Often, whether or not you’re offered a raise has little to do with your job performance. Instead, your compensation may be based on your department’s budget, your manager’s priorities, and (in some cases) whether or not your employer thinks they can keep you doing such a great job for cheap.
The bottom line is this: To get a raise in this non-merit-based world, you’ve got to make the case for it. Here’s a deep dive into how.
What to say when asking for a raise
You have to be strategic when asking for a raise. The specifics will depend on your job, your goals, and your individual situation, but there are a few tactics you could take that work across most industries. Adjust as necessary to fit your situation.
Define your goals and ask for advice
Before you the raise conversation, sit down with your manager and make sure they know what your goals are. Tell them that your first priority is to do a great job in the role you’re in—but that you’ve got your sights on advancement.
Then ask for your manager’s advice. Solicit feedback on the job you’re doing, and enlist their help in setting you up to make the next move. Implement their advice, and let your manager see that you’re doing everything you can to meet their requirements.
This puts you in a stronger position when you do sit down to have that raise conversation down the line.
Toot your own horn
Because no one else is gonna toot it for you.
Assume people at work will take you for granted—that's why you need to make sure they notice your achievements. Be proactive and systematic in communicating your successes.
Track down the results of your projects, assemble numbers and data, and make sure your boss knows the impact you’re having. Keep them informed on the outcome of what you’ve done, and don’t be shy about sharing often. This way, by the time you ask for a raise, your boss knows you’ve earned it.
Demonstrate your value
The most persuasive data across most industries is money—how much you saved or earned your company. If you can walk into a raise conversation with these numbers in your back pocket, your boss will clearly see the cost-benefit analysis of giving you a raise.
But even if you can’t tie specific dollar amounts to your value, you can still make sure your boss knows what you’re worth. Give concrete details about the outcome of projects you’ve managed and specific accomplishments you're responsible for.
Tell a story about a problem you solved—start with the state things were in before you stepped in; move on to what you did; and then talk about the outcome. What you’re essentially doing is developing a testimonial—and you can develop as many of these as you have accomplishments.
Keep short versions of these testimonials in your pocket for when you’re having a more casual conversation with your boss—and a longer version for when you’re sitting down across from them to ask for a raise.
Keep the focus on why you deserve more, not why you need more
The cold truth is, you might need more money. Bills don’t pay themselves. But your boss is not going to be as moved by your story of need as they will by a different story: one where you’re highly valuable and might move somewhere else if they don’t try to keep you.
Your boss wants to reward you based on performance, not need. Avoid bringing up personal reasons for needing a raise. Stick to successes you’ve had on the job, and tie them to concrete numbers as much as possible.
Anticipate your boss’s objections
What are all the reasons your boss might say no? Give some thought to these—and have a plan for how you’ll respond. Consider your boss’s point of view—what are their priorities? How can giving you a raise serve their needs?
Once you’ve written out some of your boss’s possible responses and your answers to those, practice. Get a friend or trusted colleague to read the dialogue with you. Get used to keeping your cool and meeting these responses with well-reasoned answers.
Focus on shared goals
The language you use is important. Focus on how paying you more benefits the entire company, not just yourself—and express your desire to help the team and excel in your role and career with the company.
This is particularly key for women. According to a recent Harvard study, women are often unfairly perceived as selfish when asking for a raise—much more so than men—and have to be especially careful not to come across as self-serving.
Using “we” language—focusing on we and our instead of I and my statements—can be an easy shortcut to using the kind of inclusive language that won’t turn your boss off.
See also: Paying Off Student Loans
How much should you ask for a raise?
To determine what’s a good pay raise for you, you’ll have to do some research.
Go on Payscale.com, Salary.com, Glassdoor’s “Know Your Worth” tool, or the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Look up the average salary for your position and your part of the country. Find out what other people are making.
If you’re underpaid, you’ll need to know that going in. Asking for the median salary for people in your job description and location is generally easier; asking for a number in the top of the range can be done, but you’ll need to justify it.
Do you have more education than most people in your position? Do you have more experience than most? Are you worth a lot to the company (in terms of the amount you’ve either saved or earned for them)? These are all important justifications you can use when asking for a raise at the top of the typical pay scale.
Bear in mind that the average raise percentage is somewhere between 1 and 5%. The bigger the raise you’re asking for, the more you’ll have to demonstrate an extraordinary contribution and value to your company.
How to ask for a raise when you are underpaid
During your salary research, you might find that you’re criminally underpaid.
