this is your guide to asking for a raise … and getting it

It’s always disconcerting to me how many people tell me they’ve never asked for a raise — in some cases, despite not having had one in years. It can indeed be nerve-wracking to ask for a raise, but if you don’t do it, you’re potentially leaving massive amounts of money on the table, just to avoid a conversation that could be as short as five minutes. I cannot let that stand.

At New York Magazine today, I put together a guide for asking for a raise. (And if you’re feeling like this is deja vu, it’s because I did a shorter version for them last year and they asked me to expand it.) Please use it!

{ 47 comments… read them below }

  1. Exhausted Trope*

    “I cannot let that stand.”
    I cannot express how much I love this verbiage!
    Thanks for the advice, Alison.

  2. Sloan Kittering*

    This is great. I think everyone should make a point of asking if they haven’t received more than COLA in the past three years. Even if they say no, you’ll be confident that you’re not leaving money on the table, and they’ll know that you’re looking to grow. It’s scary at first but it gets easier with practice, and it’s the kind of discomfort that it’s good to overcome.

  3. NforKnowledge*

    I have a language query: you imply everyone should be asking for a raise, at least occasionally, but also assume you have a record of “strong” or “excellent” work. Surely, on average, people don’t have this. Most people do “fine” work, not making lots of mistakes but also not going above and beyond, competently doing their duties and probably accumulating some more over time. They still deserve raises as the cost of living keeps increasing, and should presumably ask for them.

    So I guess the question is: by “strong, excellent” work, do you mean generally competent or genuinely excellent? Does it imply going above and beyond, doing much more/better than their peers? Or does it just mean “not terrible”?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is about asking for merit raises, not cost of living increases, so you do want to be able to point to excellent work.

      If you’re not doing excellent work (or more work, etc.), you’re going to have trouble putting together a case for a merit increase, which means you probably can’t do this every year. If you’re doing work that’s fine but not great, you can still do it periodically, just not annually.

    2. Rumbakalao*

      Personally, I feel like unless you are very aware that your work is unsatisfactory or budgets are tight, etc…it still can’t hurt to ask. It might just be a difference between a small raise and a larger one, and something is still better than leaving it all on the table.

  4. Amber Rose*

    I didn’t ask for a raise because I felt I was doing poorly at my job and didn’t deserve it.

    I was wrong. I got my raise.

    My advice: don’t let insecurity stand in your way.

  5. mcr-red*

    I make less than the $15 an hour people want to make national minimum wage, at a job I’ve been at for more than two decades. And I keep getting more and more job responsibilities. The last time I asked for a raise (a month ago) I was told, “I know, you deserve one.” Short of moving away, what else can I do to revisit this?

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Ugh I actually have had this happen – manager agrees that I deserve a raise but says they can’t get one / comes back and says the higher-ups won’t approve it but they really went to bat for me, etc. In fact I think this is the most likely outcome of the conversation TBH. Over time I’ve become more suspicious of these face-savers, because I think sometimes it’s a deliberately strategy to make someone else the “bad guy.” (In fact in one case where my manager swore up and down that she had used all her chits for me and come up short, I realized she had actually gotten herself a raise instead). I’d argue you shouldn’t listen to what they say so much as what their actions / inactions are telling you. But it’s still worth having the conversation – you’ve established the topic and can return to it, and you’ve gained more information. A manager who says “sorry, you deserve it but I can’t do it, maybe next year” is indicating that you may be able to find that money elsewhere and should start looking. At least they can’t claim to be shocked when you come back with your resignation.

    2. straws*

      I think in this case, you do keep asking, but you also have to ask yourself why you’re staying. And there may be a perfectly good reason. You’ve been there for more than 20 years, so why is that? And does that outweigh the ability to earn more? If you need, or would be unhappy without, more money, then it sounds like you need to go elsewhere. But if the positives of the company and position outweigh the ability to earn more (and it won’t harm you in other ways), then it may be worth just revisiting a raise when you have the opportunity and being pleasantly surprised if it ever comes through.

