the Ask a Manager guide to asking for a raise

On a recent post about whether employees should have to ask for a raise, I was concerned by how many commenters said they’d never asked for one. Unless every company you work for is great about regularly revisiting your salary and ensuring that it reflects market rate for your work and the level of your contributions in your role, you should be asking for raises over the course of your career. Here’s a guide to how to do it (and it’s long because I wanted to cover everything I could think of).

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

Some companies will talk to you about your salary once a year, often along with performance evaluations. Others … won’t. If your employer is in that second category, don’t just sit back and wait and hope that you’ll get a raise at some point. If it’s been more than a year since your salary was last set and you’ve been doing excellent work, you can proactively start a conversation with your boss about your salary.

2. 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.

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 year, or if you haven’t been on the job for a year yet, you probably need to wait. There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as if the job dramatically changed or if your responsibilities have increased far beyond what was envisioned when you were hired, or if you’ve been 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 the vast majority of cases, you should wait a year before you ask for your salary to be revisited.

The other thing about timing — be emotionally intelligent about it. 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. On the other hand, if you’ve just done a great job on something, it might be an especially good time. Either way, be thoughtful about whether the time feels right or not.

3. Lay out the case for why you deserve more money.

When you ask for a raise, you’ll need to explain 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? Try pretending that you’re your own manager and ask what about your performance would really impress you, or what your manager should be upset to lose if you left.

That said, this generally doesn’t need to make a huge presentation. Most of the time it can be pretty quick and to-the-point, like these examples:

  • “I’m really appreciative of the opportunities the company has given me for greater responsibilities and more challenging work. I’ve been excelling at these new responsibilities for 14 months now, have consistently exceeded my goals, and have brought in new business as well. I’d like to talk about adjusting my salary to reflect this higher level of contribution.”
  • “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 overseeing our admin staff and, as you mentioned last week, our results in that area have shot way up. I’ve also been been able to resolve the concerns we’d had about Jane’s 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 accounts receivable, and late payments are down by 80%. Now that I’ve been doing these things for a while, I’m hoping we can increase my salary to a level that reflects this new work.”

Things to note about this language:

  • 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 makes sense if those new responsibilities are part of a promotion to anentirely 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 before I 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 your employer has increased. 

4. 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 to 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. (Make sure that you factor in any noteworthy benefits your company offers, like particularly generous retirement contributions or unusual amounts of paid time off.)

As you gather information, remember that you’re looking for patterns and trends to inform your thinking; don’t get too focused on any one specific figure.

It’s also helpful to understand your company’s salary practices. Some companies only do cost-of-living increases that are pegged to inflation or have fairly rigid schedules that control how much your pay will go up each year. Others give managers one pool of money for raises and leave it to them to figure out how to distribute it among their teams. Some companies do small percentage increases of 1% to 3%. (In fact, 3% is the national average for a raise.) Others are more generous, sometimes significantly so. It can be helpful to talk to colleagues to get a sense of how your company approaches salary increases so that you can calibrate your expectations and have an idea of the likely parameters you should be thinking in.

When you ask for a raise, should you name a specific number?
You don’t necessarily need to propose a specific figure when you ask for a raise – but if you have one in mind, it’s fine to ask for it. If you genuinely don’t, it’s not a faux paus not to start out with a specific number (although be prepared to be asked what figure you have in mind).

Is it possible to ask for way too much?
Yes. If you ask for something absurdly high (like doubling your salary), it’s likely to look naive, unreasonable, and unrealistic, and you don’t want your manager to see you that way. So you’ve got to ask for something that you can support — based on your value to your employer, 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?
It depends. 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.

5. Understand what your manager is likely going to be thinking.

If you have a decent manager and you’ve followed the advice above, when you ask for a raise your manager isn’t likely to be thinking “Wow, what nerve!” Most often, she’ll be thinking:

  • Am I worried about losing this person? The subtext to a request for a raise is always “I might go somewhere else if you turn me down.” Even you don’t actually mean that, your manager is going to assume that you do. So the first question your manager will think to herself when you present your raise request is, “How much would I mind losing this person?” Managers are much more willing to go out of their way to accommodate someone fantastic who they don’t want to lose—and much less likely when the request comes from someone they’re lukewarm about.
  • Does this person deserve the salary she’s asking for? You might be a great worker, but if your salary request would put you outside a reasonable range for the value of your work to the company, your manager isn’t likely to say yes.
  • Do I have the money to say yes to this request? Your manager might want to give you a raise but not have the money in her budget. Or your company might have an organization-wide freeze on raises. Or she might be able to secure a raise for you, but at the expense of raises for other people who also deserve them, or by using up political capital that she was planning to use on something else.
  • What would this mean for other people’s salaries? Good employers strive to ensure that people are being paid comparably for comparable work. If your salary request would bump you up significantly above what your peers in the company are making, your boss might not be able to justify it. Many companies have salary bands for exactly this purpose: specific ranges that each position can pay. Going outside the company’s salary band for your position is difficult to do, although not always impossible.
  • What’s likely to happen if I say no? Much of the time, this is what it comes down to. Does your manager believe that you’ll look for higher-paying work somewhere else – and find it? Is she willing to take on the hassle of finding and training a replacement? Or does she believe you’ll stick around even without a salary increase?

Sometimes people worry that they’ll somehow put their job in jeopardy by asking for a raise – that their manager will think, “How outrageously pushy!” and replace them with someone willing to work for less. This is very unlikely. If you follow the guidance above about when to ask and how to ask, this isn’t something you need to worry about. The exception to this is if you’re working for someone truly deranged and deranged in a particularly punitive way, but that won’t apply in 99% of cases.

Most managers want to keep good employees, and it’s perfectly normal to ask for a raise when you’ve earned one. If your request is reasonable and backed up by your value to your employer, a good manager isn’t going to react badly, even if she can’t say yes.

6. Know what you’ll say if the answer is “no.”

If your boss turns down your request, don’t just skulk away. Instead, ask what you would need to accomplish to earn a raise in the future. A good manager will be able to tell you what a path to a raise would look like. Then, it’s up to you to decide if you want to follow that path. Or, if you realize that you’re not likely to be paid what you deserve any time soon, this might be a flag that you’ll need to change jobs if you want to get more money.

Now … go forth and ask for a raise!

I originally published some of this advice in columns for U.S. News & World Report.

{ 186 comments… read them below }

  1. Nervous Accountant*

    Oh I can’t wait. I’m 95% sure I will get screwed over raise time but it doesn’t hurt to try and I’m not scared to walk away this time. First 2 years I was happy w my raises and last year I got a 15% increase but wanted more and got shot down. Seeing as how I’ve done really well this year I really want more (at least market rate!) but let’s see. Taking notes and planning now.

      1. jk*

        It’s not easy to find a new job for everyone. Family circumstances, geographic location, and the field itself can all be big hurdles.

        Also, some people are pretty happy with the job and it’s just the pay that’s the downfall.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          If you have to stay within the boundaries of particular circumstances and cannot get a raise or new position to make “market rate”, then I would argue that you are at the market rate.

      2. Nervous Accountant*

        I had/have lots of reasons for staying which are getting less and less. Am I willing to take a paycut if it means I don’t have to do half this nonsense? Probably. Dk yet.

    1. MissCPA*

      I’m surprised you got a 15% raise and are not at market rate! That is really disheartening. I ended up accepting a job at a different company for a 15% raise when my boss said no to a promotion this year. Good luck to you, and definitely take notes and plan now. I hope you get the outcome you are looking for!

      1. Nervous Accountant*

        I was desperate for a job and they offered me $42k so I took it. I got gradual raises (3%, 12% then 15%. I asked for the raise using all of the points here and advice I got and their counter as that the 15% was based on how good my performance was.

        1. Ledgerman*

          Can I ask what general region you live in? I’m also in public accounting and in my region, the local firms tend to pay more, not less, than the Big 4. $42k seems low!!

  2. Uncle Bob*

    One thing I’ve screwed up before is if you do get a promotion that requires more responsibility and more (or different) work, I think that you should absolutely ask for a raise. A promotion is great, but it’s also a risk to you. You could falter, you could underperform, you could fail. If you move up without a raise, your first annual review could have you at a 3 star rating instead of 5 (since you’re learning). If you didn’t get anything before, you won’t get much in that review either. Better to have it when you take the risk.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      If they offer you a promotion, and they use those words (or change your title), I would absolutely try to insist on a raise up-front. But in general, you just get a few new tasks added to your workload without actually being promoted – and in that case, it can make sense to give it a try and then bring down the request hammer within 6-12 months at most. And if you don’t get it … start looking to leverage your new experience elsewhere.

      1. Uncle Bob*

        I agree that makes sense. In the world I work in you don’t usually have rigidly defined tasks and roles. You just pick stuff up within some general goal based guidelines, so adding tasks happens all the time. However when you are told “you are now Senior Principal Coal Miner – we expect an extra 4 tons” – that’s when it’s time to get paid.

