how much should you ask for when you ask for a raise?

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A reader writes:

I am thinking of having a salary review meeting to discuss a raise. I know to come armed with my list of accomplishments, what I bring to the company, etc. (all the good advice from your previous salary posts). But should I also be prepared to name a specific number/percentage, and if so, is it wise to ask for higher than what I actually want, so there is room for negotiation?

Furthermore, is it possible to price yourself too high? I do know, from research and from speaking with others in my industry, that I have been paid pretty well. However, in November last year, my role changed greatly and I was given much more responsibility and now lead higher-profile projects; I was told that my ability to take on this extra work saved my company having to hire another person. I didn’t get a raise then, and I can’t help but feel that a raise is appropriate now after 9-10 months of proving myself in this role . But knowing that I do feel I’m fairly well paid (or was, before my workload increased), I’m worried that asking for more money to go along with my increased workload will appear greedy or pushy. I don’t want my company to think I am too expensive to keep around.

Does everyone get this freaked out with salary stuff, or is it just me?!

Nearly everyone does. There’s a sub-group of people who are impressively comfortable with it, but they’re decidedly in the minority. You are the normal one, and they are some sort of mutant.

Okay, so taking these questions one at a time:

Should you ask for a specific amount when you ask for a raise?  There’s no one right answer to this. Some people are very clear that they believe they deserve $X, and anything less than $X is going to leave them unhappy. Other people don’t have a specific amount in mind and just know that they have a case for more. In the first situation, it’s fine to name a figure … and in the second situation, it’s fine not to, and to simply ask for your salary to be revisited. (Although be prepared to be asked what figure you have in mind.)

Personally, I’ve always named a figure. I want to be clear about what I want (especially if what I want happens to be somewhat high, as raises go), and I don’t want the employer to come back with something laughably small. But if you genuinely aren’t sure, it’s not a faux paus not to start out with a specific number (although, again, you may find the conversation quickly going there anyway).

Is it possible to price yourself too high?  Yes. If you ask for something absurdly high (like a 50% increase, say), it’s not just a matter of being told no — your manager will probably start thinking of you as naive, unreasonable, and unrealistic, and that impression isn’t going to be confined just to salary — she’ll see you that way in general. And that’s really not good.

So you’ve got to ask for something that you can support — based on your value to the company, within their particular pay structure. That’s the hard part, unfortunately — it’s not as simple as “always ask for X percent.” It varies by situation.

Should you ask for more than you really want in order to leave room for negotiation?  Again, it varies. Some companies and managers are negotiators and will always offer less than you ask for. Others are straight-shooters and expect you to be too. So you’ve got to know the culture and how your manager operates. (And I’ll acknowledge a bias for straight-shooting and avoiding games on this — my approach to this stuff is to just ask for what you want, which makes me less equipped to offer advice on the other route. In my experience, though, if they value you enough and you’re not making outlandish requests, straight-shooting works.)

Good luck!  Let us know what comes of it.

{ 19 comments… read them below }

  1. Jamie

    I believe in naming a number as well. I don’t do the negotiation dance well so I’d just as soon have an unambiguous conversation.

    One other thing I would do is market research on the new role – see what the market rate is and make sure that what you’re asking for is out of line. If they can replace you for less than you’re asking, or you won’t be able to get it elsewhere for the same position you’re asking too much.

  2. sdottie

    I’m planning to ask for a raise at my 6-month mark, but I’m not sure how to start the conversation. I work for a government agency that has more autonomy with its salary decisions than most government entities. Because we are public employees, our compensation is a matter of public record.

    In the short time I’ve been there, I’ve taken on additional responsibilities due to team members either being on leave or getting fired. I love the extra work, so I’m not complaining. It’s helping me to expand my current technical skills and pick up new ones.

