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Written by Susan ShorSusan Shor

How to ask for a raise without getting laughed at

15 min read
How to ask for a raise without getting laughed at
When you are considering how to ask for a raise, the truth is there is no silver bullet. It takes preparation and a tailored approach to help ensure success

Determined, Jolene walks confidently into Mr. Montgomery’s office for their 2pm meeting.

“Today is the day” she quietly whispers to herself.

This is no ordinary Monday, Jolene has been rehearsing her pitch all weekend. On her walks in the park, out with her friends, even in front of the mirror (embarrassing!). Jolene has built up the courage to finally ask...no, demand...a pay raise from old Monty. She deserves it and she think that her boss knows it, but asking is still a nerve-wracking proposition. Most people feel the sake when they ask for a raise.

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Jolene is about to embark on one of the most important yet controversial milestones of anyone's career: asking for a raise. As inflation continues to eat away at our prosperity, these conversations are crucial to maintain (at least) a similar standard of living).

But why would Jolene worry about being laughed at? Well, in terms of everyday workplace conversations, asking for a raise doesn't happen often and the outcome is rarely clear. It is easy to convince yourself that the answer will be negative and may harm your relationships with your boss, but you need to see it as a simple business conversation. You boss will likely offer some answers if a raise is not possible and these answers will inform your decision about your future actions. You can either contribute more or you can serach for that salary uplift elsewhere. Don;t stay with an employer who don;t want to pay you what you are worth. This is a common dilemna.

A survey by Payscale of 160,000 workers found that 37 percent of them have asked for a pay increase in the past. The encouraging news is that 70 percent of those who asked actually got some percentage of a raise. And, a third of those who asked got nothing. It is only embarrassing if you ask when you don't deserve it (or if you know for sure that budgetary restrictions won't allow it). Otherwise there is no harm in valuing your impact.

So how did things turn out for Jolene? Joyous or jobless? You’ll have to stick around to find out. First, let’s dig a little deeper into how you can ask for a raise like a boss.

Expert tip

Is it greedy to negotiate salary? Your salary should be a fair reflection of the work that you do for your company, cross-referenced against market rates for a similar role. If there has been any significant change in your contribution or the market dynamics have shifted, you are well in your rights to ask for a raise. This is not an annual pay increase that rises with inflation - you think that you deserve more. There is nothing wrong with this.

If you get a negative answer, it may still serve to start a conversation about what you need to do to deserve your next raise. Every decent manager is happy to have an ambitious employee who wants to improve.

How to ask for a raise

You need to do your research . Use industry averages of what your profession makes so your request isn’t outlandish, and you don’t get laughed out of your boss’ office. Consider your years of experience as well. Make sure you’re comparing like job descriptions: Two different positions may have the same title, but in reality be very different jobs.

You can check out Glassdoor for some idea of what your co-workers make, but that’s an opt-in system, so you may have to dig further to get an accurate idea. Remember: your credibility depends on it!

You may get a no. And that’s OK. Don’t overreact.

Instead, ask your boss what you could do to be more convincing next time you ask for a salary increase. What added responsibility can you take on? Get actionable items, write them down, and come up with a plan to execute. Then, check in as you manage your additional responsibilities as a subtle reminder that you’re doing everything the boss asked for when you broached the subject of a raise.

Does your boss think it’s not the right time? That’s OK too, you can ask them when would be a better time to have the discussion. Mark it on your calendar, and keep working your butt off!

Expert tip

Can asking or a raise backfire? As long as you are reasonable in your justifications, there will not be serious repercussions if you ask for a raise. You should stress that you are happy with all the other aspects of the role and certainly not give any ultimatums that you do not intend to stick to. Ask the question with serious intent and gauge just how willing your boss is to consider it. If it is a flat "no" you have two choices: sit and feel under-appreciated or look for a new role. Asking for a raise is not a reason to fire you, although to may damage trust.

Also, don't ask too regularly. Explore the situation properly when you do come to ask, but let things lie for a while afterwards. Only ask again when you have improved your performance and are hitting the criteria.

Nobody owes you anything

I need a raise is apparently one of the last things managers want to hear when negotiating salary and raises with their employees. You have to keep this in mind! No one wants to hear an ultimatum either, or you might find yourself out the door. Never demand a raise unless you are prepared to walk.

Another no-no is telling the boss you need a pay increase for personal reasons or just plain because you are underpaid. Prove your worth!

What you have to do is focus on your boss, their interests, and the company. Align yourself and your asking for a raise with the team and company. Stockpile positive comments, kudos, or any pat on the back from your superiors as ammunition when asking for a raise. Quote your performance review if you can. If you can’t, maybe now is not the best time to ask for that pay increase.

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What added value are you bringing to the company? Bring data to back up your request.

I need a raise because my friend Karl who works for competitor X makes 20% more than me!”

Versus…

Last quarter I led the team that implemented new analytic software that reduced customer churn by 13%. And, I strongly believe we can get that number down even more in the coming year.

Notice the difference?

How to get a raise without asking

If you are an exceptional employee who is doing great work, most companies will have a mechanism to recognise your efforts. Part of this may involve improving your overall package or giving you an increased bonus, but it is common that outstanding contributions or a change in responsibilities will also trigger a salary increase.