        1. KHB*

          I wish I’d realized much earlier how much I’d gotten screwed over on this. My boss ensured me that my new title of Senior Associate Teapot Designer in charge of Spouts would come with a nice raise – but that I wouldn’t get the title or the money until I’d successfully led the spout department for six months. That’s just how it works here, I was told.

          Several years later my (younger, male) colleague got promoted to Senior Teapot Designer in charge of Handles (no “associate”) – and I assume got the money to go with it – before he’d yet lifted a finger in leading the handle department. I’m still reeling a little bit from that.

          1. JM in England*

            My general understanding of promotions is that you have to prove to your boss that you are capable of performing to the required level BEFORE it is awarded to you. Only then is it granted, along with the relevant increase in salary.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      I look at it from the exact opposite viewpoint. (Of course, I’m in a company that doesn’t give raises for promotions. You’ll only get one at the next scheduled time.) It’s less risk for them to give me a promotion if they aren’t bumping my salary right away. I consider that less pressure–I don’t have to be worth $X more right away. I have time to grow into the role before they evaluate my performance. If I don’t perform, yeah, I don’t get the money like I would have in your scenario, but I’d personally be stressed about that, too.

      1. Uncle Bob*

        This is probably due to our different experiences. I fought hard for a promotion once, didn’t get a raise (unsure if that was policy). At the standard time for raises told all raises were delayed a year then when that finally came got 3%. The justification was my performance relative to the other Senior Principal Coal Miners, some of whom had been mining for 20 years. I was below the bottom of the pay band when I finally saw it. Part of this was my manager’s fault and the rest was my inexperience. I won’t make that mistake again. Give me the extra money if you want to give me extra expectations.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          +100 to your last sentence. I would never stay at a place that had me essentially doing a whole other job with more work for the same pay I was getting before. The company is getting over and they have very little incentive to raising your salary later on since you’ve shown you’re perfectly willing to take on more responsibility for little more than a change in title and a pat on the head. Evil Law Firm called themselves doing this to me five years ago, and I quit eight months later to take a job that paid 31% more than what I was making there.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      This can be wrong-headed though. You might lose your vesting in the retirement plan, lose the continuity of your insurance, or have to start over with vacation or sick time. If you can get a raise simply by asking and keep all these benefits, it may very well be easiest to just try!

      1. finderskeepers*

        I would lump retirement plan and vacation/sick time in with salary as overall compensation to be negotiated.

        I don’t know what you mean by continuity of insurance though. I ‘ve never heard of that being an issue when switching jobs.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          I don’t know how common it is (I’m in the US) but last time I switched, the new company had a different insurance provider – I had to switch all my care providers for new people, and it was a hassle since I was mid-treatment for a pre-existing condition. At the time, they also had a wait period before they would start kicking in funds for that – but that may have changed with the new US insurance laws (and no need to derail on that topic, just trying to explain what I meant). Hopefully this isn’t as much of a factor for the average person as it was for me at the time.

          1. Uncle Bob*

            I’ve had the same, one place required I be there for 30 days before I could sign up so I used COBRA in between – as for changing carriers thats a part of life in the US. Due to mergers and switches I’ve had Aetna, CIGNA, and UHC in the last 18 months. I’ve also received on aggregate 18% raises during that time. Worth the hassle..

          2. Detective Amy Santiago*

            This is still super common in the US. I know people who have had to find multiple new doctors to treat their chronic illness because of insurance carrier changes.

          3. Christmas Carol*

            When (voluntarily) changing companies, I always ask for my new health insurance to start on Day 1, while not letting on that I know this is rarely possible. The response is that their insurance contract won’t let them waive the waiting period. I then explain the the recruiter/hiring manager that I cannot be without health insurance. At this point they usually offer to cover my COBRA premiums, and if not I ask. Haven’t been turned down yet!

          4. zora*

            Yes, I’ve had to switch providers, which was a huge deal. Plus, the clock started over on my deductible for the new plan, and the new plan was a High Deductible Health Plan, so I had to meet two deductibles in one calendar year, for a total of $6000, instead of just one deductible of $2500. That amount I would literally subtract from any raise in salary as the cost of switching jobs.

          5. TheAssistant*

            I once interviewed for a job (at a healthcare industry nonprofit, no less!) that had a gap period of 90 days! The internal recruiter explained that to me and I was just like…what do people DO not having healthcare for 25% of that year? She just blinked and explained COBRA to me, which, yes, I understand, but it is not financially feasible most of the time to do that. I was floored.

            1. Kathlynn*

              the 2 places I’ve worked at that had health care, one made you wait 3 months, the other made you wait 6 months. And while there is the government extended healthcare, I’ve heard the deductibles are really high. (I’m Canadian) I had to stop trying to treat my ADHD with medication ($100/m for Concerta without insurance) when the first place sold to another owner who didn’t offer medical. then wait another 6 months at my new employer. Luckily I didn’t have to buy my expensive inhaler during that year.

        2. Brett*

          When moving from a pension org, pension vesting can be a huge barrier to changing jobs. If I had stayed at last job, the difference between where I was (vested and earning credits, but less than 10 years in) and where I would be at retirement would be about $50k a year even if I never got a raise for the rest of my career there.

          7 years was normally the breakpoint between “okay to leave” and “better off staying”, but I was below that breakpoint because they had been in a 7 year salary freeze that put my long term potential far far below what it was when I was hired (basically I lost $21k/year in pension because of that freeze). That broke pension as a retention tool for me.

      2. Uncle Bob*

        You realize that all that stuff is negotiable? I’ve definitely negotiated vacation before. Nobody expects someone with 15 years experience to take a job and start over on vacation. Just ask!

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Ah, well if you’re that far along you’re probably in a better boat than me. I’m only 7 years in, nobody’s making a lot of exceptions in my experience for someone midlevel like me.

          1. Uncle Bob*

            I’m closer to 22 years, but you should ask next time. Vacation especially is an issue for me, 10 days that a new college hire gets isnt going to work. Most places get that but I’ve had to ask. I’ve not had much luck negotiating things like 401k match vesting, but they will usually move on vacation. You’re in a much better spot to ask for this than someone with 2 years…

            1. Lil Fidget*

              Ha, I’m just begging them to delay the start date, at this point!! I’m job searching now, and even if we can agree on salary, it seems like they all want me to cancel pre-planned vacations and offer no notice so that I can start tomorrow – or they’ll just go right on to the next candidate. I haven’t even gotten to the part where we negotiate the bennies :(

              1. Uncle Bob*

                I don’t know exactly what widgets you work on making but in my current search I’ve talked to about 8 places and some are reasonable and some are not. The ones that are more flexible about vacation and start dates have routinely been the ones that a) pay more and b) have a better culture. Asking you to cancel stuff really sucks… Good luck in your search!

          2. ThatGirl*

            I negotiated vacation when I got a new job this year; my last company offered 3 weeks to start, so it was easy for me to say “I had 3 weeks before, can you match that?” And they said “no problem!”

          3. Colleen*

            Ask! I manage anlarhe department and we onboard people with 3-30 years of experience. This stuff is negotiable. Sometimes, company policies make vacation non negotiable, but a good manager won’t say no; they’ll say “how about XYZ instead?”

            I’ve had people with >5 years negotiate a significant bonus to compensate for missed bonus opportunities, changes in healthcare deductibles, and the like.

        2. NW Mossy*

          Retirement plan vesting (in the US private sector, at least) is typically not negotiable, because to meet compliance requirements, the plan will generally have a vesting schedule (normally based on years of service) that applies uniformly to all employees. Making an exception for one person can put the entire plan out of compliance, which has major negative consequences for the company.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            As others have said though, it is true that you could just negotiate for that much more money at a new place, I suppose. Never had much luck myself but perhaps others are better skilled :P

            1. Uncle Bob*

              We seem to be drifting off topic in our discussions but the absolute first step in this is not telling them your current salary. I’ve had great luck in asking for a range for the position, several new laws seem to have helped me here (although I’m not in a state with said laws, some of the companies are). If you can avoid that step then you have more info. If you have to name salary first its like walking into a dealer and telling them how much you want to pay for a car without seeing the models or prices.

          2. nonymous*

            Yes, but you can definitely ask if the new company will offer a signing bonus of some kind that you choose to put into an IRA. Most companies structure their retirement plans as a 401K/403B and it’s on the individual whether they want to contribute to an IRA as well. Limits are $5500/year, either Roth or traditional. It’s not unusual for signing bonuses to be multi-year payouts, say $22K assuming a 4 year commitment.

        3. Enough*

          It depends on the total circumstance. For son’s second job he negotiated extra vacation. At that time he had been employed for just under 4 years.