      1. mcr-red*

        Mostly specialized job with limited opportunities and unfortunately, the need to stay in my area for husband’s job/kids’ schools. We’ve talked about a possible move after youngest graduates.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It took my mom’s department unionizing before they were raised from less than $10 an hour to over $16 now. They wouldn’t have ever increased otherwise.

      Unionizing is one option but it’s not an easy one, that’s for sure.

      Sadly it will depend on your area and job market because the next option is to look for something better, often when you’re stuck in a “I know you deserve more but the higher ups won’t allow it” situation, the only way to make more money is to leave. Which stinks and isn’t easy for a lot of people, especially since you’ve been there two decades.

      The sad reality is that you can only ask and see if they bite, a lot of times, they just won’t. Your job may need to be reclassified within your organization in order to get you into a different wage band as well. You say you’ve taken on more responsibility but does your title reflect it? They’re likely taking advantage of you and your loyalty and you have to ask yourself if you’re okay with that.

      A lady my mom works with just left for a new job at 60 after working for the same facility since she was in her early 20s just starting out. It is doable, it’s hard but it happens.

      1. mcr-red*

        Yeah, I have had several job titles. They keep changing it to try to encompass everything I do. Reclassifying is probably the correct term.

  6. Emilitron*

    I’ve never asked for a raise, because we have annual reviews, and I don’t really understand how raises relate to those performance-based salary adjustments. At performance reviews we get assessed as to how we’re doing; it’s expected most (80-85% of staff) are doing “good work” and get a cost of living adjust, call it 3% but varies with economy. Adequate gives about 0.5% less than that, “very good” gets about 0.5-1% more than that. Less than adequate gets a PIP, and truly exceptional gets more$, but that’s maybe top 0.5% of the staff population. So in the 5 years I’ve been here I’ve been “good” like almost everybody, and I can try to talk up my accomplishments in my performance reviews, and ask about what would qualify me for even the “very good” category (about top 10% of the staff), but it seems as if the culture is very sparse with those rewards. The issue is, they have a structure for deserving a raise, that hasn’t been how I’m assessed. And it’s only a 1% raise, so it keeps feeling not worth the trouble.

    My main question is, if you’ve got a very structured performance review culture, is there still such a thing as “asking for a raise”?

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I think there are places like government where it doesn’t work. But in most companies there are high performers that are getting 5-10% raises, or at least by asking for it they’ve started a promotion conversation – they’re just not you, if you’re not asking for it. And the system is kind of designed to keep you from asking, IMO. Now if you feel you’re paid well and your COLA is sufficient, maybe that’s fine with you! That does happen.

      1. short_stuff*

        I’m in government and where I am there is little to no point in asking for a raise because there’s no real mechanism for one to be given. But what you can do at my place is start talking about how you would get a promotion, or what it would take to move up. Depending on where you sit in the organisation you may or may not be interested in the next level but it’s always an option.

        The other thing is that in some places it might feel like it’s not a possibility on paper, but actually some people do get raises. And if some people get them, then why can’t you (potentially) be one of the ‘some people’. Outside of government, most employers have some flexibility in pay if they need it. But to access it you might also need to have a good sense of whether or not they’re worried about retaining you.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          “It’s not a possibility on paper, but actually some people do get raises” – YES this is what I’ve always found. Even in years where I’m told there’s no raises at all, there’s always an exception. It’s worth trying to figure out how you could be the exception.

    2. RandomU...*

      It sounds like you are getting about average if I read this right, 3% COLA + 1% Merit so a 4% annual raise which is pretty standard. If you google what is the annual average raise in the US the first hit from investopedia says the average 2019 raise is expected to be about 3.1%. So even if I read your post wrong, you are still getting the average raise in the US.

      I think sometimes people get hung up on the COLA/Merit breakdown. There are some companies that don’t give COLA increases, instead everything is Merit, other companies don’t give Merit they give COLA. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what they call it as long as it translates into more $$. For instance at my company we don’t get COLA, but guess what the average Merit increases are… 3-4%.

      Most people at a company will be getting the average rating, because most people are doing a good job. If everyone was at the ‘Very good’ level, then that would be the new average :) My company doesn’t force rank ratings, but we follow the same bell curve more or less that you describe.