    After thinking that I may not be earning my market value, I found out that my teammate and peer makes nearly $4,000 more than I do (thanks to those public records). That added to my motivation. We have the same level of education (master’s degrees in different, but related, fields) and similar work experience. I also have a few more relevant technical skills than she does.

    Our agency head has mentioned that he has no problem paying a “little bit more” to keep top talent. I’ve already gotten great reviews on my work, so I think I fall into that category. My direct manager has been on leave since the first few weeks of my employment, so she hasn’t been there to witness how well I work. I’m sure others have kept her abreast of department happenings though.

    My co-worker’s salary isn’t the main reason I’m asking for a raise, but I want to be sure I’m not accepting less than I’m worth. How can I open this dialogue with a manager who’s been away for a while and make a strong case for my value?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Wait until it’s been a year. It sucks that your coworker is earning more than you are, but she might have simply negotiated better when you were both first hired. In general, you want to wait until you’ve been at a job for a year before making the case for a raise. If you ask now, your boss is likely to think, “Um, we already negotiated your salary just a few months ago when you started, and you agreed to it then.” Wait another six months and you’ll be able to make a strong request.

  3. Daisy

    Note that 50% isn’t always outlandish. In my field, 5 years out of school, I am making over 200% more than when I started (including bonus target). In 2008, our salaries were frozen across the board so the following year I was given a raise that amounted to a 100% increase. I never asked for any of these raises – they were all granted in normal course during performance reviews. If a peer at a similar firm weren’t granted these raises in normal course but instead needed to initiate discussions about raises, she’d be doing herself a disservice if she went in thinking that asking for 50% is insane. I know this is probably not the norm, but everyone should know their fields and not sell themselves short.

    (Think ~$70k to start, in a field where you ultimately make in the mid-$300k range.)

  4. EK

    I have twice in the past been in a similar position (took on a new role with greater responsibilities, didn’t ask for a raise for several months afterwards, etc.). In both cases, I went into the meeting with a number, that while high compared to my old salary, was in line with typical salaries for my new position or responsibilities. In both cases (with two completely different organizations and sets of bosses, etc.) they ended up giving me more than I asked for. I would recommend doing the research for what is reasonable for your new position, and as well putting in all in writing. I think good supervisors should see that you have been successful with your new responsibilities and want to make sure you are compensated at a reasonable rate.

      1. A Bug!

        There are lots of web sites that try to collect information about pay rates, like Glassdoor and Payscale. I think these are dependent on user input: when you go in to look something up, they ask you to share information about the job you’re currently in.

      2. Jamie

        I’ve found the best way was to search similar jobs and collect salary information. Many don’t have it in the ads, but enough do that you can get a decent sampling for most positions.

        For some jobs which are composites of other positions (or niche where there won’t be tons of info) you can find similar jobs at the same level of responsibility and compile that way. If there aren’t enough in your market for a decent sampling you can use another market – but make sure it’s one that closely mirrors your own.

        Be ready to defend your collection methods and you’ll be okay.

        In my experience the career sites can be helpful for some people, if you have a more traditional job, but I’ve also seen instances where the median salaries were highly inflated compared to the current market. They can be a useful tool, but I wouldn’t find it credible if that were the only source.

        1. JLH

          This is a great idea, and not only will you have data to back-up your request for a raise, you’ll probably feel more confident in asking for it because you have that data. Best of luck!

          1. Jamie

            I did this about a year ago, when my boss asked me to figure out what market was for my position.

            We both knew we needed to address the salary thing after my position radically changed, but I’m such a weird amalgam it was hard to know where to start.

            Bosses should take note – he got major points from me for bringing up the white elephant in the room first. I was preparing to ask for a meeting on this, but since he beat me to it I didn’t feel weird or confrontational about it at all.

            The science part was easy – the art of it …not as easy. When your job is a hybrid and you don’t want to keep all the parts the positions available are slimmer. I.e. you don’t see an ad for someone wanting an IT but also QC/Cost Analyst/Internal Auditor every day. But by the same token the candidate pool to replace you – all the tasks in one person – will be slim as well so I just chalked that up to being a wash.