      3. Erin*

        It depends. My last job I asked for a raise to bring me up to market value for my position and experience and I was denied, which was about 15% more than what I was making. So I started looking else where I’m glad I did because it was a huge red flag that the company was in bad shape. They closed my location soon after I found a job with less responsibility and stress, but with better benefits and just slightly more pay. The company is going bankrupt and closing most locations as their leases expire.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Blargh! I just went through a lengthy interview process to finally get the candidate I wanted. She turned us down because she needed a counteroffer at her current job.

      Three months wasted!

      I’m convinced 75% of workplace issues could be solved if employers paid employees what they’re worth and kept up with cost of living.

      1. Coalea*

        Agree! When I was in a management role, retaining high performers with appropriate compensation was one of my top priorities. During a recent conversation with my manager, I mentioned that our most recent cost of living adjustments (1.5%) were really disappointing and are likely a major contributor to our increased employee turnover. I was stunned to find that this idea had never even occurred to him!

      2. MDW*

        I totally agree. I think it’s our org policy (unofficially) that they won’t give out raises without an offer in hand from a competitor. What a waste.

    3. AnotherAlison*

      I read something interesting over the weekend. It was some article about equal pay for women, and how eliminating salary negotiations would help the cause. Anyway, it said that men do better by changing jobs, but women actually do better staying with the same company. The reason is that men are more likely to get paid for potential than women, so when women stay where they have a track record, they are better off pay-wise. Plus, there is the negotiating blowback issue when women try to negotiate salaries.

      I thought this was interesting since it does run counter to the advice to move around to advance your career. I don’t remember if it was the same article or not, but women also have a better chance of getting to the C-suite by staying with one company than by moving around.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Ooh this is interesting. I’ve definitely received the advice that you need to move around a lot in the beginning of your career (I’ve also been offered some lousy salary adjustments for promotions within the same company).

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        I’ve read other things about men being judged on potential while women are judged on the past, so it’s interesting to see that carry over into something like salary negotiations.

    4. AdAgencyChick*

      I do not disagree. My niche of the ad world is NOTORIOUS for being stingy with raises, then happily forking over a 20% increase over what someone was making at their previous job to hire someone new. Then they wonder why the average copywriter tenure at one company is 18 months or less.

      I’ve run into one exception in my entire career — about 10 years ago when my boss quit and his other direct report and I negotiated — together — for an 18% raise. They first tried to separate us — we said no, we were equals and we should have this discussion together. In retrospect, I’m so glad we did it that way, because the classic women-ask-for-less thing might have applied in my case. And I think they gave us what we wanted because management knew they were f@#*ed if either of us quit — and since we clearly had a united front, they probably couldn’t help but think of the possibility of BOTH of us quitting and then they’d have to replace the ENTIRE copywriting team.

  3. Lil Fidget*

    Yaay! On the topic of knowing what is reasonable: this is where a few discreet conversations with your coworkers can really pay off. The one time I really negotiated successfully, I *knew* other coworkers were making more than what I was asking for, so I could be extremely confident naming a figure, knowing that this was a reasonable, achievable request. Other times I felt more like I was out on a limb and I’m sure came across as more tentative. I have never had much success without explicitly naming a figure.

    1. SarahKay*

      Oh, so true. Coming into this role, it really helped that I’d had a quiet chat with a couple of others at this level and knew what they were on. It gave me the confidence to refuse the first offer I was made because I knew I was being under-offered. This was not my manager-to-be’s fault; company policy about raises for role changes was that regardless of how much your role increased you could have a max x% increase on previous salary. Me refusing gave manager-to-be the ammo he needed to get me a sensible increase in line with the increase in duties.

  4. Phoenix Programmer*

    I have always worked at one of those strict control everyone gets the same percent raise based on your performance “grade” . I tried negotiating this once and failed. Is it worth negotiating in this situation?

    1. NW Mossy*

      It can be, but generally only if what you want is within a reasonable shooting distance (say +1 – 3%) of the baseline raise for your performance rating. Deviations larger than that might be better approached by making the case for why your performance supports a higher rating and/or that you’re a promotion candidate to a more senior level in your same job family.

    2. Uncle Bob*

      From what I’ve seen there is always exceptions to those rules, which are often used as a crutch to avoid negotiating. If they think that you are exemplary or will lose you, they will negotiate. It requires your manager to go to bat for you. In the end however, the best raises, the best new learning, and the best expansion to your personal network all come from going elsewhere.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I agree, in these cases it always seems like there’s a clear set of inviolate rules … with some exceptions for special circumstances. It always irks me though.

    3. Kate*

      Another strategy is to angle for a market adjustment in addition to a merit-based raise. If programmers in Phoenix generally make more than you make AND you’re performing well, then you can take a two-pronged approach.

      I worked for an org with a strict merit-based raise system like what you’re describing. One year, I received a 12% raise instead of the usual 0.5-4% raise. It consisted of an 8% market adjustment and 4% merit raise. I didn’t negotiate this for myself, so I can’t advise on the best approach there, unfortunately. (I had a great manager who went to bat for me because she was worried about losing me. I was underpaid for my position and region, so it was a reasonable concern.) But this could be an approach to consider.

      Similarly, if you’re underpaid compared to your coworkers, you could request an equity increase. (Even if your pay is at- or above-market compared to competitors’ wages.) Again, this would be in addition to a merit increase.

      Both of these strategies would work best at a company large enough to have an employee or department specifically dedicated to compensation. They’re more likely to be attuned to requests for market adjustments and equity increases, and not be solely focused on merit raises.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        If you know you are underpaid, then I definitely agree with asking for equity pay or market value increases.

        First job, I received a 16% or so salary adjustment to bring me to industry norms (I didn’t negotiate the original offer because I was shocked to get one in the first place, and had no idea I was underpaid), but that was a company-wide thing, not something I asked for. If I knew I was underpaid even for entry-level, I hope that I would have spoken up about it.

    4. MCL*

      I work for a state university. It is widely understood that merit raises are things that exist on paper only – there is no funding for that unless you’re like, the brightest star in your field. And that is only for faculty, not academic staff (me) or hourly university staff. The only ways to get raises are 1) move to a different position 2) get a title change within your pay band or step up to the next pay band 3) Cost of living adjustment 4) State legislature approves a raise across the board in the annual budget – we university employees are getting a 4% raise in two stages in FY19.

      I tried to negotiate my salary here when I was first hired in 2009, but my hiring manager very politely but firmly shut that right down. In fact, I was hired during a furlough year, so I actually had a 3% paycut! That was fine with me because it was my first real job and it was 2009, but sheesh.

      I think the best I could do was that my hiring manager was great about letting me travel to a lot of conferences and do some professional development stuff that was interesting to me, so I wouldn’t have to pay out of pocket. That was a huge gift, and not something that was formally agreed to.

      On the plus side, my manager has always been really clear about what I need to do in order to secure a title change (and thus a pay bump). However, title changes around fairly rarely, so other than this upcoming raise that has been approved by the state (and that everyone is getting), there’s not anything that I could really do about getting more money here, at least on an annual basis. I’m okay with that, because I like my job and that’s just kind of the deal when you work at an institution like this. What has been frustrating is that we receive less and less in terms of our benefits package, with no comparable raise in salary. So, in essence, employees here are asked to make up the difference out of their own pockets which contributes to an overall take-home wage reduction.

      It is interesting, though, because my spouse works in the tech industry in a company that does an annual merit-based bonus at the end of the year, as well as an annual merit-based raise in the spring. It’s very interesting to compare the two! I started my career making more than he did, but he has received several (well deserved!) raises and he has well surpassed me at this point.

      1. MCL*

        I should also mention that I think I am paid within market value for my profession and job duties in my geographic area.

        My university is also doing a big compensation study that supposedly is going to make our salaries here more in line with market rate overall. We’ll see how that pans out.

      2. Cajun2core*

        4% raise in FY19?!? Wow. I work at a large state university and I only got 1.5% and that was the average for our department (at least for staff, I don’t know about faculty).

        1. MCL*

          That’s the only state budget approved blanket raise since before I started working here. This is an extremely unusual event.

        2. MCL*

          I should also say, it’s a two-step process, with a 2% increase in July and the next 2% later in the year. The skeptics among us wonder if the legislature is hedging their bets a bit. :)

      3. LQ*

        I work in a place where band/step/title is the way to go. And I’ve done a decent amount of that here. It works a lot the same way. Show that you’re doing work in a band/step/title above what you are paid at and see if there is opportunity to reclassify/open a position at that level etc. It’s more work (or at least it seems like it is) so the better organized, the more you’re willing to do, the better this seems to go overall. (I’ve always got an updated resume with all of my new tasks on it when I’ve gone in asking for this, and that makes a huge difference.)

    5. t*

      It’s all about timing. At most companies I’ve worked at, by the time I’m telling my employees their raise amounts, it is set in stone and I cannot change it. For the 2-3 months before that I am proposing figures and negotiating with HR and my boss on my employees’ behalf. I am not allowed to tell my employees anything about that process, other than possibly alluding to the fact it is happening.