      But yes, in this structure it’s going to be a hard sell to ask for a raise if you aren’t able to demonstrate that you are above average at your company.

    3. BRR*

      I think there is still such a thing. If you know when salary/budget discussions take place, that would be a good time to use Alison’s script with your manager. I think you can also say you’re striving for the top raise in your next performance review and ask what it would take to get there. My worry with that is if anything is subjective it’s easy to keep you out of the highest tier or if there are only a certain number of people they can give the highest rating. To me though, it’s not that you won’t get one. It sounds like you might just have to wait if raises are done at a certain time. It can feel like it’s never the right time to ask and employees often have to put themselves out there.

    4. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Yeah there is.

      1) You ask nicely for a raise
      2) They’re either gonna say yes or no
      3) If they say yes and it works, you stay put
      4) If they say no, you start looking for another job
      5) You resign when you get one.
      6) If they don’t give you a counteroffer you end up leaving for more money. Good luck.
      7) if they DO give you a counteroffer you have to weigh over if it’s worth staying for
      a) if it is, congratulations
      b) if it isn’t, you have to go. Good luck.

  7. straws*

    I’ve always struggled with trying to figure out what I’m worth. I work for a very small company and my job is… all over the place. My title reflects some of what I do, but if you look it up online, it covers areas that I do not and I have tasks that require technical skills but aren’t typically covered by my title. Some of my responsibilities, if I did them full time, would command double my current salary. Others would likely bring in about half of my earnings if I went somewhere else. Has anyone successfully combined these types roles into a logical number to suggest for a raise?

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I think if you’ve taken on more responsibility since you were hired, and become more dependable / harder to replace, they should be paying you commensurate with that. A lot of places keep you close to your starting wage by giving out 1% every year or so, but you’re no longer doing entry level work after a year or two. (Or you can also just start job searching at Your Salary + 10K and take an offer if you get one).

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Sadly these mash-up jobs aren’t easy when it comes to compensation as you cannot use typical comparisons.

      You cannot compare what a Spaceship inspector for Elon Musk makes vs what a Spaceship inspector makes for some mom and pop place that turns out 1% of what a major brand would do. A lot of times the smaller companies mash up jobs because they don’t have enough work to hire someone to be devoted to any given duty.

      If you did those duties all of the time, to the specifics required by a more detailed system, would you even be able to complete them at the same rate? You wouldn’t know that unless you’ve had actual experience in that role though, which is where the problem starts festering even more! Do you have all the education and certifications another company would demand for the role?

      This doesn’t really help you come up with an answer for your issue but my point is that it’s okay to struggle with your own worth, it’s not because you’re missing something important that would make you go “ah ha!! that’s it, now I know exactly what to ask for!” :(

    3. LawBee*

      If you’re making X dollars, and you believe that over the past year or so you’ve increased your value to the firm by Y%, then make a percentage request. Don’t try to math it out.

    4. MsChanandlerBong*

      That is my exact problem. My title is something that I’ve never heard of at any other company, so it’s hard to compare salaries. On top of my regular work, I do recruiting and payroll-related work, write technical documentation for our proprietary tools/software, and occasionally do some marketing stuff (writing blog posts, SEO, etc.). Yet I make less than $40K.

  8. PJH*

    “But if your salary was already increased sometime in the last 12 months, expecting another one before a year is up generally isn’t realistic and is likely to come across as out-of-touch. “

    Does this include the company surreptitiously pre-empting it with company-wide ‘cost-of-living’ increases? (Not disclosing, of course, whether or not everyone got the same percentage rise or whether it did, indeed, match the ‘cost of living.’)

    Or with my last one “In recognition of your personal contribution to Teapot Limited’s business performance and after discussions with your line manager,…” where nothing whatsoever was actually discussed with me prior.

    (And no, there are/were no ‘performance reviews’ – at least not in the past couple of years – something I do intend to raise with management soon..)

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Ugh, the “merit COLA” is weird. They tried that at my last job. “In appreciation of your exceptional performance, we are generously giving you X” – but then X is in the ballpark of 1 or 2 per cent, or they gave everybody 1% and you got 2%, and you were trying to talk about a pay adjustment of much larger scale. Not to downplay the value of COLA of course, as I understand that there are some companies that never give you an inch, ever. But when the company muddies the water around it, it’s harder to make the case for what you believe is a fair wage for your current work.

