence whether you get a raise. Before I get into what those things are, let’s take a minute to talk about what will NOT be factors. Just to be clear – this list is of things not to bring up when you’re asking for more money. Ever.

  1. What you need. Honestly, as much as I care from a human perspective about your kids’ college fund, your sick parents, your student loans and the new home you just moved into, from a management perspective I couldn’t care less. You’re not going to see more money because you have more outside obligations, distractions, and questionable spending choices. Your ability to get a raise is about how much your employer needs you, not how much you need money.
  2. How much your co-worker makes. If your co-worker makes more money than you do for the same job, chances are that at least one of two things is true. Either s/he is a better negotiator than you, or s/he adds more perceived value to the company than you do. Either way, don’t bring it up. It may in fact be true that you’re underpaid compared to cubicle-dweller next door, but if you use that as a bargaining tactic it will fail. The only thing you’ll succeed in doing is making yourself look like a child.
  3. How long you’ve been there. Because in case you’re not doing an amazing job, the last thing you want to do is to remind your boss just how long you’ve been scraping by. And besides, we’re not paid for loyalty. We’re paid to produce.

So that’s what not to talk about when asking for a raise. But with that in mind what, exactly, should that conversation be about? Well I’m here to tell you. I’ve been involved in this conversation from every vantage point – I’ve asked for raises, I’ve been asked for raises, I’ve coached people on how to ask for raises, I’ve coached managers on how to respond to people asking for raises – so I’ve seen this work and I’ve seen it fail disastrously. The difference is usually preparation.

  • First, think about your timing. Is the company experiencing layoffs? Is your boss stressed about his/her budget? Are share values in your company dropping faster than really fast-dropping things? If so, do everyone a favor and hold off. You’ll do yourself more harm than good by asking.
  • Second, make an appointment to speak to your boss. Don’t try to catch him/her on the fly; don’t grab him/her coming out of the bathroom or the elevator. Get on the calendar. This is a serious conversation with serious potential outcomes. Treat it with respect.
  • Third, know your case before you start. Just like in a job interview or a presidential debate, you need to have your talking points in order. Trying to do this on the fly is not your ideal strategy.
  • Fourth, know what you’re asking for – have that number in mind that you think is a fair compensation for what you bring to the table.
  • Last, know what you’re prepared to do if the answer comes back negative. Are you making a request or an ultimatum? Are you prepared to stay and continue to give 100% if you don’t get what you’re asking for, or are you prepared to start looking for your next job?

As we’ve gone over, when asking for a raise there is a multitude of things not to talk about (I only listed three, but the list can easily be expanded to include such topics as your new haircut, Coke vs. Pepsi, and what you dug out from between your teeth last night), but there is only one thing that you should in fact talk about. That thing is simply why you deserve more money. Not why do you want it, but why should you get it. What have you done to earn it? Have you taken on additional responsibilities outside the scope of your job description? Have you had some great wins that resulted in the company making and/or saving money? Have you consistently been recognized for outstanding performance? Have you become the resident expert in your field? Is the company truly better off for having you there?

That’s it. There’s nothing else to discuss. It’s easy to sell what you’re going to do, what you plan on over the next year. But you’re not being paid for the future – you’re being paid for what you’ve done, not what you may or may not do later. Highlight your successes, the ways in which you’re irreplaceable, the ways and times that you’ve made your boss’ life easier. Can’t think of any? Then you might want to think twice about asking for a raise. Because at the end of the day, all of us employees are products, and we’re all subject to the same principles of supply and demand. Would you pay more for the same quality product or service if you don’t have to? Neither would your employer. Keep that in mind when you’re building your case.

If you follow these guidelines, you are absolutely, positively 100% NOT guaranteed to get a raise. But if you’ve done a good job of requesting one, you’re very likely to have at least gained some additional respect in the eyes of your boss and to have started the wheels turning for the next time there’s money to spend.


3 thoughts on “How To Ask For a Raise – And How Not To

  1. This post is excellent. Succinct, easy to understand, and exactly what I needed to know. Thanks for the insight! We’ll see how things go at my review on Monday 🙂

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