      If you have gone above and beyond, or feel you are under market rate, you need to bring that up months in advance. If I agree, I’ll do what I can to give you more. But I have to reduce someone else’s raise to give you more money since my total comp bucket is set more or less in stone as well. Its a tightrope I walk as a manager at comp time. No fun.

  5. Cruciatus*

    I work for a large university system that is all about “equity”. Has anyone (staff member) successfully gotten a real raise in a situation like that? While I did ask for more money when I started (only got about a few hundred more either time, but hey, better than nothing I guess) we only get merit/COLA increases (despite what they say, it’s really interchangeable here). I couldn’t get more when I started because it wasn’t equitable to what others in that position/title were making across the entire university system. Last year I got a…1.78% raise. Yes, weirdly specific. Over 2% is pretty good but they allegedly try to keep managers from giving their employees too high of a rating to merit a higher raise. Granted, at the time I had only been in this position for a few months (I started in one department and got a pay bump when I switched jobs). But it sounds like real raises are not done here. I feel like I’m going to be making in the 30K range for the rest of my life (unless I switch jobs internally or leave the university).

    1. Lynca*

      In my public sector job, you can get pay raises in place but they’re tied to performance metrics. You can also top out where all you will get is a COLA without switching positions.

    2. Kate*

      I used to be in recruiting at a large university system. When the focus is on equity within titles across departments, it’s really hard to get a significant raise. I posted some advice upthread about trying for a market adjustment or equity increase instead of focusing just on merit increases.

      If you like your job and department and don’t want to move internally, another strategy is to try to get your position reclassified. That requires a lot of legwork and a manager who’s willing to go to bat for you. It’s a way to get bumped up a pay grade or two without having to find a new position.

      1. Luna*

        Yes, this was the only way I was ever able to get a raise while working at a university, by getting reclassified to a higher title. Luckily I had a very supportive boss so the process wasn’t too bad, but others had to go through multiple requests to finally get approval (in those cases the problem wasn’t the boss but the HR reps who for some reason kept refusing).

        Depending on where you work, Cruciatus, another possible option is changing your weekly hours worked. At my university a way that many people got around the “no raises” system was to change their standard working hours (say from 40 hours per week to 45), which then meant they had to be paid more for those extra hours. But I’m not sure if this system is common across most universities (and of course, you have to be willing to put in the extra hours, which isn’t always a great trade-off for everyone).

      2. Jillociraptor*

        Before I left my job at a university this winter, I was working on a project to evaluate salary equity across our division (1000+ employees). Getting a position re-classed is often the only way to get a significant raise, but then we ended up with classification inequity, where two people in Widget Analyst 3 roles would be doing wildly different things because one WA3 is really a 2 with great self-advocacy. The craftiest way to do this at my institution was to get to know the job families and salary bands well enough to actually reclass the position laterally into a different family with higher midpoints. (I honestly don’t know how supervisors managed to ever get any real work done amidst all the ridiculous jockeying they needed to do to navigate the bureaucracy.)

        On the other hand, because this was so complicated, managers were often very willing to accommodate requests for non-financial benefits. I was able to negotiate a flexible schedule and move a couple of projects I hated to another staff member. Basically any time I asked for anything free, I got it. So, if there are also non-compensation benefits that are useful to you, don’t forget to leverage those too.

    3. Anon Librarian*

      I’m at a university (not a large system, though) and we’re in the same boat. Our interchangeable merit/COLA raises are about 1.5%. When they rolled those out about 2 years ago, managers were point blank told they could only have a certain number of people with high performance reviews because not everyone in a department could get a merit raise. It felt pretty icky to have to find ways to mark people down. :-(

      1. Murphy*

        Yeah, I’m at a university as well and they recently redid our review system such that very few people are supposed to get above average, which I’m sure is so they can justify not giving us raised.

  6. NW Mossy*

    If you work for a once-a-year organization, pay close attention to when raises normally happen – in my case, it’s early March. Once you know that, plan to kick off the conversation with your boss about 4-5 months before that (October/November in my example).

    This will ensure that your boss knows what you’ve achieved and what you’re seeking before the formal process kicks off, which will help her factor that in to all the discussion, negotiation, and upper-level approvals that happen in the months leading up to when raises kick in. If you wait until very close to raise time, it may be too late for your boss to get changes made in that cycle without a huge expenditure of political capital.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yes, the one big raise I ever got in my life, it actually took two steps a whole year apart (do not recommend this strategy). After our annual review when I felt I had done great work and was offered a very disappointing bump – the classic COLA that they act is a big merit raise that I should be dancing on the tables with appreciation over – I went back to my boss and calmly let him know that I was going to be revisiting my salary with him in the future. He was actually really nice about it and even offered some suggestions. So then when I actually had the conversation, he wasn’t surprised at all and had already started the behind-the-scenes stuff.

    2. Al Lo*

      Yes, I was going to add — know your organization’s fiscal year and budgeting process. In my non-profit, our FY is July 1-June 30. Budgeting starts Jan 1, and a draft budget goes to the board by March 1 to be approved (hopefully) by March 31. Last year, the budget wasn’t approved until June 15, for various reasons, which was really weird and put a lot of strain in various places. Our programming runs on an academic year, so in most cases, the new rate would go into effect in September.

      Every organization will be different, but point is, in my work, you would need to talk to someone in February at the latest in order to get a raise when we start our academic-year programming in September.

      In my case, most of my raises are tied to my start date in November, but they’re approved in the budget in February, so my boss knows 6+ months ahead of time what my anniversary raise will be, and I usually know by June what I’ll be seeing in the fall.

    3. copy run start*

      Yes! My company announces raises in January — but you’re already getting that pay rate by the time you find out. Budgets are set in the fall. :)

  7. Anastasia Beaverhausen*

    This site and these suggestions (gleaned through years of reading), gave me the courage to do this last year, and I got the raise I asked for. It amounted to about a 12% increase!

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yeah you really only have to be successful once before you’re out there preaching the good word (like me). Even if you whiff several years and get bupkis, it can be worth it for one success!

    2. Just Peachy*


      Following Allison’s advice, I, too (coincidentally) asked for and received a 12% raise. I was shaking in my boots presenting my case, but it all worked out wonderfully!

  8. CAA*

    There’s one other timing issue that I’ve had to explain to junior employees a couple of times, so I think it’s worth mentioning here. Unless you’re in a very small company where you’re speaking directly to the owner, your manager will almost certainly not be able to make this decision on her own and she will not be able to give you an answer on the spot. Compensation changes usually have to be discussed with at least one more level of management and HR before you will get a response, so don’t be disappointed if you come out of the initial meeting without a firm answer.

    You can (probably should) ask for a timeline as to when your manager expects to have a response, but this is also a bit like hiring timelines that can drag out longer than expected, so if you haven’t gotten an answer within a couple of weeks of the date your manager gave, you need to follow up.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Urgh, this is where the whole thing usually goes bad, in my experience. In most of my UNsuccessful attempts, the manager has sort of squirmed out of it by saying it’s not really up to her, she has to ask the higher-ups, they’re not generous this year, etc. (Or points to procedures that she isn’t in control of, pay bands etc). But she really wants to get me the money and is so glad I asked, etc. Then the topic disappears. If I re-introduce it – sorry, she really wants to get it for me but those meanies up top aren’t doing raises this year, maybe next year if I’m very, very good.

      This may be true or not, but I always feel like it’s kind of BS. I know there ARE exceptions for the right people – I’m just not one of those people. It’s still a No, it’s just cloaked in a helpless shrug. And if she seriously can’t get the money from their cold dead hands … I still need to be looking for a new job. At least you know you tried, and she won’t be surprised when you walk.

      1. NW Mossy*

        Yeah, this is the conversation where you find out how good your boss is at her job! A strong boss may be equally hamstrung in terms of turning the request into cash in your pocket, but she will handle the “sorry no” conversation much differently.

        A weak boss does the helpless shrug for one of two reasons – she’s too weak politically to be an effective advocate for her team or she’s too weak managerially to have frank conversations with you about the changes you may need to make to get the increase you’re seeking (up to and including changing jobs).

        1. Lil Fidget*

          So agree. And as I say, it’s totally still good to ask. Nobody’s relationship was damaged here, and if nothing else it was good practice for me!

      2. hbc*

        As someone who absolutely can’t get it from their cold dead hands, I understand when you have to walk. I feel bad that I can’t say yes when you absolutely deserve it (and would tell you no directly if I didn’t think you did), but oftentimes people like me absolutely can’t do anything.

        And if she was like me, she’s not been given so much as a cola bump in three years while fighting for small raises for her team, so she might be feeling a lot of your pain.