This will rarely happen without your involvement, and you will likely take part in negotiations, so much of the advice in this article will remain valid. Once you are in that room fight for the value that you bring - the company will not want to give you too much of a raise, after all.

Expert tip

What should you not say when asking for a raise? Anything that is emotionally charged. Asking for a raise should be presented in the style of a professional "business plan" so there is no place for emotional blackmail or personal sob stories. Your boss cannot go to HR and justify these sorts of reasons. Keep emotions bottled up.

Asking for a raise isn’t all about salary

There are any number of benefits an employer can offer you outside of simple cash. Keep in mind that there could be other perks that could be an option:

  • Higher commissions
  • More time off
  • Stock options
  • A better job title (Our favorite is Director of Astonishment)
  • Flexible schedules
  • Or, that bean bag chair you’ve always wanted.

It’s all about timing.

If you look around the office and reminisce about former colleagues who were caught in a round of layoffs, now may not be the best time to ask for more money. Are you in the middle of a transition, an awful earnings season, or a merger? Is COVID affecting your company’s bottom line? 

Say it with me now...Now...may...not...be...the...best...time.

When asking for a raise, choose your timing wisely. If business is good and you are a top performer, it might be wise to put a bug in your boss’s ear sooner rather than later, especially if you have taken on new responsibilities in your current role. 

Let them know that you have this on your mind, but want to pitch it to them formally, so would a meeting next month be OK? This way, it won’t be a surprise to your manager, and they have time to mentally prepare.

Expert tip

What are good reasons for asking for a raise? One of the best reasons for asking for a raise is that your impact on the company's bottom line has markedly increased. If you are helping your company earn 15% more year-on-year (your direct contribution), then a 10% raise is a small proportion of your true financial impact.

Think like a negotiator

When your meeting day arrives, go into it as you would any salary negotiation. Have a salary range in mind. Know what you want and what you are willing to accept. Understand your market value. Will you be able to get your desired salary if you land a new job? Is your skill set in high demand? Is your department understaffed? Those facts give you leverage. 

Don’t go into the meeting cold. Practice your pitch just as you would practice for a job interview. Examine your last year of employment honestly and decide what great work you want to present to bolster your case.

Then, know when to stop. You make your pitch and you’re done. Even if the answer is “Sorry, wait until next year,” a good negotiator knows when they’ve reached the end of the discussion. 

Expert tip

Is it crazy to ask for a 20% raise? It is not unheard of for someone's salary to double (if their responsibilities and seniority take a step-change), so 20% is far from crazy. Back up your demands with logical reasons and look at what people around you are being paid. You should be slightly careful of becoming "overpaid" as you may then be the first candidate to head out of the door if redundancies loom on the horizon. In the world of inflation that we live in, people are moving companies for 25-30% salary uplifts, so if you can prove your worth then you may be in line for a raise. The excisting salary bandings of many companies are being revised as we speak.

How to ask for a salary increase letter

Oh, and what about Jolene? Here’s how her salary increase letter went down…

Mr. Montgomery, as you know, over the last two years I’ve completely revamped our social media strategy. Not only have our followers grown by 40%, but our second most popular sales channel is now social media. This was a key goal laid out by you and our CEO at the beginning of this year. We are Q2, and have already achieved it!

I also took over hiring the graphic designer, and I truly want to thank you for the opportunity to take that off your plate. That was my first staffing experience, and Justin is fitting in so well. I hope you will give me more hiring and staffing responsibilities going forward.

Given these accomplishments and revenue increases I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of, I’d like to discuss a raise with you.

But, before we get to that, I wanted to chat with you first about how I believe I can continue to increase sales through my social media expertise. I have a few ideas. Is that okay with you?

You can see where this is going right? Jolene did very well, and you can too. Asking for a raise is all about humility, preparation, and sticking to the right script. Feel free to steal the above one, Jolene won’t mind.

One thing Jolene didn't mention here was her quantifiable impact. She didn't mention any numbers (always a good idea). If your annual (not one-off) incremental monetary contribution to the employer's net profit is far above the salary increase, the employer would be hard pressed to refuse you. Is this something that you along bring to the table? What would they lose if you left? There are many more arguments that you can bring to bear.

Expert tip

Can you ask for a raise via email? Anything that gives a boss an easy chance to say "no" is not a great idea. Especially if it means that their department personnel budget will go up. This is not going to be a simple conversation and may last a few weeks, so start by putting all your cards on ther table in a face-to-face meeting.

 Ask for 10 minutes of your manager's time, take them through your key arguments and give them time to consider it and discuss it with others. You won't get an immediate answer, but you give yourself a better chance than a quick "no" over email. You are worth more than that, so present your arguments thoughtfully.

Key Takeaways

Most of us doubt ourselves deep down at various points in our career.

When it is time to ask for a raise, all those doubts come rushing to the front of our minds. Are we worth it? What does our boss really think of us? Why do we deserve it and not our colleagues? Will they think badly of us? 

These questions and many more can stop us from even considering it. 

  • Construct a compelling commercial argument for why you deserve a raise.
  • Appeal to your manager's emotional side as well as their rational side.
  • Paint a picture of a world where you are no longer doing your job.
  • Base your request on solid research and be fair in what you ask for.
  • What is stopping you from asking. Put your insecurities to one side.

Put the doubts to one side. 

If the points in this article are ringing true, gather your courage and ask for what you deserve.

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