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How to Ask for a Raise (and Get One)

by Kelsey Butler /
Image: Money HandoutGetty Images

If you’re like most workers and feel that money flies out of your bank account the second your direct deposit hits, or that you’re carrying the workload of two or more people, then you’ve probably dreamed (or griped) about getting paid more.

The good news? It is possible to get compensated more at your current job whether it's through cash, perks or additional opportunities that will set you up to make more moolah in the future. The bad news? Successfully asking for a raise will take a little bit of, well, work. Here’s what you need to do make sure you get paid fairly.

Step 1: Do Your Research

First things first, you need to do some research. There are two smart ways to figure out if you are being compensated fairly — or if it's time for a pay bump.

  • Find out your job's worth in the market. Your first stop can be salary indicator sites like Glassdoor or Salary.com, which can give you a general sense of what similar jobs in your area pay, says Lynn Berger, career counselor and coach. She cautions that some of the figures on these sites can be a little misleading, and says that getting a clear picture of your industry (is it thriving or sinking?) and what the job market in your field looks like by interviewing or looking at job listings can give you a better idea of what’s fair.

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  • Talk to coworkers. As awkward as it is, one of the best sources of this information is going to be your coworkers, according to Brandon Smith, The Workplace Therapist, and founder and principal of The Worksmiths LLC. He says the best way to approach this is to ask peers for a range. “You can say ‘I’m curious; I love what I do, but I’m not really clear on what the range is for a role like this or for someone with my experience level. What have you seen in the marketplace?’” Smith says. Still not getting anywhere? Find other people in similar roles through professional associations that may be more willing to talk numbers.
  • Figure out timing. You’ll want to consider your company culture, says New York-based career counselor and coach Eileen Sharaga. Does your job only give out raises after a formal end of the year review process? Then asking for a raise in May might not make sense. Do you work for a smaller, less structured business? Then sitting around waiting for a review that may never come is not a good call. Use your judgment to gauge when your boss would be most receptive to a conversation.

Step 2: Toot Your Own Horn

Once you do the groundwork to figure out how much you deserve and when you plan to ask, the next step is to make your case. “You need to know why you’re asking for a raise,” says Sharaga. Have you been at your job for 10 years? Have you achieved a big result for the company recently? Zeroing on why you deserve it will help you to have a conversation with your supervisor.

  • Document your achievements. Ideally, you’re keeping a running list of your accomplishments already, says Beverly Baskin, Ed.S, LPC, MCC, CPRW, master and certified career counselor and director of career services firm BBCS Counseling. “Every year, put a file in the bottom of your desk drawer with achievements, recognition or letters of appreciation,” she says. “Stick them in there [with] programs or projects that you think are [raise-worthy], where you’re working on something and it’s definitely moving the company forward.” When you go into speak to your boss about a raise, go in with a printed out list of your biggest accomplishments (along with any relevant numbers!) from the past year or two. “You’d be surprised if you start numbering them, there could be 15 to 20 achievements there,” she says.
  • Have facts and figures on the ready. Smith says in addition to information about your own achievements, you should have figures you can rattle off about what similar jobs are paying and how that compares to you. If you have the performance and market data on hand, you can reasonably ask for a 10-15 percent raise. “If you start asking for 50-100 percent raises, you’re probably not going to be able to get there,” he says. “Companies are just not going to be able to stretch that much.” And remember it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. Berger recommends presenting your case as confidently as possible, without making it personal — which relying on data and numbers will help you do. “Try to be as neutral as you can, without getting as emotional or angry or charged up about it,” she says.

Step 3: Use Competing Offers (But Be Willing to Leave)

Because of the changing landscape of the workplace, most jobs aren’t giving raises consistently, says Smith, who notes that even if you make your case, you likely have less than a 50 percent chance of getting one at your current place of employment. One thing that can really put some pressure on your employer, however, is knowing that you have another offer in hand.

“Companies are not giving raises to people unless they feel a sense of urgency,” he says. Smith notes that “salary compression” occurs when someone stays with one organization for a long stretch of time. “The longer people stay with an organization, they actually get paid less than what somebody coming from the outside would get paid,” he says, which is why offers from other organizations often appear to be more lucrative.

Even if you make your case, you likely have less than a 50 percent chance of getting a raise at your current place of employment.

If you’re planning on using another offer as leverage to get a raise at your current job, Smith says it should be either in the same industry or have the same function. Finally, experts say to only present a competing offer if you’re really willing to say goodbye. Your employer may call your bluff and tell you to take it.

Step 4: Consider Other Compensation

So you made your case and your boss nixes your request for a raise — now what? It will depend on why you were denied. If your employer wants you to meet additional performance targets, then write down exactly what you need to do to get that raise and ask to revisit the issue in three to six months, Berger says.

Did your boss say it’s not in the budget? Then shoot for other perks or opportunities that can boost your career going forward. What other options are on the table? Baskin says you can ask for permission to work from home regularly, additional vacation days, flexible hours or a larger or nicer office or work space. Additionally, you can also request additional administrative help that will lighten your workload — due to budgeting quirks, some companies may be able to clear the way for that help more easily than a raise, she says. You can also ask for a one-time bonus, tuition assistance or reimbursement for joining a professional association or attending conferences, which will allow you to network, Smith says.

But all that may be less valuable long term than one other move: “I’m a huge fan of negotiating a change in title,” Smith says. “I think that’s more valuable than a small bump in salary, because if you can negotiate a change in title and they don’t change your salary, it can set you up in a whole different pay band when you go to other companies.

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