    2. AliceBD*

      Yes! At my current job and previous job raises were determined by 2-3 levels above my manager. My manager and her manager can love me but it is my at least a level above that if not two above that who will be determining any raise I get. So a large part of it isn’t how good of an advocate for myself I am but how good of an advocate my grand-boss is for me. And even if she likes me and has talking points some people aren’t good at it.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Just remember, they set up this system on purpose to benefit them. It all feels friendly when it’s happening, but this is a deliberate strategy on their part! Also, Alison has posted on things managers can do if they can’t get employees more money.

    3. NW Mossy*

      Along the same line, it can be very helpful to find out who the budget manager is for your position, because that person will need to be convinced that giving you a raise is a good idea. Budget managers can be multiple levels above your day-to-day boss, which means that all the people between you and the budget manager on the org chart need to be well-armed to sell others on it.

  9. Sled dog mama*

    Alison thank you for posting this! I’m about to (assuming I pass my certification exam next month) go through negotiating a raise partly because the position has changed a bit and partly because with the certification and training over the last year I am now more valuable to the company (legally I can complete certain things without having a colleague look over my work). I have a lot of industry data on salary that says I’m slightly underpaid (my professional organization does a very robust salary survey of the industry each year) but I was struggling with how to present it and this post has given me some great ideas on how to frame things.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      That’s a really good point! There are some fields where receiving a certain degree or a certification should trigger a new salary discussion, and that can be a great reason to get the conversation rolling.

  10. Canarian*

    The market rate advice is frustrating because I know it’s useful, but it’s so tricky to apply. I work for a government agency for which salaries are public information and get published annually by a local news organization. In addition to being able to look up the exact salary of everyone in my department by name, I can also see aggregate data information, like the mean and median salary of everyone with my title and the difference in wages by gender and race/ethnicity in the office. This should theoretically be super helpful when it comes to my annual review and potential raise discussion.

    However, the director of my agency regularly derides this website, strongly admonishes people in the office not to look at it, and says things like “they publish the wrong numbers anyway” (which seems ridiculous since it’s all publicly available information they receive and upload in batches, plus they’ve always published my own salary correctly to the dollar). So while it would theoretically be a good reference point for negotiations, I can’t actually explicitly refer to it in my raise negotiations with the director, or point out seemingly significant disparities (e.g., someone with the same amount of experience, same title, and same job duties as me who makes significantly more) because I know he will disapprove of me looking at this information – even though according all professional advice it’s a useful tool for anyone in our position to consult.

    This is all in addition to the fact that he approaches the raises differently every single year. One year you’ll go in prepared to talk about a percentage raise and he’ll talk about a dollar amount instead, or he switches between talking about monthly paycheck vs annual salary. This past year I even created a spreadsheet for myself to carry into the conversation so I’d be prepared. I’d calculated percentage and dollar amounts on both my monthly and annual salary and when he made his offer and I started to negotiate, he started breaking it down into cost of living raise plus merit raises, confusing things even more. It’s so hard to talk about raises when you can’t even discuss it in the same terms!

    1. Serin*

      Does he agree on a number and then say he has to check it out with his sales manager? Tack on extra for carpets and an anti-salt undercoating?

      Seriously, all of those things sound like really cheap sales techniques designed to define the employee as an opponent in a competition for money. I kind of hate your director already.

      1. SarahKay*

        Agreed with Serin.
        The whole thing about not being able to trust the public data sounds like – being brutally honest – a total lie to stop you using the public data and, you know, asking for a pay rise because you’re being underpaid.
        Your Director sounds like a piece of work and probably comes under the AAM heading of “Your boss is a jerk and isn’t going to change” :(

    2. J.B.*

      In this case, I’d do some serious digging on equity. What do you get paid compared to your close colleagues and how do those measure across gender and race? Sounds like a gaslighter.

  11. TGBAnon*

    I’m curious what people think of this situation- I put off asking for a raise for a period of time because I was trying to get pregnant and knew I’d be asking for maternity leave (well- informing of maternity leave is more accurate, I’m in Canada where it’s not legal to deny parents our country’s generous 1 year maternity/parental leave). I was squeamish because if another woman ever asked me for advice, I’d tell them to ask for the raise regardless! One thing has nothing to do with the other! But I couldn’t get my guts up to do it when the circumstance was my own.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      The problem with this is sometimes it takes longer than you think before you need the leave. Then you suffer being underpaid for another year and you lower your start value in all future conversations. If I were actually pregnant and planning on taking leave, I might not ask – but if I was just planning to start trying, hell no I’m not waiting. That crap can take years.

    2. Luna*

      I would still ask since you are only just trying- even if you got pregnant immediately after asking it would still be 9 months before you would actually go on leave.

    3. QA Lady*

      Go ahead and ask anyway! I got a promotion about a month after returning from maternity leave (also in Canada – I was gone 11 months) that came with a decent raise. My company is okay (not bad, not great) in that I got decent raises compared to the majority of staff every year since I moved into this role until last year. Last year I got 1.1% so this year in my annual review I asked to discuss what I need to do to get reclassified at the next level (which is what I would need to do to get a raise more than just COLA).

  12. RussianInTexas*

    I never had to do at my Old Job. It was a large company with everything super-structured – reviews, metrics, promotions, raises, etc.
    Then I was laid off and spent 9 months looking for a job. I did not turned down any offers or was picky, this was in the midst of the oil bust in the oil city.
    I finally found a job, It’s very different, small family owned company, very casual and unstructured, and I have no idea how the process works here. Owner’s son casually asked me last week if it’s been a year since I started, and after I told him yes, he just said “oh, your boss will talk to you or something”.
    These people are really really cheap, with pay, benefits, vacations and all. So I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I am documenting all the things I am doing that are way above what I was hired for.

    1. nonymous*

      If they’re super cheap, I’d try to come up with some free perks that save you money. Don’t trot this out up front, but if they say “No” to everything, it will be worth visiting. Flex hours and compressed workweeks wont cost the employer more money, but can mean savings for your family. If you’re in an area with commute issues, adjusting your start time can have a positive impact on quality of life; depending on your industry, it might be possible to drive the work truck home – stuff like that.

      And then either look for a new job or have some frank convos about what business you’ll need to bring in to justify a salary increase. I want to gently point out that there are many small family businesses out there that simply do not have a growth model. While there’s nothing wrong with this philosophy, understand that unless you create some major efficiencies (e.g. do the work of two people via increased automation) or demand increases drastically, it is unlikely that major raises are possible.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        I feel like the only thing I can ask for is the vocation increase. None of other perks really applies to me.
        These are the people who did not pay salaries to people who could not get to work due to the Hurricane Harvey flooding – the office is technically open, so it sucks to be you. If you had PTO, you could use it, otherwise it’s no pay.
        If I was not pretty much desperate after the long unemployment, I would never work here.

  13. Lil Fidget*

    YMMV, but for me when I did this, my number one personal goal was to spit out the actual number I wanted. I told myself as long as I managed to name the figure, I’d forgive myself for all the rest of the awkwardness and inelegance. I wasn’t leaving that office without saying the number!! Otherwise, in my experience they give you a tiny nudge or – in the case of my friend – gave her more responsibilities, since they seemed to skate over the fact that she was asking for more MONEY, not “the chance to develop in her position” or whatever.

    I got the number out, and reader: they gave it to me.

    1. Engineer Woman*

      Especially in light of how your friend ended up more responsibilities (usually good but with more pay!)

  14. Watermelon*

    What if the company focuses on annual bonuses instead of fixed wage raises? Is it acceptable to ask for a raise if you receive bonuses? Does the language change?

    1. Where's the Le-Toose?*

      It’s the same advice, just with a different perspective.

      If you got a 10% bonus and all your coworkers got 5%, it will sound tone deaf to ask for a larger bonus because they’ve already given you a larger bonus, unless your work is infinitely better than all your coworkers.

      If everyone got a 2% bonus and you’ve work really hard and outperformed others, it makes sense to ask for a raise. Also, a lot depends on the way bonuses are calculated: are they based on company performance (e.g. profit) or based on your performance (e.g. dollar value of sales)?

    2. Kathy Campbell*

      With the dollar amounts being the same: $x raise or x% (which equals $x) versus $x or x% bonus, take the raise!
      Note here to the reader to look up the definition of compounding. If you get a bonus each year, based on the same base salary year after year, you do not get ahead. If you get the raise, your base goes up, which is what your next raise is based on. Hope this makes sense.

  15. Serin*

    Here’s some advice for raises, evaluations, and looking for your next job: Create a document where you note down your successes, the challenges you overcome, the compliments and good feedback you get. Put a note on your calendar to remind you to update it every week.

    When you need to be able to point to a story about successful negotiation or a pattern of high achievement, your evidence is all in one place.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I’m currently job searching and this is great advice that I am going to try to remember when I finally make the switch.

    2. LNLN*

      I do this. My friend calls it the “fixin’ to ask for a raise” file. Yeah, I’m old enough that it originally WAS a real file folder.

