what to say when you ask for a raise

If you’re like most people, the thought of asking for a raise makes you nervous because you aren’t quite sure what to say. You might have a general idea of why you deserve a salary increase, but how do you translate that into language to take to your boss?

The answer is easier than you might think: Just be straightforward.

For instance, your wording might sound like this: “I was hoping that we could talk about my salary. It’s been a year since my last raise, and in that time, I’ve taken on quite a few new responsibilities. I’m now solely responsible for overseeing our website and, as you mentioned last week, our results in that area have shot way up. I’ve also been managing Jane since Carlos left, and I’ve been able to resolve the concerns we’d had about her relations with vendors; that area has been going really smoothly since I began working with her. In addition, I know you’re happy with the changes that I’ve made to our press releases, and we’ve been getting a 25% higher rate of response when we pitch those. Now that I’ve been doing these things for a while, I’d like to discuss increasing my salary to a level that reflects these increased contributions.”

Note a few key points about this language:

* It doesn’t just say that you’d like more money, but lays out reasons for why the raise is deserved. By explaining how you’ve been contributing at a higher level than when your salary was last set, you can make the case for your compensation to be raised accordingly.

* It references work that you’ve already done, not work that you’re promising to do in the future. Some people want to ask for a raise as soon as they take on new responsibilities. While this can make sense if those new responsibilities are part of a promotion to an entirely new job, if they’re simply a new part of your existing job, it’s generally more effective to wait until you show how well you’ve done with the new tasks. “Pay me more to take on new work” generally doesn’t go over well, outside of a promotion. But “I’ve taken on new work and here are the outstanding results that I obtained in doing so” is often precisely the formula that will garner a raise.

* It makes a case based on your value to your employer. There’s no mention here of what your coworkers get, or the fact that you need more because your kid is about to go to college. It’s all about why your value to the company has increased, and why your compensation should reflect that.

And aside from preparing yourself with language similar to the above, there’s also one more thing that you should prepare before walking into your boss’s offer to make that raise request: what to say if the answer is no. Too many people just skulk off feeling dejected if their raise request is turned down. Don’t let that be you! Instead, be prepared to say something like, “What would it take for me to earn a raise in the future?” A good manager should be willing to talk with you about specifically what you’d need to do to hear “yes” next time.

{ 17 comments… read them below }

  1. Jamie*

    The one topic I wish could be exclusively conducted in email – but never will be.

    I wish we could have agents, like athletes, to go in and hammer out the details so we can sit back unsullied. I am awesome at arguing on behalf of other people – it’s when it’s me that I get weirdly touchy about it. It’s not logical – it’s just the one area I can’t seem not to take personally and when it’s personal I get weird.

    Alison did warn against the two things that never work (if you’re manager is reasonable) and people should really heed her advice:
    1. Don’t mention why you need more money. We all need more money, no one cares and you look naive.
    2. Don’t mention what you will do. I’ve seen people use the tactic of promising XYZ performance wise if only they earned what they felt was the salary that justified it. This blows up in their faces 100% of the time – it’s a REALLY bad idea to tell your boss how much more you’re capable of just as soon as he meets your ultimatum. Prove it first – then ask.

    1. Runon*

      I completely agree. I want an agent to argue for me. And I’m cool being an agent for someone else if need be. I can get someone else to do it for a house, or a car, or a prison term, why not a job?

      Sort of #2 and sort of very different. What about “In the next year I expect to expand on project scorpio generating an additional 20% world destruction.” (After you’ve said, “Last year project scorpio increased the speed of world destruction by 40%.” of course.)

      1. fposte*

        That’s different–you’re going to be committing your world destruction whether you get a raise or not, and you’re just projecting work results to show your general awesomeness. Jamie’s talking about the “If you give me a raise I will be productive for you in a way I haven’t been.” (There was actually an OP who pretty much was planning to use that as the basis for a hiring request.)

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        You’re still really pointing to what you’ve already accomplished as a reason for the raise. Without that 40% increase last year, your claim of 20% in the coming year wouldn’t have credibility.

        1. Runon*

          Thanks, I’ve just been doing a lot of that and wanted to make sure that was still within the sensible realm.

  2. Mike C.*

    The flip side to this is making it clear to employees what they need to do to earn those higher wages. Oftentimes pay raises are arbitrary and completely out of the hands of employees regardless of performance.

    I find that when there are reasonable paths and expectations to a pay upgrade I find those ways to meet the new standards. Without a path and eventual reward, it’s easy to try all sorts of things that won’t pay off.