Take a deep breath—go punch something inanimate if you have to—and then start formulating your strategy.
The tactics for asking for a raise when you’re underpaid are similar to those when you aren’t—but it helps to know the numbers. Walk in with data on how much people are paid in your position and area, using a range of tools.
Consider your boss’s objections, too. For instance, maybe the reason you make less is that you have less education than most people in your position. One way to respond to this is with concrete numbers about how you’ve benefited the company, showing a clear, dollar-sign value for your work.
How to ask for a raise when given more responsibility
Your boss trusts you to take on more—and that’s great! But make sure you’re not being asked to do more work for the same pay.
Gaining more responsibility is a great sign, but you may have to push for a corresponding pay raise. First, document all your new responsibilities. Write down the tasks you’re responsible for on a daily basis, and note how each one contributes to the company. Track the positive outcomes of any projects you’ve done.
If the new responsibilities you’re taking on correspond to a specific job role in addition to the one you currently serve, know what people in that role are getting paid in your area. Walk in with a strong idea of what’s realistic to ask for, given the market.
How long do you wait to ask for a raise?
The standard answer to this question is one year.
However, some situations aren’t standard. For instance, if your job has significantly changed, or if you’ve taken on more responsibilities than you had when you first started, you have good reason to ask for a raise before that time.
How to ask for a raise in writing
If you decide to ask for a raise in writing, you’ll need to build your case in writing.
First, consider your audience. Your boss is much more likely to want to give you a pay raise if it benefits them, not necessarily you. For instance, if you’d be tough to replace or if you’ve earned or saved your company a lot of money, or if you have rare skills.
Consider what makes you valuable and hard to replace. With that information in mind, here are a few tips:
- Read over your original job descriptions. Pull out the most important bullet points and list the ways you go above and beyond on those.
- Track the outcomes of your projects and initiatives, and state clearly the benefits they’ve brought to the company. List specific numbers and percentages—especially dollars saved or earned—whenever possible.
- Express how you’ve gone above and beyond in your role—and the results you’ve had. Tell a story that starts with a problem, details how you solved it, and shows the positive outcome clearly.
- Be clear about the amount of increase you want. Do your research beforehand and know what people in your role and area are getting paid, and know what’s a reasonable amount. If you’re asking for money on the top end of the pay scale, be prepared to justify that.
- Stay positive, and emphasize your commitment to the company and the team.
What was the average salary increase in 2018?
Not so great. Most companies are planning to raise wages about 3% in 2018. That’s downright stingy.
However, there’s hope. According to the June Job Market Update, unemployment in the United States is currently around 4%—and companies are struggling both to fill positions and hold on to their current workforce. That means your company might be desperate to keep you, even if that desperation isn’t showing up in your paycheck.
It means, in other words, that your boss may be particularly receptive to the idea that to keep you around, they have to boost your pay.
But every industry is different, which is why it’s so important to do your research and keep your number realistic.
What’s an example of how to ask your boss for a raise?
We can give you all the advice you want—but sometimes what you need is a concrete example. Don’t say we didn’t ever do anything for you.
This shouldn’t be copied word-for-word, of course—and it may not work for your industry. But here’s a very general example of how to make the initial ask in writing, including a request to meet to finalize the details.
Dear [Your Boss],
I’ve enjoyed working as a Sales Associate at ABC Company for the past five years, and feel I’ve grown a great deal in my career. The skills I’ve learned in this position have allowed me to make a strong contribution to the company’s bottom line.
Here are some of the achievements I’m most proud of from the past year:
- Earning President’s Club recognition for my sales performance two out of three quarters.
- Securing over $500,000 in revenue by developing and launching highly targeted sales strategies.
- Leading the effort to expand into a new, highly competitive market, securing 50% market share.
- Leveraging my network and connections to secure 5 high-profile new clients, worth approximately $1.5 million in total business.
Throughout my time at ABC Company, I have met or exceeded all of my revenue goals. I have also implemented new processes to streamline sales operations, and I have trained team members in best practices that have further boosted our bottom line.
I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to discuss my current salary with you. I am requesting a pay raise of 5%, which I believe is in line with both industry salaries in this area and my value to the company.
As I stated before, I am very happy to be working under you at ABC Company, and I look forward to making a positive contribution to ABC’s bottom-line performance for many years to come.
It's time to go for it
If you’re going to ask for a raise, do your research. Know what you’re worth, and what other people in your position are being paid. Keep the conversation positive, and your request realistic—and hopefully you’ll get what you want.