7 questions to ask yourself before asking for a raise

Thinking about asking for a raise? Before you do, make sure that you’ve positioned yourself as strongly as possible for a yes, by asking yourself these seven questions.

1. How long have I been in this job? Typically you should be in a job for one year before you ask for a raise. Exceptions to this are if the job changed dramatically or if your responsibilities have increased far beyond what was envisioned when you were hired. In a situation like that, it could be reasonable to revisit the question of your compensation. But in most cases, you should wait until you’ve been employed for a year before you ask for a raise.

2. When was my last raise? Once again, the answer is one year. Typically it’s reasonable to ask for your salary to be reviewed annually, so if you got a raise six months ago, you probably have another six months to wait before you can reasonably ask again. (Of course, the exceptions above apply here too.)

3. How has my value to the company increased? A raise is recognition of that your value to the company has increased; it’s an acknowledgement that you’re now contributing at a significantly higher level than when your salary was last set and that you should be compensated accordingly. So a compelling argument for a raise will be built around that question – not around your own increased expenses, or just the fact that a year has passed, or anything else not related to the value of your work. And speaking of the value of your work…

4. Do I know what the market value is for my work? Understanding the market value for your work – meaning what jobs similar to yours are paying in your geographic area – is one of the most important things for you to know, because it will dictate what size raise you can reasonably ask for, as well as whether you’ll seem in touch with market trends or unrealistic about you could earn if you went somewhere else. The better sense you have of the going rate for your work, the stronger position you’ll be in.

5. Am I exceeding expectations, or simply meeting them? Your chances of getting a raise increase the more your manager values your work. If you’re simply getting by and meeting expectations but not going above and beyond, a cost-of-living adjustment to your salary might be the best you can hope for. But if you’re in the top tier of performers on your team, your manager is far more likely to go to bat for you to get you a sizable increase – because she’ll be highly motivated to retain you and make sure you don’t jump ship.

6. Is this the right time to ask? If the company is going through a merger or laying off your coworkers, or otherwise in a rough financial period, they’re likely looking for places to cut costs, not add them. You don’t want to look insensitive to that. Plus, companies often freeze salaries during difficult financial times.

7. Do I know what I’ll say if my manager says no? Hopefully, when you ask for a raise, you’ll hear a yes. But you might get turned down, and you don’t want to be caught unprepared if that happens. Figure out what you’ll say in that case so that you’re not put on the spot. For instance, you might ask what you’d need to do to earn a raise in the future and what a reasonable timeframe for that would look like. And whether or not you’re happy with that answer, you’ll be better off for being armed with that information.

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

{ 28 comments… read them below }

  1. Brett*

    How would you reconcile differing answers to #3 and #4? Market value for your work goes up, but company value for your skill set has noticeably declined? Does that mean the company can no longer justify employing someone in your position, or something else?

    1. Brett*

      And I guess similarly the opposite… how do you handle your value to company going up, but market value dropping? (Making you more easy to replace if you leave?)

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s more complicated. Ideally you’d have a pretty honest conversation with your manager that would help you figure out whether the company values your role (and your work) enough to pay market value for it, or whether they don’t. And if you get the sense that it’s more the latter, you’d have to decide for yourself whether you like where you are enough to stay, even at under-market value, or whether you’d be happier seeking out a position somewhere else that will pay more in line with the market.

      On your second question, about value to company going up while market value is going down, ultimately you have to figure out what your value is where you are, balancing that against their ability to replace you with someone cheaper (which they’re probably less inclined to do if your work is good, up to a certain salary point — in other words, I’m not going to lose the great teapots manager over $5K, but I might be willing to lose her over $30K).

      1. Brett*

        I realized that many complicated salary situations I have seen arose from one of these two situations. Both seem very stressful on managers, who worry about losing needed skills in the former and worry that they are budgeting inefficiently (and potentially shorting other employees) in the latter.

  2. Sascha*

    Re: #2 – is it alright to ask for a significant raise shortly after receiving an across-the-board merit raise? My company will sometimes allow for 1-3% merit raises for all employees that met a certain criteria on their performance reviews – these raises go out to everyone who meets the criteria at the end of the calendar year. It’s not really something each manager decides on – HR just goes ahead and applies it. However I want to talk to my bosses about a promotion along with a raise – my job duties have changed so drastically since I started that my current title is not accurate at all (I started out as tier 1 tech support, now I’m a database analyst). However I received the merit raise for the last fiscal year a few months ago, so is it still alright to ask about a title change?

    1. ClaireS*

      I may be wrong but I would call those across the board 1-3% raises Cost of Living raises. I’d see a raise request based on merit differently.

      But I am curious because I ultimately have this same question.

