How to Ask Your Boss for a Raise

One of the most uncomfortable work-related missions is having to ask your boss for a raise. This is especially problematic now, since so many employers are facing tight budgets and are very reluctant to give raises in general. Asking for a substantial raise can sometimes feel like trying to climb a very high wall.

But there are ways to ask your boss for a raise, even in a competitive job environment, if you handle it the right way.

Steps to Ask Your Boss for a Raise

1. Assess your employer’s position and be prepared to be flexible

You do need to be sensitive to your employer’s situation. If the company is losing money or is in the process of having layoffs in other departments, you can hardly ignore this information in regard to your request.

It’s often said that “timing is everything”, and that’s true even when it comes to asking for a raise. If your employer is going through any of the circumstances above, you may need to either delay your request until the time is more favorable, or lower your sights and ask for smaller raise.

ask boss for a raise

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That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ask your boss for a raise simply because the company is experiencing troubles. If you are an important player in an important department, and your contributions are well ahead of company-wide trends, a raise may be in order.

Even if the company is going through hard times and eliminating jobs elsewhere, it will still need top performers to see it through the difficulty and to grow the company when times improve.

2. Know your true market value

If you are going to ask your boss for a raise, you need to know what your market value is. That is, what are people being paid for similar positions in your industry?

It’s easy enough to get that information. There are excellent websites that have that information, including Indeed.com, Salary.com, and Payscale.com.

Probably the single best source however is the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Not only does it give salary ranges for nearly all positions in the US economy, but it also provides information as to future job growth in your occupation or industry. That can be at least as important as salary information, because it indicates whether the future trend for your job is positive or negative.

If the outlook is very favorable for your occupation, this puts you in a better position to ask for a raise even if your employer is struggling. It can also give you the confidence that you will need to take a strong stand in requesting your raise.

3. Have written evidence of your “good deeds”

If you work for fairly large employer, they almost certainly have a “file” on you, chronicling your performance and accomplishments – and even your misdeeds – since your employment began. You should have a file too! Only your file should be a collection of your contributions to the organization. It’s never more important to have one than when you are asking your boss for a raise.

If you don’t normally keep such a file, you should begin assembling one before you make your request.

The file should contain copies of previous reviews, letters and emails from coworkers, vendors, and clients (especially clients) any time any of them have praised your work. You don’t need to bring your file into your first meeting with your boss to discuss your raise, but you should have it as a backup just in case things get a little sticky.

4. Assess your position in the industry

We already discussed how to determine how strong your occupation is in the big picture. But you also have to assess how well you fit the qualifications for your occupation. Are you a stronger player? An average player? Or are you somewhere below average?

How much flexibility you have in asking for a raise can be determined by which level you are performing at.

Make as realistic of an assessment as you are able, and if you feel you can’t then ask for the opinions of some trusted coworkers. If you determine that you fall into the “average” or below categories, you may want to take some time to improve your qualifications and performance before asking for a raise.

You always want to deal from a position of strength when you’re asking your boss for a raise. Make sure you have that strength before presenting your request.

5. Game Day: keep it calm and cordial

Asking for a raise is a tense situation even when you get along well with your boss. So it’s important that you handle the request as diplomatically as possible.

Recognize that your boss is probably under certain budgetary pressure, and also that your request may be totally unexpected. For these reasons, ease into it gradually which will make it easy for your boss to take in what you’re asking.

It might even be best to approach the subject in a non-business environment, such as when you’re out to lunch with your boss. In addition, you should fully expect that the process will be handled in several steps. Asking for a raise is a true negotiation, so there is a strong element of offer/counteroffer. Be ready to go with the flow.

What to do if the answer is “no”

In spite of your best efforts, your request could still be denied and you need to be prepared for that. That’s when you may need to present your good deed file as well as salary information from the web.

You may also have to recognize that the timing of your request is poor. Or it may be that your employer does not have an entirely positive view of your performance in the recent past. If it is a performance issue, step back, take some time and do what you need to do to improve it by concentrating most heavily on the most critical functions of your job.

You may not be able to overcome the denial of your first request for a raise, but if you get rejected then that’s the point where you want to start preparing for the next request that may come in six months or another year. And when that time comes, you’ll be better prepared.

Have you had success in asking for a raise recently?

About the Author

By , on Dec 28, 2012
Kevin
Kevin Mercadante is a professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com. He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids and can be followed on Twitter at @OutOfYourRut.

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{21 Comments}

  1. These tips are great! Some I might not have thought of on my own. I am just entering the workforce in May after graduation, so it might be a while before I can ask for a raise, but it is good to note the information I should be keeping track of along the way.

    • Kevin says:

      Hi Vanessa–That gives you plenty of time then to start documenting your accomplishments, etc, that way when raise time comes you’ll be completely ready!

  2. Gekko says:

    Very nice tips. Although on my last 2 jobs I came with offers from other companies and I received a raise, last year my boss gave me the raise after the yearly evaluation whithout even ask for it.

  3. I’ve found that the best time to negotiate is before accepting a new job. Once a company makes you the offer, you know that you are the person they want and you hold a big advantage in asking for more money.

    The only time that I’ve ever been successful in extracting more money for a current job is when I’ve received other job offers.

    • Kevin says:

      Hi Wayne–That has a lot to do wih the weaker state of the job market. But I completely agree that you must be very deliberate in cutting your best deal before you accept a job. It’s a dog fight after you’re there.

  4. Thad P says:

    I don’t have much experience in this. Thankfully our company had across the board raises for the coming year.

  5. Great tips! I’ve been lucky as I haven’t had to ask for a salary raise as they keep giving them to me. My raise has more to do with training and experience as well as the basics of any role but they are very good with giving us what we deserve. I think for those that don’t they are too nervous to ask for fear of being replaced or looking like a fool. With these tips you provide anyone would be prepared to ask for a raise. Mr.CBB

  6. I like the idea of listing your good deeds. If you are going to be asking for more money you need to have the proof of your value to back it up.

    • Kevin says:

      Hi Sean–That’s something that should be done all year and not just at raise time. We should never assume the employer keeps track for us.

  7. Funancials says:

    The best way that I have found is to receive another job offer. Then if you’re valuable, your boss will have to give you a raise.

  8. My jo is pretty locked down as far as pay raises, and I was told by a manage the only way to get one is to bring in an offer letter from another company! But I do agree with the above steps. And who know, it might happen, but YOU HAVE TO ASK!

    • Kevin says:

      Hi Jacob–I’ve done the outside offer letter a couple of times, but it isn’t without risks. You have to be prepared to accept the offer…just in case.

  9. I’ve never worked at a company where payscales were discretionary. So no raises for me. I did get a cost-of-living raise of 12 cents per hour at a summer job once!

  10. Good tips! I think it’s key to know what the going market rate is and to have numbers/evidence to back up your request. Keeping the emotion at bay and allowing ration to lead the conversation is vital as well.

  11. Pauline says:

    I hate to ask! I try to negotiate a good entry salary and shine at goals review but I have always been given raises without asking. I’m sure I could have gotten more by asking.

  12. I always try to go in with a plan of attack and show off just how much work I have completed on time, on budget and where I have saved the company money.
    It doesn’t work 100% of the time, but it does fairly often.

    • Kevin says:

      Hi Glen–Accomplishements speak, but sometimes don’t get noticed. It never hurts to put them on the table in moments like this. Most employers want to keep their more productive people happy.

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