There’s something to be said for knowing that you’re excelling at your job. You walk into the office like you own the place, feel more self-confident in every aspect of your life, and take pride and ownership in the work you’re doing. Feeling good is great, but of course, there’s another element at play. Chances are, you’re at a point where you’re considering asking for a higher salary—one that you know you deserve.
If you’re facing a moment in your career when it’s time to ask for a raise—maybe you’ve taken on increased responsibilities over the last year, hooked a huge new client, or started managing a growing team—then you probably know that saying “I want more money” and actually getting it are two very different things. But the longer the wait, the less money you have to sock away in savings or pay down your debt (BTW we have a great free resource on getting your financial life together here). So how do you build the case with your boss to prove you’re ready for a new pay grade ASAP? Read on for my tips:
Being good at your job doesn’t necessarily make you a shoe-in for a raise. Neither does a one-year work anniversary. These are elements in your favor, but they’re not enough. What does is hard proof that you’re going above and beyond your original job description and (here’s the key) that the increase you’re asking for isn’t unreasonable because you more than make up for it in your contributions to the company.
What value do you bring?
You need to prove that you bring so much value to your work that paying you more is actually a beneficial move on your company’s part. That means you’re going to collect data from your past work—hard data—things like how much money the company made last year thanks to projects you worked on. Granted not all jobs directly generate profits, but try to think about how to quantify your value.
The goal here is for your boss to think, “Hm, she deserves this raise, but also, if she were to leave we’d be in deep, deep trouble.” The truth is, no one ever gets a raise simply because they’ve earned one. They get a raise because the company benefits from their presence.
How are your skills valued elsewhere?
You need to know how much money other people like you are making. What are the industry standards? And how much is your experience and expertise actually worth? To figure it out, head to a salary calculation site (or several), roll up your sleeves, and start digging. You want to make sure the number you ask for is within reach, and the best way to know this is to compare the number to what other people working in your field are making. (One note: You won’t bring up these outside numbers to your boss during your ask. You’re researching them only to feel confident that what you’re asking for is fair).
Do not—and I repeat, do not—simply ask for a raise in the middle of an informal meeting. That rule stands, even if your boss is standing there praising your great work on a project.
Asking for a raise is similar to selling a product; you need to build your story, make the ask, and end on a convincing note. That means this meeting should be prepared for in advance and well-rehearsed.
You also want to ask at the best time possible. If you know your boss is going to be considering next year’s budget next month, or if there’s a period of year when all annual reviews are conducted, you probably want to plan around those. You also want to make sure that your boss is in a good mood—not asking after a bad month of company performance—and one or two of your accomplishments are still fresh enough for her to remember. Even if waiting for the most advantageous time means sitting still for a couple months, that extra patience will be worth it—literally.
When you do determine that it’s your moment, book an actual meeting to talk. We recommend just saying something like, “Could we set up half an hour to talk about how things are going with my work?” Once you’ve set a date, the next step is to over-prepare.
Most of us hate talking about money even with our closest friends. So, understandably, it’s so, so awkward to talk about money with your boss. But if you want to ask for a raise, you need to get comfortable with negotiation.
Long before your actual meeting, take all the information you’ve gathered and write a script for yourself. Then run through it out loud in your living room. Do it over and over until you’ve taken the edge off.
Once you feel comfortable running through it, phone a friend. Ask them to role play with you (they’ll be playing your boss). It’s best to practice how you handle both outcomes—your boss saying yes and...your boss saying no.
When the day arrives, take a few deep breaths and focus before heading into your meeting. It can be hard, especially if you feel like you’re underpaid, to ask for a raise without betraying sensitivities or even desperation. Try to stick to the facts, avoid tears or voicing frustration (no “You don’t pay me enough!”), and make your case as if you were arguing on someone else’s behalf. You deserve this raise, so stay calm and confident the whole way through. You’re just stating the obvious, right?
Sometimes, even if you know you deserve that raise, your boss may not give it to you. If she says no, you should do a few things. First, listen to her feedback calmly and carefully and try your best to take mental notes despite your disappointment. What are her reasons? Does she feel you need to improve in a certain area? Or is it that she simply doesn’t have the funds?
Second, if she does think you have work to do, ask if you can revisit the conversation again in X number of months after you’ve worked on improving. Alternately, if it’s a budgeting constraint, ask her how long she thinks it will take before she can afford to pay you.
The third step is actually a choice. You can choose to stay and do the work despite not getting a raise. If you go that route, we recommend that you try to negotiate some increased benefits instead since those are often easier to give than salary changes. But if you’re unhappy with the outcome entirely? It might not be worth staying—in which case, it’s time to start looking for a new job.
Still, no matter what, leave the room gracefully. Thank your boss for her time and feedback. Walk out with your head held high. You are the Jackie O of the office, and you’ve got this. Whatever happens, it’s your career and you’re in control of what happens next.
Looking for more career advice? Read more of Career Contessa's tips here.