Top Tips on Asking for a Raise

A few weeks back, I had the pleasure of being a guest on KUOW’s “The Conversation” radio show, hosted by Ross Reynolds, where I was asked to share my top tips on how people should go about asking for a raise.  While it wasn’t the longest segment in the history of the known world (radio shows tend to move pretty fast!) I’d invite you to give the piece a listen here, if interested.

Perhaps even more useful, however, I wanted to pass along a written list of some of the main suggestions I’d have for people facing these situations.  The list below includes several of the specific pointers I gave on the show, as well as a few other thoughts you might find helpful.  As you’ll see, I’ve broken them into the three main phases of the process — preparing for a “raise request” meeting, asking for the meeting, and handling yourself properly in the meeting itself.

PREPARING FOR THE MEETING:

•  First, think hard about why you deserve a raise and what “case” you’re going to make to your boss to justify a salary increase.  How have you gone above and beyond what you were initially hired to do?  What specific examples can you cite of where you’ve added unique value to the business — or helped the company make money and save money?

•  Draft a list of the above achievements that you can share with your boss when the time comes and that they can pass along to others in the organization, if needed.  Alternatively, you might even whip up a short PowerPoint presentation outlining your contributions if you prefer that route.

• Next, think hard about the timing of your request.  Is the company doing well or are they struggling, financially?  Have they gone through any layoffs recently?  Is your manager facing any undue stress, tough deadlines, or personal challenges at the moment?  Obviously, if your boss has been a nervous wreck recently or the company is having a tough time making ends meet, it might be wise to postpone your request until brighter days come to pass.

• If needed, conduct some detailed research into the current pay rates in your field to get a sense of where you actually stand compared to other professionals holding similar roles — and whether you’re underpaid or overpaid compared to market norms.  This type of research is never perfect, since there are tons of variables involved, but you should be able to narrow things down to a reasonably close range by consulting sources such as Payscale.com and Glassdoor.com.

• Lastly, before you decide to ask for a raise, make sure to manage your expectations — and be prepared to accept “no” or “not yet” as an answer.  As much as you may deserve a bump in pay, your manager may not be in a position to grant your request or there may be other dynamics going on in the organization (of which you could easily be unaware) that are tying their hands.  So if you don’t get the answer you’re seeking, try not to take it personally.  There may be factors outside of your control, or theirs, making it impossible or impractical to grant your request.

ASKING FOR THE MEETING:

•  If your company has a standard performance review cycle, that’s probably going to be the most comfortable and convenient time to ask for an increase in pay.  Just plan carefully for this meeting, following the tips above, and bring up the raise issue at an appropriate time during the conversation.

• If your company doesn’t have a regular evaluation process, however, or the next such meeting isn’t scheduled for many months, then just ask your boss (whenever it seems appropriate) if the two of you can set up a quick meeting in the near future to discuss your job performance and some new ideas you had in mind.

CONDUCTING THE MEETING:

•  Approach the meeting with a positive, collaborative attitude.  Don’t be combative.  This isn’t a used-car negotiation where you’re trying to gouge the other party for everything they’ve got.  You’re going to continue working with this other individual, day in and day out, so you need to make sure you don’t damage your rapport with them by handling this situation in a hostile or win/lose manner.

•  When the meeting starts, don’t beat around the bush.  Explain that you’re there to have a frank discussion about your job performance, to review some of the special contributions you feel you’ve made to the organization, and to discuss whether a possible pay increase might be justifiable at some point in the near future.

•  Next, ask for permission to make your case, then take a few minutes to explain (with handouts, if you have them) the contributions you’ve made and how they’ve positively impacted the organization.  Be as specific as possible, again, especially if you can tie your work to how it’s exceeded expectations or made a measurable difference on the company’s bottom-line.

•  When finished with your short presentation, turn it back over to your supervisor with a statement like “So that’s my case, in a nutshell — what do you think?  Do you feel it would be possible to justify a potential pay increase, based on these contributions?”  Be prepared to give a specific number or percentage you’re looking for in terms of a salary increase, if the manager asks for one, based on your earlier research.

•  If your manager hesitates or seems doubtful, you can backpedal a bit and say “Again, just to be clear, I fully understand if we can’t make this happen immediately — but I just wanted you know that my long-term goal is to reach the XYZ salary range and I’d love to work with you on a plan that would justify getting me there at some point down the road.  I’m more than willing to get creative or take on further responsibilities here at the company, if that’s what it takes.”

In a nutshell, that’s pretty much how you go about the process and the above tips should help you approach this nerve-wracking career situation (for most people, at least) in a highly organized and thoughtful manner.  Again, though, these are just general guidelines.  You’ll have to trust your instincts based on your own unique situation and determine whether there are any special risk factors or organizational dynamics that might impact your own “asking for a raise” strategy.

Good luck, be brave, and may all of you out there get paid every dime you’re worth!

P.S. And by way of contrast, if you want to know how NOT to go about asking for raise, I’d encourage you to look no further than the short article and video you’ll find here, where Seattle Sounders forward Eddie Johnson makes his salary desires known in a fairly tacky way…

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