      1. Sascha*

        In my company they are considered merit, since they are based on performance reviews. I guess you could call a more significant promotion “extra merit”? My company does not do cost of living – we don’t receive raises every year. My first two years here, we had zero raises at all, and it was just within the last two years we did these across-the-board merit raises. There was a several year gap between the last raise.

  3. Anon*

    As a manager, I hate to be the one telling people they can’t have a raise. What’s the best way to respond to an employee that’s asking those follow-up questions (what can I do to get one) when there really aren’t any good answers?

    I don’t see their role significantly changing in the next couple of years, they’re performing adequately and I can’t see any additional responsibilities that they should take on. They’re solid performers, but that doesn’t merit a pay increase, especially when they’re compensated comparably to others at their level within the organization (which is also not a great answer). There are some positions where raises (and their partner, promotions) just aren’t possible, through no fault of the employee.

    1. ClaireS*

      That’s tough but it may be time for a discussion on career ambitions. If there is really no chance of a raise (aside from cost of living) I think it’s only fair to be honest with an employee. Then you can discuss if they want to start positioning themselves for an internal move.

    2. Yup*

      As an employee, I appreciate two specific things from bosses in this scenario:

      1. Honesty. If I won’t be eligible for a raise/promotion for 2-3 years because of Organizational Reason, just let me know that. The reality stinks, but at least I know what’s what. It’s much worse to get vague “well maybe if xyz changes, we could do *something* for you…” that never happens, leaving you feeling like a sucker.

      2. Creativity. In a couple of jobs where raises weren’t an option, I had some great bosses who helped me out in other ways — letting me do to courses or go to valuable conferences that the company paid for, giving me a little bit of comp time off after a big assignment, arranging for me to get a bump in title that helped my resume along. The fact that they were still looking out for ways to help my career along even though their hands were tied on financial rewards meant a lot to me personally.

      1. Emily K*

        Completely agree with this. I would appreciate a candid, “Your work is good and I’m happy to have you working for our team. Unfortunately, the truth is there aren’t any feasible opportunities for you to advance to a higher pay grade in the foreseeable future.” If at all possible, adding, “I understand you’re looking for greater challenges and to grow in your career, and I’d love to help you in whatever other way I can short of offering you a promotion or raise, which is beyond my ability to do. Are there any training opportunities you’re interested in, or areas you’re interested in gaining more experience in?” And maybe, to emphasize, “I can’t promise that this training/experience will lead to a promotion or a raise here, but if you’re still interested, I’ll support you.”

      2. Anon for this*

        …they were still looking out for ways to help my career along even though their hands were tied on financial rewards meant a lot to me personally.

        That would mean a lot to me, too! The fact that my company doesn’t do these kinds of things, even the things that don’t cost anything, is really disheartening. I have started looking at other positions in my field, even though I enjoy my job and like and respect my co-workers. It’s just starting to feel really crappy that my company won’t do even little things to reward good work, especially when the client I work for is very happy to have me on their account and has done all kinds of things to keep me there. I’m surprised that management hasn’t figured out that they can raise morale without spending a lot of money or lower it easily by seeming to be indifferent – or maybe they don’t care… Sorry, but I’m realizing that I’m really angry about this and feeling quite unappreciated.

    3. Anon*

      Yeah, I agree, with you, Yup, as an employee I do really appreciate honest from my superiors. I think the other half of that conversation though requires the employee to actually hear what you’re telling them and to think through the ramifications, rather than just trying to remain optimistic that the next time they ask, things will be different. I admire people who have positive attitudes, but you don’t want to delude yourself either.

  4. Anna*

    Another question – what is the appropriate ask when your position was an internal, semi-forced position change with a minimal bump in salary, but still vastly below market rate?

  5. A.Y. Siu*

    Does anyone else just get raises? I’ve historically gotten significant raises at various jobs unsolicited. I’ve never asked for a raise before.

    I kind of like what I’ve experienced better than what the traditional narrative is “Ask for a raise; make a case for it.” I’d like to think if I were a manager I would go out of my way to give unsolicited raises to people who prove value through their actions over people who try to argue a case for getting a raise.

    Could be my bias as a former teacher. I was always inclined to give good grades to students who earned the grades, as opposed to those students who simply asked for (and tried to plead a case for) a better grade.

    1. danr*

      Same here, until my company was bought out. Raises came during the annual reviews or shortly thereafter.

    2. Anonymous*

      I really wish the world worked this way.

      I feel really lucky. At my first grown up job I ended up with a big position change in the first 6 months and my boss not only gave me a raise and a promotion but sat down with me and told me “this is the only time it’s going to happen without asking and here’s how to ask next time”. (2 years later when it happened again and I asked I got a raise. She was the best boss ever in the history of bosses.)

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Lots of companies do annual salary reviews — that’s how I’ve always done it. But you might want more than what they’re offering you, in which case you’d make your case for that.

