want a raise? here’s how to get one

Want more money? Me too! Let’s all get more money.

Here’s a plan you can use to either get a pay increase — or to figure out that it might be time to strike out for greener pastures.

Don’t passively wait for your employer to offer you a raise

For starters, don’t just sit back and wait to see if you’re offered a raise and then launch a job hunt if you aren’t. In many companies, employees need to proactively ask for a raise in order to receive one. This isn’t smart, but it’s sometimes how things work – and there’s no point in leaving a job that you’re otherwise happy in over pay without first trying to resolve the problem.

That means that you should proactively start a conversation with your boss about your compensation. You can do that by saying something like, “I’ve really appreciated the change to take on new responsibilities and more challenging work over the last year. In light of my work doing X and my accomplishments in Y, I’d like to talk about adjusting my salary to reflect this higher level of contribution.”

Get the timing right

Timing matters in several ways when you’re asking for a raise: First and foremost, the right time to ask is when you have a sustained track record of accomplishment that you can point to. A raise is recognition that you’re now contributing at a significantly higher level than when your salary was last set – so you want to make sure that’s true (and that you can show it)!

Additionally, most employers don’t give salary increases more than once a year, except in very unusual circumstances. So if you’ve received a raise in the last, say, 11 months, or if you haven’t been on the job for a year yet, you might need to wait a little longer.

And be emotionally intelligent about your timing too. Don’t corner your manager when she’s busy or having a bad day or when you just made a big mistake on a project. Put some thought into whether the time feels right or not.

Lay out a compelling case for why you deserve more money

When you ask for a raise, you’ll need to lay out a case for why you’ve earned it. That means that you should reflect on your achievements in the last year and the impact you’ve had on your team and your organization. What have you received especially positive feedback about? What results are you most proud of? Where have you made the biggest impact?

Make sure you know the market rate for your work

Surprisingly often, people ask for a raise without knowing where their current pay fits into the going rate for their work. You can’t reasonably expect your employer to pay you significantly more than market rate, so it’s important that you know what the market rate actually is.

It’s not always straightforward to find that out. Salary websites often provide very broad data but aren’t especially accurate at the individual level, especially because the same job title can often represent wildly different scopes of responsibility. But you can often get good information by talking to recruiters, asking other people in your field for their sense of what salary they’d expect someone in your role to be earning, and checking with professional organizations in your field. (Of course, make sure that you factor in any noteworthy benefits your company offers, like particularly generous retirement contributions or unusual amounts of paid time off.)

I originally published a version of this article at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 46 comments… read them below }

  1. Holly*

    *unless you’re at a company similar to mine. At mine, on your new-hire anniversary date, or the anniversary date of your last raise (whichever is more recent), HR calls the owner and asks them if they want to give X person a raise. Owner then mulls on it and says yes/no, and if yes, gives a random amount. That’s it. We have “performance evaluations” but they have no connection to raises and managers aren’t involved in the raise process at all.

      1. Holly*

        Well, a high performer doesn’t usually get the opportunity to make a case. If they approach HR, they will be told that financial reviews aren’t until their anniversary. If they approach the owner, the owner might consider it, but generally it’ll fall off the radar/be ignored, as far as I can tell. If the employee pushes harder, they might get a special exemption and get a raise, but there will generally be backlash against them later (dysfunctional environment.)

  2. GOG11*

    Regarding the “laying out a compelling case for why you deserve more money,” could someone asking for a raise cite things that his or her manager isn’t aware of?

    For example, when I stepped into my role, it had been consolidated into one position from two and the files of both of my predecessors were a hot mess. I have spent quite a bit of time recovering/finding electronic departmental files that were extremely poorly organized (I had to guess words in the document titles, search for them, and piece together archives that way for example) and catching up on back logged physical filing that had been ignored/neglected for several years. There have been quite a few other challenges that I’ve faced that my predecessors hadn’t as a result of this merger (for lack of a better word).

    Are these noteworthy things or just another part of the job? They largely only affect me/the person in my role and only have a minor impact on my department (letting me access files more efficiently so I can get move on to other work more quickly) but it took a lot of time and effort to make them organized and easily accessible.

    1. GOG11*

      TL;DR – In evaluating your accomplishments, do projects that you put in a lot of effort on count or just those that have an impact on others? Also, when you’re in a support position/supporting the results-getting of others, how can you measure what that impact is?

      1. Kyrielle*

        Just those that affect how you do your job, but “I reorganized and standardized the filing systems for X and Y, which allowed me to respond more rapidly and efficiently to requests from other employees” would probably be about the approach I’d take on this one.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        If it’s been an improvement that will affect the results you/others are ultimately able to get, which it sounds like is the case then absolutely mention it!

  3. HAnon*

    My question: what is reasonable to ask for, percentage-wise? I’m in line for a raise soon (I was told, so fingers crossed) and am curious what I should be expecting or what is reasonable to expect (I’ve never gotten a raise before, except when the title of the position changed).

