when’s the right time to ask for a raise?

When’s the last time you asked for a raise? If you’re like a lot of people, the answer is never … because you worry that your boss will react badly or think your request is premature or presumptuous, or just that you’ll be turned down.

Despite these fears, it’s perfectly normal to ask for a raise when you’ve earned one. But one important key is to get the timing right – because timing can be the determining factor in whether your boss says yes or no.

Here are three examples of the wrong time to ask for a raise:

1. When you haven’t been on the job very long. If you’ve only been on the job a few months, you already did your salary negotiation – it was when you were hired. In most cases, you want to have a solid year of work behind you before you ask for a raise.

There are a few exceptions to this, such as if the job dramatically changes, or if your responsibilities increase far (and I do mean far) beyond what was envisioned when you were hired, or if you’re asked to take on new tasks that cause real hardship, such as constant travel or a horrible commute. In these cases, it might be reasonable to revisit the question of your compensation. But in most cases, you should wait a year before you ask for a raise.

2. When you haven’t been performing well. When you approach your boss about a raise, your request must be based on the great work you’ve done. If you’ve been struggling and not wowing anyone, this isn’t the time to ask for more money. Otherwise, your boss may think you’re completely out of touch with the job expectations and your own performance.

3. When the company is struggling financially. When employers are going through a rough financial time, they’re looking for places to cut costs, not add them. A lot of companies will freeze salaries during difficult financial times, and a smart employee will be sensitive to the constraints they’re dealing with.

So when is the right time to ask for a raise?

1. When you have a sustained track record of accomplishment that you can point to. A raise is recognition of a job well done, recognition that you’re now contributing at a significantly higher level than when your salary was last set (whether that was when you were hired or when you got your last raise). A raise says “your work is now worth more to us.” So you need to make sure that’s true before you make your pitch.

2. It doesn’t hurt to have just done a great job on something. Hopefully you’re doing a great job all the time, but ideally you’d ask at a time when your fantastic performance is particularly fresh in your boss’s mind because you just wrote an amazing report or saved the company significant money or wowed a client.

Asking for a  raise is nerve-wracking, but remember, good managers want to keep good employees. If your request is reasonable and backed up by your value to your employer, a good manager will try to work with you to keep you happy. And even if your company can’t say yes right now, a good boss will explain to you what would need to happen for her to be able to say yes next time.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 6 comments… read them below }

  1. Elizabeth*

    Though I would love to ask for a raise, my company falls under the number 3 category: when the company is struggling financially. However, it is hard at times to convince myself and my family members that even though I’ve earned a raise, it is just really bad timing to ask for one. Thanks for this article.

  2. Jamie*

    This is great advice – and the point about having been there under a year is something to keep in mind when you’re negotiating your starting salary and the job is in the process of being defined.

    Some jobs are what they are, and if you’re taking on a position with clear duties a year is a good rule of thumb. But if you’re taking on a position which is going in a different direction due to your specific skill set…and what you’ll be doing and the scope of responsibility isn’t locked down there is nothing wrong with asking for a six month salary review when you take the job. Make sure they put it in your offer letter, so revisiting it isn’t awkward or premature…it’s just part of the contract.

  3. Dawn*

    Certain employees at my place don’t seem to understand that they aren’t going to get a raise if they do something that causes a loss to the company. And simply showing up at work to do the job you were hired to do isn’t a reason for an above-avergage raise.

    In regards to hard financial times, my family doesn’t seem to get that even though I work my ass off and deserve a raise, it’s not right to ask for a raise when I know the shape the company is in financially. Part of being a senior manager is thinking about the good of the company rather than myself.

  4. Anonymous*

    I was in management a few years ago, well before the global economic meltdown, and we had management (“leadership”) training once a week.

    During the leadership training, the subject of a person asking for a raise came up. The course book that we were using basically said that if someone asks for a raise it means they are unhappy, a potential troublemaker and they’re probably the type of person who is only in it for the money and not for the love of the company.

    The bosses really latched onto that idea. If you asked for a raise, you were just not going to work out with the company in the long term. If you said you got a better offer from another company and wanted to see if they could match it, they’d tell you “good luck at the new place”.

    So, will I ever ask for a raise? Not unless I am prepared to quit on the spot.

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