    1. Yup*

      Or when the standards change from year to year. I once had a through-the-looking-glass conversation where I laid out all of my accomplishments from the prior year, and my manager replied “Well, most of those things aren’t really central to your role.” And I wondered, “Then why did you ask me to write them up as ‘objectives’ last year?” Being consistently on the same page about what tasks are important and how they contribute to the organization’s success is huge.

  3. Sharon - OP*

    My problem is that some companies seem to imply that there is a career ladder that may not actually exist. Specifically I’m thinking of the ones that have different standardized levels within each job title, like business analyst 1 – 6, software engineer 1 – 6, etc. It was a hard lesson for me that I still needed to ask for a promotion to the next level. There is a job on my resume where I spent 9 years with the same title because it took me that long to realize that I needed to advocate for myself.

  4. tangoecho5*

    “What can I do to earn a pay raise”? My company does it based on some convuluted formula where only a small part actually involves your actual job performance. There are no merit raises . So it is kinda irritating because I can exceed my performance plan goals but still get a lower raise than my coworker who does not meet her goals but she’s been with the company longer.

    That’s not rewarding job excellence, it’s rewarding hanging on until you can get your pension or are fully vested.

  5. DownSide Up*

    I’ve been at this new position 8 months–ordinarily it would never cross my mind to ask about a salary increase at this early stage. I did not negotiate salary as I should have when I received my offer, but that’s on me. But I’ve also found through looking at previous year budgets that my predecessor made 25% more than me for working within the same job description, and in fact, I was hired to grow the program after she was let go. The scope of the program is widening considerably. I always give my best effort, but it does grate that they undercut me, especially since the expectations and responsibilities for the role seem to grow every other month. The salaries for this agency are not available beforehand, and the titles used often do not correspond with outside salary ranges.

    We have no money. I know if I go to my boss with what I know, it won’t do anything but make her defensive. She’s great in many respects, but does not handle anything that she perceives as “conflict” well. So my options as I see them are to stay, or leave. Unfortunately, I did contract work before this (listed as such on my resume), this is a second career path for me, and I left one very toxic job environment (along with 1/3 of the staff) after only 6 months in the job previous to this. I’m not a job hopper, but I’m starting to look like one on paper. There’s a lot of other context going on here, but that’s for the open thread forum.

    So this is mostly venting! But thanks for letting me do so.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It might help to ignore your predecessor’s salary; after all, you accepted the salary you’re getting now only 8 months ago and presumably thought it was fair enough to take the job. I can understand why finding out what she made is frustrating, but you did say yes to the salary you’re currently receiving.

      1. Jamie*

        Totally agree – knowing the predecessor’s salary is one of those times I wished my brain had a permanent delete function.

        Some things once you know them you just can’t “unknow” them…and it’s highly annoying.

    2. Jamie*

      Yeah – the no money thing is an impossible hurdle to clear. I know some employers toss around the no money thing but if you’re in the position to know it’s true…

      And yes – I can see a boss getting defensive if they are asked for something they just cannot give. It’s not the perfect response, but it’s a human one.

      I know you aren’t asking for advice, but if I were you I’d hang in there without asking until my next review – and do a kick ass job in the meantime – and then discuss it. If money is still not available it’s possible your boss would be willing to discuss a timeline by which it might be. It’s an organic conversation in a review, so it might not trigger a bad reaction.

      1. DownSide Up*

        Absolutely–I wasn’t intending to ask now, so I should have been more clear. I would have been perfectly happy to never know my predecessor’s salary, but one new thing I’ve taken on is having to write grant proposals and it’s on the old budgets.

        I wouldn’t say I thought the salary was fair at the beginning; it was actually a pay cut, but there just isn’t a lot out there in my field, I was strong-armed into resigning with others on the team, and I just couldn’t afford to be at all picky in my geographic location.

        I’d had interviews at other places but knew the decision processes at the other potential jobs were months long, not a few weeks. I didn’t qualify for unemployment and my reserve cash had gone to a medical emergency. I made stupid, emotional decisions. Now, I own all of that. Crap happens. But I also now know that this job doesn’t pay what other comparable jobs do for the level of work I’m doing, and frankly I feel like a chump.

        But I do like the content of the work and it is meaningful, so as long as it stays that way, I can wait on the rest. And I realize I may seem defensive, so I’m sorry for that. This isn’t Ask a Therapist. I’m probably doing a little transferring!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Right, but you accepted that salary. It was an acceptable salary to you. (And if it’s not, it’s not their fault that you accepted it; by taking the offer, you were saying, “I find this salary acceptable.”)

          The thing is, your market value is what people will pay you. And if you weren’t getting other offers in the timeframe that you needed them, then it might be that this is indeed a fair market value.

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