      3. Matt

        Sorry I’m late…

        This is research

        The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a good place to start. They compile salary information from U.S. employers yearly. It’s the most accurate estimate of salary information available for jobs in the United States. If your not good with math, particularly statistics, you’ll have a hard time deriving data that accurately represents your particular situation. Nevertheless, it can be done.

        Go here to find industry averages:
        http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm

        Go here to find wages by age:
        http://www.bls.gov/cex/2012/combined/age.pdf

        Go here to find wages by education:
        http://www.bls.gov/cex/2012/aggregate/educat.pdf

        Go here if you want to see how your geographic area pays as a percentage of the national average(first link):
        http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ncspay.pdf

        Another good place to look is your company’s end of the year financial statement (if they’re publicly traded entity). From that little gem you just divide the total cost of wages and salaries (located in the personnel expenses section) by the number of employees. This calculation will give you the average salary for your company.

        The most interesting thing is comparing your company average, to the average salary that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports for your particular industry(first link). In my particular case, the average wage paid by my employer is c.a. 30% more than the industry average as reported by the BLS.

        A little background on where the BLS data comes from:
        Twice yearly, Ocupational Employment Statistics (OES) surveys are sent to 200,000 different employers in the US requesting wage and salary information the information is compiled so that each publication of the quarterly release are an average of the previous 12 quarters of data. If you’re interested in more detail about the scope, and methodologies used in generating the data, it’s in the first link. Basically, each quarterly release contains information gathered from 1.2 million companies. It’s practically a mathematical certainty that your your employer has contributed information to the aggregates. The odds are slim that any “.com” salary site will provide information that accurate.

        If you need help interpreting the data, post a reply, and we’ll get this thread started

  5. Catherine

    I am in this situation now. I brought it up with my supervisor by saying that my position needed to be reviewed and rewritten (true), but I was hoping for a raise as well. He told me to write a new position description and get back to him, via our company’s posted job descriptions. I found a position that aptly describes what I am doing, however it is for a manager position…I’m not a manager now, but I have a lot of managerial duties and I supervise others on my team. My worry is that if I submit this manager description to him, he will think I’m being naive and shooting too high (even though it’s a lower level manager position, the salary is not much more than what I’m earning now). Good idea, bad idea? Any thoughts appreciated!

  6. Coolly

    Any advise on how to request that a “merit increase” be converted into personal time off? I was considering simply asking a for 1 for 1 conversion but I’m wondering if I would be short changing myself given that PTO isn’t always considered “real money”.

  7. DuhMan

    Yeah negotiating pay is usually an uncomfortable experience for most people. I used to be the same way. Then I became a consultant. I learned really fast how much I was worth by talking to other consultants. My first couple of jobs I undersold myself. Then I thought, what they heck, let’s see what the market will bear. I raised my rate from $50 p/hr to $85 p/hr. I consistently got contracts at $75 to $80 p/hr. You just have to be willing to walk away if it’s too low, even in the face of unemployment. I found out at one client that the agency holding the contract was billing me out at $115 p/hr. So, now I know the score. FTE is no different. Research the going rate and negotiate accordingly. Life is too short and it’s not a dress rehearsal.

  8. Saraj

    I asked for a pay rise about 10 weeks ago. My managers are considering it. I am currently paid just £1000 more than 3 of the men I manage and £4000 less than one of the men I manage. I think I do equal or more work (I am the manager) and I feel it isn’t reflected in my pay especially as all the members of the team I manage will be paid more than me once we get our bonus’s as their targets are easier than mine and so I will be the least paid team member and I ma the manager of the team! I think it may be because I am a woman. I have set the ball rolling and am still waiting for an update as to whether I will get a raise. Surely they should have given me an answer by now and if they do agree to a raise it should be back dated…?

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