  9. NaN*

    I recently had this conversation with my manager, a few weeks after a very positive performance review. I felt awkward about it, but he actually thanked me for bringing it up and being straightforward about it. Me bringing it up and stating my expectations will give him the ammo he needs going into the salary planning meetings with other managers to pull more money for my raise.
    I don’t think it should work that way, really, but I’m glad I got over my discomfort enough to bring it up. (I won’t find out the actual results/percentage for a couple of weeks.)
    Have the conversation!

    1. Anonymous for this post*

      Awkward is correct! I’ve never asked for a raise, but on my last review questionnaire, I nervously wrote that I’d like to be considered for a raise since I consistently do very good work (thanks for the confidence, Alison) and have not had a raise in two years. In my industry, COLA raises are non-existent and merit increases usually max out at 3%/year….if they give them at all. My boss put in for an 8% raise! I thanked them for the nice raise after the next payday and they said “it’s well-deserved”. Hooray!

  10. MiniKoala18*

    This is great! Thank you for sharing.

    I work for a large not-for-profit performing arts center (approx 500 part and full time employees) where it’s taboo (or at least, perceived to be taboo) to ask for a raise. I get a cost of living raise every year and that’s it. Any tips on navigating asking for a raise in the not-for-profit world?

    1. BRR*

      I might be letting my imagination run a little with this but if your office culture includes the philosophy that you should be doing this for the love of the arts you might be SOL. I think you options are asking anyways or maybe you could try to reframe your position to essentially get a promotion and ask what the new salary would be? I’m kind of partial to just breaking the taboo because asking for a raise shouldn’t be a taboo if you’ve earned it.

      1. MiniKoala18*

        Thanks for the insight BRR. I’m not confident that asking is going to get me anywhere due to the office culture, but I am partially motivated to ask to break the taboo as well.

  11. No,I'mGoingToTellYOUHowIt'sGoingToBe*

    I told a boss once in a performance review that I wanted to get paid what I was worth, and he actually had the effrontery to reply, “Oh, we can’t afford that!” After several years assisting in this very small business, my co-workers and I discovered that performance reviews were just an excuse to bring up morale lowering disappointments in order to have an excuse to keep raises low and expectations either amorphous or unrealistic. I vowed never to do another one. Since I was on a part time schedule, ineligible for benefits and still getting the same hourly range as the rest of the staff, I decided to do my own performance review and give myself my own raise. He balked by saying everyone knew everyone else’s salary so it would be seen as unfair. I responded that according to recent Labor Department statistics, a benefit package typically comprised 11-22% of a workers compensation, and in order to even be the same as the rest of the staff I would have to be paid that much more (and he was free to explain it to them in those terms). [I didn’t have a power point, and I only vaguely remembered reading it, but stated it with absolute conviction.] In addition, he would have to pay a temp agency more and not get someone trained to his (exacting) specifications. It worked. I got my 22% raise (still less than a temp agency). Since one area of my duties was worth more than another, he counter-offered with a slightly lower hourly amount when I was scheduled for those duties. That seemed entirely fair and allowed me to at least throw him his “I’m still the boss” bone.

    1. LawBee*

      So you worked part time and got a raise that included the cost of benefits given to full time employees? That’s ballsy. ::impressed::

  12. Bookwyrm*

    I have been asking for a raise/promotion for the last 15 months. My previous manager told me I should get one, that she had put a raise into the budget for last year told her successor that I was due for one. I took on a number of responsibilities that had been hers during and after the transition to her successor. My new manager wrote in my performance review over a year ago that she was recommending me for a raise and promotion as well. I followed up every couple of months, there were “discussions happening” with those above. During my performance review in December she again put in that I should get a raise/promotion. And again, all I hear are “discussions are happening.” I have had a cost of living adjustment each year – but everyone at our organization gets that. Yes, I’m looking to leave… I think it’s been stuck up above and complicated with staff changeover, but it’s been incredibly discouraging. My former manager is furious on my behalf since she specifically put money in the budget and told my new manager. Hopefully I’ll be able to use this advice to better effect someday at a new job!