  16. Cordoba*

    If an employer is making noise about “market rate” I’ve found it is helpful to ask them to actually see the data they are working off of. Most big companies will have internal/external compensation data for a given type of job and level of experience. It is easy enough to anonymize and share this information.

    It doesn’t matter if their numbers are actually accurate or not; these are the numbers that will frame the conversation rather than whatever an employee can pull off of Glassdoor or the BLS etc.

    It is much easier to convince somebody when you build your case on the numbers that *they* provided; it makes it much harder for them to poke holes in the validity of the data and focuses everybody on the conclusions that have been drawn from that data.

    If they won’t share their internal/external comparables that’s a good indicator that they’re not being entirely honest with you about how your compensation matches up with “market rate”.

    1. Oxford Coma*

      Yup, this is my experience. “Oh, we use Weird Company No One’s Ever Heard Of to determine fair pay for your position, and no you can’t see any of it.”

  17. topscallop*

    My issue is that both my manager and I have high expectations of me in my current position. We have some indicators for performance excellence that will show I have “exceeded expectations” which I hope will help make the case for a merit increase, but in general, should you have to do extra to get an increase? What if you just do everything you’re expected to, really well? I could see it being argued both ways, just curious what others think.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      This has always felt a little baffling to me, too. So if my manager has high expectations and I meet them I get a 3% raise, but if my manager has low expectations and my work — the same work I’d have done for the manager with higher expectations — exceeds them I get a 5% raise? Weird.

  18. Winifred*

    Very timely, as I am an underpaid church administrator (by our denomination’s “fair pay” standards), who unfortunately gets to see that other employees have gotten “merit increases” and way more than COLAs in the past. I’m planning on putting together just such a discussion with my boss, and demonstrate what I’ve brought to the table in the last several years in my role.

  19. Robin Sparkles*

    Yes if you are going to ask for a raise – not only do the work Alison is stating but if you normally find this hard to do – practice on someone and ask them to ask you questions that you can reasonably anticipate your boss asking you. It will be so much easier and you will sound so much more confident when asking for a raise. Finally, if you are worried about a boss viewing you and treating you badly for asking- that should be a good indication of the climate and environment you are working in and you now have practice to negotiate as you interview elsewhere. Even if you didn’t put in the work and time to deserve that raise and your boss is correct in seeing you as out of touch, a good boss still doesn’t penalize you for asking.

    This just made me super thankful to work at a place that gives annual increases and knowing that I am paid at the higher end of market rate.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      This is a great point. I practiced asking with a friend first because I knew it would be hard to spit it out in the moment.

  20. Editor Person*

    This just worked for me! My boss and I went for a walk and grabbed lunch, just chummy, and he floated the idea of bringing back a project we’d put on hiatus. I shored up all my courage and said “you know, with that and [added responsibilities lately] I’d like to raise the issue of adjusting my salary.” I noted the market rate for my kind of job which would be a 30% raise, acknowledged that’s a big bump but maybe we could get a little bit closer, maybe?!

    He was super receptive, noted it had been years since my last raise. I was feeling pretty great at just asking and glad it had come up naturally. I didn’t expect anything to happen quickly but he came back that afternoon and said I was getting a 5K bump immediately and we’ll talk about getting me some kind of promotion with more money soon.

      1. Finance Face*

        Last year I asked for a raise using your advice. I noted how my job duties had changed and current market rates. I asked for a 40% increase. My boss rewrote my job description and fought hard for me with HR. I ended up getting over 20% for $10k more a year. Their usual highest is 4%.

        I actually just spoke with her today because my review is coming up. She’s going to try to do it again this year to being me where I wanted last year.

  21. Shadow*

    Many moons ago I was hired as the administrative assistant to a mid-level Vice President for a medium sized company. By the time a year had gone by, there were some major upheavals in the company and I ended up assistant to the CFO, plus taking on all HR and Employee Benefits for the company (which I had never done before). After 6 months of *mostly* successful performance, I printed off a bunch of employment ads showing that the job I was performing was worth about 30% more than I was making at the time. Then sat down with my (wonderful) boss, reiterated what responsibilities I had taken on, showed him what the job was worth outside and he agreed to the raise I asked for. Biggest one-time raise I’ve ever gotten and probably the proudest I’ve ever been of myself :)

    1. Eye of Sauron*

      Good for you! This kind of goes along with something my old boss used to tell me and it was very insightful.

      It’s not necessarily what the individual is worth, it’s how much will it cost you to replace that person*. In your case they couldn’t replace you cheaply because of all the other responsibilities so it was better to give you the raise.

      I know the advice sounds a little cold, but in the long run I’ve been more successful getting more money for deserving employees because I do think about all of those things and how to sell them on behalf of the employee.

      *Not in just salary, but hiring costs, training costs, opportunity costs, etc.

  22. copier queen*

    I work for a public school district and *WISH* we had the opportunity to ask for merit raises. Everybody gets a standard “step” raise each year (of about one-half of 1% of their salary), and sometimes, about every 5-10 years, the state kicks in a 3-5% raise, which is generally eaten up by rising costs in health insurance.
    It is such a bizarre system that all of us, no matter our performance, get the same raises.

    1. Goya de la Mancha*

      Similar situation at my job. Everyone in the same classification gets the same raise (usually per year). We do have longevity, which is nice for those who have been around the company longer, but it would be nice if some of the younger llama herders who have the drive had the opportunity to get a little more then some of the senior llama herders who are just coasting at this point.

      I will say that a couple years ago, my boss thought I was doing such a kick ass job herding that she went through the process to get me moved up to the next step higher classification. Not an easy task on her end at all, but I appreciate it and now I feel bad for wishing I could ask for a raise again…

  23. Where's my coffee?*

    Many supervisors also need to be coached on “what to do if your direct report asks for a raise.” It’s frustrating when a supervisor falls back on “HR (or Finance) won’t let me” when in fact they’ve never raised the issue.

    Sometimes there truly is no budget, but the employee is open to a different perk. Sometimes a raise isn’t viable in a very equity-driven environment but a case can be made for a one-time bonus. And sometimes the individual just needs to be moved to a title and pay band that more accurately reflects the actual role. But whatever the answer may be, the limitation usually isn’t just meanness or spite on the part of Finance/Comp/HR/whomever.

    1. DecorativeCacti*

      We have a union with minimum salary requirements. Apparently managers were using this to say they COULDN’T give raises because the “union wouldn’t let them; everyone has to be paid the same”. During the next contract negotiations, the union added language saying raises were allowed.

  24. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

    Do NOT do this. A co-worker who has been working for a month realized that her commute was eating up more money than she has anticipated. So she asked the manager for a raise. He said no. She countered with reducing the salary of another employee and giving her the difference. He said NO. So she ghosted the job. I was super peeved because I had recommended her for the job. I ended up apologizing to the manager for her awful awful behaviour.

    1. MissCPA*

      I am failing to see how offering to reduce somebody else’s salary to get yourself the difference would EVER be an option??

      1. K.*

        Right?! I’m stunned. And the fact that she made this suggestion after a month on the job is like … whoa.

    2. ThatGirl*

      Um. Neither of those are advisable, but neither of those have anything to do with Alison’s advice; she specifically says not to ask if you haven’t been there a full year.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        I’m assuming that this should be read as: “Do not do this: [what Keep Your Eyes on the Prize described]”.

      2. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

        Some context. Before she applied for the job, I told her what the salary was. Management told her what the salary was before she was hired. She found out that a co-worker was making more, that co-worker had been there for 15 years and had lots of experience. She felt that was unfair. I may not be explaining this well. Basically, delusional person misjudged her costs and thought the best solution would be take some of another co-worker’s salary. Boss said Hell no. Delusional co-worker then simply stopped showing up to work.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Your friend sucks. I did get that. I thought you were advising not to follow the advice Alison gave because of that, but I may have misunderstood.

  25. Typhon Worker Bee*

    Bookmarking in case I ever leave the public sector again! I’ve spent the vast majority of my career in roles where COL raises are uniform and scheduled, and merit raises are imaginary unless you change the job classification…

  26. Former Govt Contractor*

    I’ve wondered if the fact that I obtain my health insurance through my husband’s employment, so the company doesn’t have to pay the portion of my insurance they would have normally paid on my behalf, can be used to get an increase? When I was hired, I asked if they offered an insurance stipend for cases like this, and they said no.

    1. MissCPA*

      I cant remember if the Affordable Care Act doesn’t allow this or not. But it might be some kind of legal issue they are running into with that.

    2. CAA*

      Some companies will pay you the amount they would have spent on your insurance premiums, but it’s pretty rare. I worked for one place that did it, but it was a separate line item on my check stub, so it didn’t get figured into any benefit that was based on salary (like 401k matching, bonus, life insurance, etc) and they could take it away if I did sign up for their insurance later on.