    1. Sascha*

      That depends on your job’s market rate but also what the company historically approves. Talk to some coworkers. At my job, usually the highest raise you can get in your current title is 10%, with most people getting no more than 5%. If you want more, say to bring yourself up to market rate, you have to make the case for a new title/promotion. Even then, my company is still very reluctant to go higher than 10%.

  4. puddin*

    My company does not give out raises. We are given/negotiated a salary within the industry average for the role. HR then re-evals the salary ranges for each role every 5 years-ish. If the industry avg rises and you fall below the middle of the range, you may get a raise up to the mid – if your performance evaluations are high enough. There is no COLA and no merit increase. The company reasons that ‘your work does not change, why should your salary’? There is supposed to be an annual bonus which is defined as taking the place of the raise. However, those are so small and uncertain that they (in my experience and anecdotally) do not even matter to most non-Directors.

    In addition, we have forced raking for the annual reviews. So you can meet all of your goals, but because someone has to rank low in every dept every year, you will get your turn at being ‘under performing’ even if you met all of your goals. As a result, if you under perform in the year they do the salary range re-calc, you are SOL for another four years or so for even thinking that maybe possibly you will get a bump.

    We are told that if you want a raise, you need to get a promotion. Currently there is a hiring freeze, so you can guess how many people are abandoning ship for want of a 10% raise.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      “The company reasons that ‘your work does not change, why should your salary’?”

      Counter this with another question = how profitable is the company today, versus a year or two ago?

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          AND … if the company **is** highly profitable, and the individual asking for an increase is a “rock star”, the money is there. SOMEWHERE. If they want to keep you, the money can be found.

          The boss is going to have to pick up the phone and make a call and get things done.

          Very few *profitable* companies will hamstring a manager this way, assuming the manager hasn’t made dumb decisions of late.

          On the other hand, it’s dangerous – because even if you are a “rock star” – if your manager doesn’t like you, you have just given him/her a “raison d’etre” to get rid of you , while defending him/herself against lower group productivity going forward.

  5. Not joking*

    According to a whole page add in I think it was Women’s Day, the first thing you should do when seeking a raise is get a fresh start with special feminine hygiene wash, and pack your lady wipes in your purse for a refresh at work.

    I wish I was kidding.

    I’m literally running out the door to work, but I hope someone can link over to that page, it’s been quite the joke on my FB feed.

  6. Annie*

    Awesome advice.

    Another thing I’d add, although it seems obvious, is to make a case for why your performance merits a raise, NOT why your personal expenses require that you make more money. I’ve known many people who tried to ask for raises because their rent went up or because they wanted to be able to save money for a wedding or something. That has absolutely nothing to do with your value to the company!

    1. nina t.*

      Or having a family to support, childcare, lessons, etc.

      I’m currently on mat leave and thinking of changing jobs because my situation has changed and I’d like to earn more to offset daycare costs. But no way am i going to approach my boss with that request based simply on my personal financial needs.

    2. CAA*

      Also, in most companies, you don’t get a raise just because you reached x years, earned a Masters Degree, got a certification, etc. If one of those things makes you more valuable to the company, that’s great, but that is the way you frame it.

  7. Brett*

    Determining Market Rate

    I have a really unique skill set that probably less than 100 people have nationwide and maybe less than 20 with my level of experience or higher. So, if I use industry salary surveys, not only do the numbers come back all over the place but the median salaries often come back as my salary (because I am the only one in the survey that fits my specific skills and years experience).

    So, I think the only way I am going to get a fair assessment of my market rate is to talk to recruiters who are recruiting for positions similar to mine. How do I approach these people? I am not interested in the positions they are offering nor even really legally eligible. I sometimes provided them referrals to other potential applicants but have never really worked with any of them more than a couple of emails.

    Based on that, how do I approach them to ask, “Hey, how would my skills and experience typically bring in a position you would recruit for?”

    1. Rex*

      In a field this small, you probably know most or all of the other people in it, right? Can you have the “how much do you make?” conversations with them, explaining your reasons for asking? That should at least give you a ballpark. I think we need to get more comfortable having these conversations anyways.

      It’s never a bad idea to build a good enough relationship with a recruiter that they will tell you this information as well.

      1. Rex*

        Meant to add, if you are a rock star in your field, the recruiter would be thrilled to have your resume on file, if not for that particular position, so that is probably your bargaining chip.

      2. Brett*

        I have done that with some of the public sector people I know. That’s about four people in our state; in other states with a higher cost of living/better public sector pay it is hard to get comps (I looked up a comparable role at City of Los Angeles once and thought, “Oh, they barely make more than me…” until I realized that Los Angeles reports employee pay as 6-month salary instead of annual salary). Similar, the private sector side is mostly in Silicon Valley, so their pay is way out of line even if accounting for cost of living.

        The private sector people locally almost all work for federal subcontractors. Their agency counterparts are GS-7 to GS-12 ladder, with many people hired directly into GS-12 and about 1/3rd ending up GS-13/14.
        Nearly all of the recruiters who contact me are recruiting for the federal subcontractors.