  13. AyBeeCee*

    Where is a good place to research salaries besides Glass Door? I tried looking in my area on Glass Door but it didn’t have enough data points to be useful for the position I was looking at. Or is that the only decent option out there (assuming that there isn’t an industry-specific type place to look)?

      1. AyBeeCee*

        Thank you! I thought I had read it here somewhere but I forgot it was it’s own article.

  14. LawBee*

    yes yes yes and yes. I basically followed this process when asking for my non-insubstantial raise a few years ago. I had a whole list of the things I did, but they’re all in Alison’s article! :D Which is not surprising, as that’s where I got all the advice to begin with.

    Truly, my only addition would be that it’s entirely possible that your manager has no idea what your salary is, even if you have been getting annual increases. I’ve found that I get hired at $xx,000, and then all my increases are expressed in percentages, so after a few years, they have no clue what I make – just that last year I got a 5% increase, the year before a 3% increase, etc..

    Go forth and be bold.

  15. LSP*

    I just wrote Alison last week to tell her the good news about a recent raise I just received. I had my review in November, right as I was going out on maternity leave, and I told her that if it hadn’t been for her blog, I would have likely waited at least another year to ask, thinking my going on leave would somehow have negated the good work I’ve been doing for my company.

    I had a great review, and I laid out my desired raise and my reasoning behind the request. Upon returning to my job this past week, I had an email waiting for me from my grand-boss telling me I received a generous end-of-year bonus AND a 7% raise!

    Thanks, Alison and AAM community!

  16. Emily*

    We get annual raises but its all decided by HR which while can be fair if you have a boss that dislikes you I’ve always gotten a 5 star review….and a 1-2% increase which is barely COL or inflation. There is literally no way to contest it or ask for more without moving departments.

  17. Cruciatus*

    I was really annoyed with the show Young Sheldon last week, though it was actually a good episode overall–but the wife was pregnant and the husband went to his supervisor and asked for a raise because the family would be expanding–and he got it–he didn’t really include much about why he deserved it. Then when his wife had a miscarriage and the husband went to his supervisor who realized what happened and didn’t accept the husband returning the raise (which was good, but I just wish they had had the husband (George) ask for it because he deserved it, not because he needed it. May have given some people out there the wrong idea of how/why to ask for a raise!).

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Ah…but I’ve seen this approach before in real life sadly. I even found documentation where employees wrote out their COL details and then turned that in to their manager as a reason why they should get a raise. I think this goes into lobbying for a “COL” raise and not a merit raise that Alison is talking about here.

      Yes a few of those people asking for their COL raise with their details did get something in the end at least. Sometimes just saying “It’s been 3 years since my last raise and the rent has been raised 3x…” is enough for some employers.

  18. Jennifer Juniper*

    That’s surprising. I assumed that managers simply would think, “Your rent increase is not my problem” and send the employee away with a scolding and/or give them a bad performance review for asking for a raise based on need, not merit.

  19. seller of teapots*

    Ah thanks for this. I’m planning to ask for a raise in June, and I’ve never done that before. I always negotiate for salary when getting hired/getting a new role, but I’ve never asked for more money within the same role. And I’m terrified about doing it.

  20. Paige*

    I wish I worked somewhere that wasn’t dependent on a board of trustees deciding whether anyone gets raises or not. I know articles like the above are helpful to most people, but they’re just depressing to me, knowing it doesn’t matter if I ask or not, because it’s not even in my institution’s power (let alone my boss’s) to give me a raise unless the Powers That Be decide it’s allowed. The only way to get a raise is to change jobs, but I *like* what I do and basically everything else about my job, so I just have to deal with only ever getting 1% COL raises disguised as merit every few years.


  21. Sira*

    Thanks Alison, this is really helpful. I wonder if one can ask for a raise if the job scope increases substantially from the last raise and the last raise is less than a year ago. In my case, I was hired to manage three people and now manage 7 people, which requires more bandwidth. Can that be a justification in my request for a raise?

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