    3. Lil Fidget*

      Actually Alison answered a similar question (I’ll try to find it and post below, but I’m blanking on the details at the moment – it was a young person still on her parent’s insurance) and her answer was no, this isn’t very persuasive.

    4. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      It might be useful as you negotiate, but in general I think it’s unethical for companies to adjust salary based on health care costs. It leads to paying folks who are married (to someone with health insurance) more than folks who aren’t; if they went a layer deeper and based salary increases on the real cost per person of their insurance, it could also lead to paying healthier folks more than folks who use insurance more heavily.

      1. Winifred*

        Problem at my workplace is that it’s part of my hiring letter that they have to provide me with insurance if I don’t have my own (through my husband, which I do). So I can’t use that as a negotiating tactic, even though they’re “saving” $6,500/year by not paying my insurance.

        On the other hand I did use Alison’s script to ask for a raise with my supervisor on Monday. He can’t OK it — our Parish Board of Governors needs to (I work in a church) but he thought it reasonable and appropriate and says he supports the raise I requested (about 10% of my current salary). I sent him all my documentation to forward to the decision-makers and we shall see!

  27. Fulanita*

    I’d like to know what other people think about my situation.

    I want to ask my manager for a raise in a couple of months (May-ish). It will be a year since I’ve taken on more responsibility, and I’ve received positive feedback.

    In May it will be two years since my last raise. Last year, instead of asking for a raise, I asked to reduce my hours, and after some negotiations I got what I asked for.

    The money I make while working part-time is what my friends earn working full-time. They are not working in my industry, but still, most people in my region earn way less than what people make at my company.

    Am I crazy for thinking that I shouldn’t risk asking for a raise because my boss will think I am asking for too much after they went through the trouble of giving me a reduced schedule? My boss and my supervisor have been hinting that they want me back full-time, but I have no intention of doing so. Might he use my request for a raise to pressure me into going back to my old schedule?

    Side note: I have no idea what the average salary is in my country for what I do, it’s not the norm to put salary in job ads.

      1. Fulanita*

        No, it was reduced as well (I’m paid a fixed amount every month). The calculations were all done fairly; they divided my salary by the hours I used to work and multiplied it by the hours I would be working.

        Sorry if this is confusing, English is not my native language and sometimes I don’t know the correct terms to use.

  28. Uncanny Valley*

    I made the mistake of asking my new manager for a raise at the wrong time. I should not have done this. She was NOT pleased. I am certain this was one of the reasons why she was determined to get rid of me. She already thought I was a fraud who was easily replaceable (not irreplaceable mind you, no one is). But she did get me my raise, albeit indirectly. I eventually resigned shortly after I learned that she tried to get me fired. Current Job is paying me almost double what OLDJOB was paying me with much less drama. I eventually learned that they turned my one job into four jobs paying a combined total of well over 300K . When I left I was making about 50k. Still a bad move on my part but it worked out.
    (formerly Cyberspace Dreamer)

  29. Non-profiteer*

    Here’s a tip for others like me who have jobs that don’t fit into the categories that job sites use to publish salaries: look into the federal government GS levels, and figure out what GS level you’d be at with your skills and experience. The salary levels for GS are public info. If you’re like me and had nothing else at all to compare to, this was really helpful when I asked for a raise. I said, “I know that if I went and worked for the government, I could get a GS-13 job, and that could make $x-y. We both know that government jobs are NOT the high end of the income spectrum, so I feel very reasonable in asking to bring my salary up to at least this range.”

    It may have worked particularly well since I’m in DC and leaving for a fed job is a real possibility for everyone around here. But, check it out if you’re stuck trying to figure out what your market rate is.

    1. Scubacat*

      Thanks for this! My role is very unique, and doesn’t show up well on salary estimate sites. However, there are similar roles in government.

      1. Non-profiteer*

        You are very welcome! The other way I was able to get ideas about market rate was looking at grant applications – if that is at all applicable to your job. If the grant involves funds for staff time, there are ways you can figure out ballpark how much they are paying staff. This is how I got an idea of how much my own coworkers were making, though you could also use the strategy for other employers if you could see the grant applications or budgets.

        Here’s to niche-y careers! I did get my raise after requesting as described above (and also a title bump), but when I looked externally 2 years later and got a different job, I discovered other employers were paying 30% more for similar work.

  30. Goya de la Mancha*

    I told my boss I needed a raise, I said that 3 other companies were after me. He said “which ones?”

    I replied: “The electric, the gas and the water.”


  31. MK*

    Question – I work in a heavily unionized environment and am in the union. Inside my org, jobs are classified into bands and then you move up a step in the band every year. So every year I automatically get a raise. Should I still be asking for one at other times (excluding when I am offered a new job in the org, where the pay is set automatically in a standardized system)?

  32. Anonysaurus*

    I’m curious what people think of my situation and how to approach it.

    I’m approaching three years at my nonprofit. I knocked it out of the park last year and got an absolutely glowing performance review. I got a small raise at the beginning of this year, after receiving a much larger raise last year in conjunction with a title change. However, it’s nonprofit life, so I’m still vastly underpaid and am hourly.

    I’m wondering how to make the jump from hourly to salary. My boss and I have vaguely discussed making me salary since I started, but due to our state’s laws I would a pretty big increase in pay. It’s become increasingly clear that my job duties are straining against the 40 hour work week, and I would argue that a job like mine needs way more flexibility than a hourly wage provides (think a lot of offsite work, weekends, nights, etc). I’m also basically running three departments by myself. All in all everything points to me doing fantastic work, but there just not being money in the budget to make me salary, so I have no idea how to even broach the topic when it’s not really a question of merit.

    I love my job, and aside from this one thing I am pretty darn content!

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      By salary I assume you mean exempt, which means you’d get no overtime. Most people don’t want to do that.

      1. bonkerballs*

        Also, you don’t just become salaried/exempt just because you or your manager want you to. Exempt is a legally defined category and you have to meet certain criteria before you can be considered exempt.

  33. Thany*

    My former job was working at a nonprofit where they were in a “pay freeze” for 10 years. They had not given raises to anyone for 10 YEARS! It wasn’t the most dysfunctional job, but it definitely showed that they did not care about their employees.

    1. Irene Adler*

      Hey, I’m at a private company where salaries were frozen for 9 years. When there’s no money, there’s no money. The C-suite folks cut their salaries in half so payroll could be met.
      So I have no business asking for a raise under these circumstances.

    2. SoCalHR*

      If a NON-profit doesn’t have the money coming in, it makes sense why they couldn’t give raises. Even in for-profit companies (as Irene Adler points out) if the money isn’t there, it isn’t there. But that makes even more sense in a non-profit (unless the leadership is buy new fancy cars every year but doesn’t give raises to everyone else).

  34. DecorativeCacti*

    My boyfriend recently asked for a raise and I pointed him to this website for advice. He barely listened to any of it but was successful in the end.

    His manager (one of the owners) had the audacity to say, “I just don’t understand how your expenses are so high,” when he came armed with printouts of like jobs in the area and a copy of his application asking for current salary +$2 from three years ago.

    He took a copy of his monthly budget and showed them how he could barely pay for gas to get to work with what they were paying him. I tried so hard to get him to not do that but it worked. They gave him a couple extra dollars an hour and showed him their own expense reports so he could see how much profit the business is actually bringing in. Now their working together to increase prices/profits. Hopefully some of that makes its way back to him.

  35. Stranger than fiction*

    This is timely. What if you’re not entirely sure of the financial health of the company? We had some snafus last year (to put it nicely), got back on track the past few months and supposedly raises across the board were being considered, and then our top perfoming sales person walked out the door! So now I’m thinking it’s not a good time to ask because they’re probably waiting to see how badly that impacts us.
    (While our actual sales are no secret, we’ve no idea what our actual break even numbers, overhead, etc are. That stuff is not shared with us like it is in some companies. No town hall style meetings here.)

  36. Loz*

    Here’s a crap situation:
    I have been seconded into a new team to replace someone who was off on another project. The job title I took was “senior llama wrangler” but I was a “senior llama farm architect” – higher paid than the wrangler but I am under paid by quite a lot. It was also well understood that I was entering the team to do mostly the architect role, not the wrangler, which I did. We talked about the title, but, hey, it’s only a title – not important – call yourself what you like and we will change it eventually. No problem for me and we just let it slide. Fast forward 18 months I am offered to stay full time. I make my case for a market rate as the architect only to be told by HR that I am adequately paid as a wrangler. My boss went into bat for me explaining that I am actually operating as the farm architect but they are firm – I am a wrangler and therefore paid accordingly. I cannot f**king believe it. I am so pissed off. Anyway, I declined the full time role and also discovered that the role I came from was not budgeted this year so going back means another position has to be found or redundancy. Today the Chief Llama Officer announced cutbacks and outsource/layoffs. New start for me. Yay! I think…..