    2. E.R*

      Pretty much. I would ask “have you ever worked on any X positions with these skills and Y years of experience required? If so, I’m curious what the salary range is. Thanks!”
      They will either ignore you, decline to tell you, tell you, or tell you and then hit you up for jobs, at which point you say “I’m not looking / eligible right now, but I’ll keep you in mind if that changes. Thanks for your help!”
      I dont think that’s overstepping but I’m curious if other people feel differently.

  8. Money (that's what I want)!*

    How do I ask for a raise in a company that is rather totalitarian and sees me as an easily replaceable employee? Here’s my situation… I’ve been at my current company (small professional non-profit college) nearly 4 years (in March). Started at $8 in my first position, and in my current position (as an AA) was given $10 (which is the base pay anyway, for everyone. Kind of disappointed to find that out–they couldn’t even offer an extra dollar for 2 years of good work/loyalty). There are “raises” every July (2.5% (2013) and 2% (2014)) that mean I now make $10.455 an hour. This is a place where you have to beg for raises. They are not given easily, especially for non-faculty (we are seen as easily replaceable.) My boss does love me and thinks I do a great job but my job never changes. It’s almost like it’s not worth the trouble to even ask (especially since I am actively looking elsewhere). And I fear what they would want in return–I know this sounds ridiculous but I could very well see them asking for 2 more years here or something like that (and that would be awful). A coworker with a much more demanding job (the sole purchaser for 5 campuses, some out of town/state) asked for a substantial raise (which really would only have put her in line with others doing the same work at any other company) and I think they gave her an extra dollar an hour instead. Yes, it’s something, but it took months and she didn’t even know if she would get it until it showed up in her paycheck one day. And she is actually in constant dealings with the head of the school (whereas she probably knows my face but not my name). Talking to my boss is probably the first step, but what do I use for leverage when, while I’m doing a great job and keeping up on everything, it’s always the same routine (and probably will be 5 years from now)? I don’t even notice what is hard about my job anymore because it’s just routine.

    1. fposte*

      I think the article has some good suggestions for you on how you make the case–it’s not just about leverage, it’s about what you can state your job is worth. (Keep in mind that pay rates at a nonprofit college aren’t going to map onto private sector, so what people would make at a company doesn’t make for a good comp.) Absent a contract, they can’t require you to stay extra years because you got a raise.

      Universities are all over the map on this; you get much better raises than mine gives us, but I’ve also got a very different job. If regular access to significant raises is important to you, you’re probably better off in the private sector.

    2. puddin*

      Do you have a solid rapport with your manager? If so, just ask “What do I need to do to earn a merit increase?” You say that you are keeping up with everything, which from your manager’s job earns you your current wage. What can you do above and beyond that will earn you the raise? I think that is probably how your manager is thinking of it.

      And you also have to face in some positions, your income will cap out and to earn more you will have to move up or move out.

    3. GOG11*

      I don’t have any advice to offer unfortunately, but I can sympathize with feeling as though you’re (at least seen as) an easily replaceable employee. I hope you’re able to work something out at current job or, if not, find a new job that’s a better fit overall.

  9. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    OK, I ain’t gonna click that link.

    But on the other hand – if you have made your case – and presented an existing one – and no raise is forthcoming – sad to say – It’s not the way it should be, but it is you may be forced to test your market value.

    Do not threaten. And do not bluff. If you run into frustration after doing all the right things – move on – but – do listen to counter-offers when “R” day arrives. At, at least, two places I’ve worked, there was an “off budget slush fund” for raises that had to be doled out in an “emergency”. In fact, at one place – the ONLY way you could earn a promotion was by resigning!

  10. WorkingMom*

    Alright, here is a raise-related question for you. Let’s say a longtime, high-performer lays out a great case for a raise. We’re talking about firm numbers about revenue managed, specific examples of going above and beyond, positive feedback from very important clients, additional responsibilities taken on and flourished, as well as a sought-after certification that this particular organization values and encourages internally. Also, this high-performer asked for a raise that would put her into the “high performer” bucket financially of the company’s pay grade guidelines. (So not asking for anything out of line.)

    Now, let’s say the organization’s response is (and I’m summarizing here):
    -We’d love to give you more money but we only have so much to spread around the team, and they are high performers too. (True about the other team members, but they don’t have nearly the workload that I do.)
    -We can’t pay you *that* much because then you’d be making more than someone who is “above you” on the totem pole.

    From a manager’s perspective – Can anyone read between the lines and tell me if I’m getting the run-around, or the reasons above are valid and I just don’t see it because I’m not a manager?

    Background – the organization is growing and doing well financially.


    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      You could be getting the run-around. Don’t discount that, because sometimes a management will dare its people to test their market value. A high performer will also be hampered by his/her own longevity – the bosses are thinking “he’s invested his career here x number of years, you really think he’s gonna quit over money? Huh? Huh? Huh? Do ya?”

      That being said – also, in making a case, take note that the organization is growing and doing well financially, that they can’t throw a “poverty / the sky is falling” retort at you without insulting your intelligence.

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