    4. Brett*

      That is what happens in our workplace (in theory). Employees are simply not allowed to ask for raises and managers are given no mechanism to approve or forward such a request. Raises can only arise out of annual reviews, and the employee is not given a chance to negotiate before the raise is set.

      Really common in the public sector and education.

  6. ali*

    I was at my company for a year, negotiated hard initially to get the salary I did (to get at least close to market value). After the first year, I was laid off, along with the rest of my department. Four months later, they realized they needed a couple of us to continue the work and they hired me back. At the same salary I was making when I was laid off. Which was fine because I needed the job. Today would actually be my 2 year anniversary (except for those 4 months, but I was told when I was rehired that my seniority would start from my original hire date), which times with the company’s annual review cycle. So I have asked for a raise (and a promotion), since my original salary was just barely market value and my responsibilities have increased since I was rehired. Waiting to hear an answer – while my manager agrees and has recommended me for promotion, it is dependent on others in the company to make the final decision. I’m very afraid they are going to say “we laid you off once, you should be grateful you have a job at all!” and reject it.

  7. Piper*

    Ugh. I am currently in the process of negotiating a title change and a raise because what I’m doing is nowhere close to what others of the same title in different areas of the company are doing. My work is much more high level and my responsibilities are far more in line with those of a manager. But I was hired with the wrong title because they needed someone with my skills but could only hire under the wrong title with a generic job description (so stupid, I realize this, but companies aren’t always smart and this is one of the better ones I’ve worked for, shockingly).

    What’s more, even though I have the wrong title it’s not as wrong as the company’s perception of what someone under that title actually does, which I suppose is more of my issue. Technically, outside of this company, my title isn’t that bad, but here it’s so grossly misused that I absolutely need to get it updated just up my credibility within the company for the type of work I do (think: chocolate teapot description writer versus chocolate teapot architect).

    My title, and consequently my pay, is so wildly wrong that it’s almost laughable (sort of like being titled a copywriter when you’re actually doing the job of a senior software engineer – not the actual titles, but a similar comparison). Hopefully, I’ll be successful because I won’t be too pleased if I’m not.

    1. Anonymous*

      My company has an issue with titles as well. We have changed what some jobs are normally titled because a couple of C-level people are overly sensitive to anyone have a title with the word admin in it, as in administrator and administrative, and also the word executive. So we can’t have system administrators in IT or account executives in our sales department, they have to be system engineers and account coordinators. However when we participate in salary surveys or try to use the job bank in our online application system to create a new position, it is so difficult to fill out anything! I feel bad for our employees who might apply for other jobs because what they do and their titles do not always line up with what is standard in industry.

  8. Cruciatus*

    I would have to talk with my supervisor (who will admit I should get paid more) who would then have to talk with the school’s provost. And the provost of this multi-million dollar a year “nonprofit” is a known tightwad (though they make $800,000 a year, not that it matters, I suppose.) I received a whopping .25 cents more an hour in July for a “cost of living increase” (which most people I’ve spoken to seem to get as well–but shhhh, we’re not supposed to talk about it with anyone). Hopefully that’s not considered a raise. The thing is, my job roles don’t change. My boss absolutely loves me and compliments me all the time (and to other people who then tell me what he said). So I do a good job, but there are no new responsibilities to take on. I do the same thing on schedule every year. Can I still ask for a raise? I’ve been with the company 3 years this month. Started at $8 an hour in a different position, new position started at $10 an hour (for me anyway, because I was already an employee). I’ve been in this position 14 months. Also, it seems everyone in this city doing similar jobs are underpaid the same as me. All the job ads for AAs are usually between $9-11 an hour so even if allowed to ask for what I want, I don’t know what would be the right range or too high. Sure, I’d take $11 an hour, but of course I want more than that and think I deserve it based on how well I’ve helped my boss out with everything so far. But is $13 pushing it? $14? $15? I really just don’t know.

  9. matcha123*

    I’m going to quit this job at the end of the month, but when I asked for a pay raise previously, I was basically told to drink less Starbucks (which I don’t drink all that much) and find ways to cut my own expenditures if I thought the pay was low.

    I wonder how to respond to something like that. Especially when my work was (and has) consistently been above what my manager was expecting. My salary is at least 20k less than what I would make in the US and I was asking for a 5k yearly bump. Just because I can survive on less doesn’t mean I want to, especially when I’m being asked to do so much.

    I understand not getting a raise because you’re doing what’s expected of you and not looking to do more and you don’t have work that supports it. But if you do have results and are denied a raise because “You’re not starving.” I’m trying to wrap my head around the best response to that. The idea here seems to be “You should always work to your fullest potential and always produce high-quality work, that’s why you are paid. If you want more money, you need to make something for the company that brings in money and maybe we will think about it, but you get enough. If someone else is going to pay you more, then go to them.”

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