  37. Faintlymacabre*

    I worked for a company that had locations all over the US. Pay raises were given by how well the location you worked for did. The idea being that it is all teamwork and everyone gets credit for the job of the whole team. It was great for me- the location I worked in had done well previously, so I had only been there for a few months when I got a nice raise. Not sure what would happen the next year though- a couple locations in the state were shut down, their work folded in with my location’s other work, and when you combine that with a hiring freeze…. Such a dysfunctional workplace, which is why I didn’t stay for long.

  38. Llama Editor*

    I’ve been struggling with this because I work as a magazine editor and have the type of role that one can expect to have, without significant changes, for as long as the magazine exists. Let’s say it’s Llamas Quarterly and I’m an expert in polka-dot llamas, which we cover regularly. The obvious path of advancement would be for me to move into running my department, but we just hired someone new to do that, they’re fantastic at it (and in their early 40s, so not going anywhere anytime soon), and I don’t want the job anyway. The head of editorial needs to know about all kinds of llamas. I prefer my specialist gig. Other jobs sometimes open up at the company, but none are as well suited to me as this one is.

    I’m great at my work and my boss loves me. But since my job doesn’t change from year to year and there’s no danger of another company luring me away (most of my colleagues who depart either go into llama breeding or switch to writing/editing about non-llama things, neither of which I want to do), how do I justify a raise? Especially given that magazine budgets are tight and I’m already making decent money.

    I have a family to support and debt to pay off, and my rent keeps going up; I don’t want to skate by on cost of living increases. I do get better at my job year after year and am very well regarded in my tiny little field of polka-dot llama breeders and experts. Is that enough to justify asking for a merit raise?

    1. Colleen*

      Good companies will do a periodic cost of living increase, which is what you should expect with no change in responsibilities. Think somewhere 1-3% with 3-5% being high performers (people that are rockstars at their actual job but do not take on more duties).

      So at my company, someone who had been there 10 years in the same role, performing solidly, would move up 2-3% annually each year. My departmental budget and the conpany’s budget accounts for this. Low performers get 0% raises. Mediocre is ~1% (yeah we know milk costs more now but you aren’t doing anything impressive, do better next year). In years where there is a salary freeze, it’s really about any monies above and beyond COL. And maybe that year a solid performer gets 2% vs 3%.

  39. Lorna D*

    Not sifting through the responses so very sorry if this is a repeat but what if your job really doesn’t have measurable goals or increases? I’m not in retail but let’s use that as an example. Say my job is to check people out and put things away. And I do that, I’m friendly and helpful, but no one has pulled my manager aside to be like “wow what a helpful employee!!” because people won’t always do that. I mean I guess I could say…I put things away quickly, or I check people out helpfully, but that’s my job in general and there’s not really a way to show that I increased productivity by X percent, or took on new responsibilities because there weren’t any, or something like that. It’s not the kind of job where you can really create work either, necessarily. How would you go about asking in that case? I think it’s much more clear if you bring in new business, if you’re a comissioned salesperson, if you can show that you did 10 projects instead of 5 like you did in the last period, but if your job doesn’t have those kind of measurable metrics what do you support your case with?

  40. Nacho*

    What if you live in a city with a significantly higher cost of living than the rest of the country, to the point where your wages aren’t comparable to “market rates”? Where I live, flipping burgers gets you $15/hour, which makes it difficult to tell if my level two customer service job overpays me or underpays me at $20/h.

    Anywhere else $45k a year would be a decent salary, but here it’s barely paying the bills.

    1. Colleen*

      Market is geographical. So how much do people doing your job in your area make? That’s market.

      If you take a job working remotely for a company in a different market/region, you need to make sure the pay works in your region, and/or that they adjust your comp at hire to account for COL. When I hired remote staff, I was clear that while I was open to remote workers, the role paid X, whether you lived in Boise or Boston. For office based roles, people doing the exact same job in the Boston office were paid more than the people working out of the Boise office, about 8% difference. Parking alone in Boston are up that difference!

  41. OrganizedHRChaos*

    I recently asked for a raise by telling my boss that “if I am as important to you and the company as you keep saying I am, then I need to be making [this much] an hour.” I know my worth to the company and would not settle. I got my raise within a few hours. It was a 16.5% increase. I know most companies don’t work this way but I have been here almost 13 years and let them know that I am prepared to move on. I am the “real” HR department even though one of the owners calls herself my boss. The company would literally go to crap if I left them without an instruction manual on everything they don’t realize I do for them.

  42. MonteCristo1985*

    Should you ask for a raise when you are happy with what you are getting paid? Obviously, more money is always good, but honestly, I get paid pretty well. I started this job nearly a year ago, and the incoming salary was a 40% raise over my previous salary (not even counting the bonus structure which would bump this up to 90%), which was quite a bit more than I asked for the in the interview process (and well above average in my area). However, I really have excelled in this position, and the feedback on my work has been stellar. We don’t have a formal review process as far as I know (start-up) so no regularly scheduled time to bring this up. I could request a review, but since my boss and the higher ups are quite generous with feedback on a regular basis, it would be kind of disingenuous.

    1. LawBee*

      I’d wait a while. You’re happy, and you haven’t been there very long – right now you’re still in the area where you’re proving that you were a good hire. Give it a couple of years, keep excelling, and then if you think you’re being underpaid, or that you deserve more, then ask.

    2. Just Jess*

      It depends on the market rate. If you found out that you were doing the work of a Chief Teapot Officer and your title and pay corresponded with Teapot Manager, then you may decide it makes sense to ask for a raise.

  43. LawBee*

    And your boss may not even know how much you make! Mine didn’t, and he was surprised when I told him when I asked for a raise last year. I got it, and I am sure that part of it is that I told my boss that if the answer was no, then I wanted to meet with him and work out a plan to get me there by the next year. Now, that either told my boss that I was serious, or it told him that there was a lot of work coming his way if I didn’t get it, haha.

    And definitely definitely have your written outline with you – a copy for you with ALL the details and speaking points, and one for your boss to take to her boss that is geared for the boss-brains.

    And this is possible even if you aren’t the one bringing in tons of money to the company – I am definitely not the firm’s moneymaker, but I do a ton of stuff that isn’t related to clients that my boss had no idea about.

  44. MDW*

    This is such a helpful post. I am teed up to discuss my salary at my next review (in the next month or so) but I work at a public university that is undergoing a lot of turmoil. I’ve done my research and know that they set a pot of money aside for in-range increases/adjustments, and I also know that I’m fairly significantly underpaid. I don’t know how to react when my boss inevitably cites budget issues, uncertainty, etc., as a reason not to explore further. I also don’t know if/how I should bring up that I was recruited by 3 organizations in the past year. Very unnerving.

  45. SoCalHR*

    Such good information – and in fact I did all of these things when asking for a 6 month review, but unfortunately it still didn’t pay off.

    I didn’t negotiate when I took the job (even though I probably could have) and then the job became WAY more intense than originally outlined to me with broader workload. My presence in the company allowed them to offer additional services to clients (and I literally saved our butts on a big client/sales presentation that is in no way related to HR). So, I thought I’d humbly ask for a 6 month review with well-documented reasons. I was fully prepared for a “no”. What I wasn’t prepared for was a “we’re shocked that you’d even ask for this.” My annual review resulted in a decent raise, but I still don’t understand that response to my 6-month request.

  46. 2015Royals*

    Hoping somone is still loking at this thread…need some guidance. I have read everything on here about asking for a raise and how to negotiate salary but I have a unique situation I think. I work for an EXTREMELY large health care company and recently applied and interviewed for a Business Analyst 3 position with another group. For the record I am a Business Analyst II currently so this is a logical step for me. It happens to be in a different group which I don’t have a lot of experience in what they do (claims). The hiring manager(s), I interviewed with 3 different managers at once since they each have an opening, and they all loved me. I am not guessing here, I heard it straight from them and from HR when I received my offer.

    OK…so the offer came and it is for a lateral move to BAII instead of the BAIII that I had applied and interviewed for. This was a surprise and I reached out to the hiring manager. It was explained that leadership above him were hesitant to bring me in as a BAIII due to my lack of direct experience in their function, and would prefer to bring me on as a BAII and develop me. I am not opposed to a lateral move since I would be going to a team that wants to grow and develop me and the leadership is actually very good. Its just an all around much better environment.

    The rub for me is that my company does not offer a salary increase for lateral moves. If you accept a job in the same Job Grade (10-15) there is no increase. This seems silly to me since I am below the median for my range and there is room to offer something, I am not even expecting the full 10% you normally get for accepting a job in a higher grade.

    I am meeting with the hiring director this afternoon to chat about her thoughts on the process and how she sees this working. I want to ask for an increase, just like 5%, as a acknowledgement of some sort. In all reality I would be accepting a job lower than what they the hiring manager actually wanted to hire me for.

    What are your thoughts? Should I ask or not bring it up at all?

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