Artwork by: Ivan Globin
It can be hard to ask your employer for more money, even if you know you’re worth it. But with these tips and strategies, you’ll be able to navigate your next raise request with success.
Everyone should know the feeling of being valued at work. Earning a fair wage is one of the best ways to feel appreciated. If you are not currently receiving a fair wage, then asking for a raise is a completely valid request to make. There are tools for optimizing your request, and we’re going to teach them to you.
In this article, we’ll cover:
How to word your request for a raise.
What justifies a raise?
What's the appropriate amount to ask for?
It’s in your best interest to approach every conversation relating to raises carefully. Whoever your supervisor is, you want them to be in a good mood. To achieve this, send an email ahead of time asking when you could meet up to discuss salary. It doesn’t need to be lengthy, and you should avoid giving too much detail about what you’re going to address.
This approach gives your supervisor the space to take in the information privately, make their own considerations, and be prepared to discuss hard numbers when the actual meeting comes around.
I am hoping to set up a meeting to discuss my compensation. Is there a time this week that works best for you?
Although your salary should primarily reflect the work you’re doing for a company, it’s important to consider the company too when contemplating asking for a raise. You want all elements of the company's success to be stable at the time that you bring up the topic of a raise.
Nearing the end of a quarter is a good time to bring this up because if there are any adjustments that need to be made to the budget, it will allow upper management to establish the change before committing to that quarter's allotted budget. The worst time to mention a raise is within the first couple weeks of a new quarter.
Similarly, take into account the financial climate of the company as a whole. Again, your value as an employee should not be considered strictly through the lens of what the company is able to offer. However, you will see the best results if the company is in a stable situation versus being in a financial scramble.
If you end up in a situation where you feel you’re being underpaid but also you can plainly see that the company is not going to be able to offer you a fair wage, this is when you need to start asking yourself if the company is the right fit for you. Your pay should not be determined by the company’s affinity for financial stability. Your pay is about you, and if you’re bringing the effort, you deserve to be compensated for it at a standard market rate.
There are three main reasons for asking for a raise:
An increase in your responsibilities
You have gained additional qualifications
Cost of living has increased
This applies to a variety of positions and industries and is the most justifiable route for asking for a raise. If your regular responsibilities have significantly increased to the point that they no longer reflect the job description that you were hired under, you deserve a raise.
An example is being hired as frontline staff, then slowly taking on more of the responsibilities of management.
This is different from being asked occasionally to help out or cover for someone else. However, if you’re looking for a window that helps you move up the professional ladder, agreeing to take on more responsibilities is a great opportunity.
If your plate is beginning to fill up, resist the urge to respond begrudgingly, and instead use it to your advantage. Show gratitude for being considered and be enthusiastic about the additional responsibility. Embody the new responsibilities for a while, then once you have assumed full and ongoing leadership of those tasks, ask to sit down with your manager. A lot of people move through professional development this way, as it can be a more organic increase of responsibilities than having management experience a moment of total appreciation that inspires them to offer you a raise.
We’ve all seen it on job postings, “Compensation depending on experience (DOE)”. That means that the company is willing to pay higher salaries to people with higher qualifications. So what if you have a Bachelor's degree when you start in your position but earn your Master’s along the way? You should now be qualified for a raise. This is not a guaranteed thing, but you should at least feel justified setting up a meeting to discuss it.
Some larger companies even offer tuition reimbursement. You can initiate the conversation by letting your management team know that you are going back to school to pursue a higher degree, and inquire about their options for tuition reimbursement.
Alternatively, if you approach management after you achieve your education goals to ask about a raise but are denied one, you can ask if they’d be willing to offer tuition reimbursement instead.
In an ideal world, this topic would be breached during the interview process. If you are preparing for an interview, practice asking the question, “Does this company have a raise schedule in place for keeping up with the cost of living?”
If you’ve already been employed for years and it just recently feels pertinent to address, go for it. To have the best results, come with data prepared and a specific number in mind for what you would consider to be a fair increase.
For hourly workers, keep an eye on your state’s minimum wage. If the minimum wage is $10 per hour but you make $11 per hour, and then the minimum wage jumps up to $11, you are absolutely within your rights to ask for a raise. A minimum wage determines a baseline. If you started a few dollars above the baseline, you shouldn’t regress throughout your time with the company.
For a lot of people, it seems common sense to speak to the humanness of your employer when asking for a raise by detailing the personal reasons for needing one. This might include medical bills, having a new child, wanting to upgrade your house, buying a new car, or any other of those life necessities.
When you think about it though, a salary does not reflect a person’s livelihood. It reflects their ability to perform a job well. Employers and management don’t want to feel guilted into giving a raise but rather inspired to do it because of the quality work your produce, which they directly benefit from. Because of this, any of the reasons listed above are not appropriate.
The standard amount for an annual raise over the last decade is 2 to3%. If you make $45K, that would be an increase of $1,125 for the first year. If you have not previously negotiated an annual raise into your employment agreement, and this is the first raise you’ve asked for in over three years, then you can shoot for closer to 5%.
A 5% raise on $45K is $2,250. Remember though, it’s important that your request is reasonable, and a manager might scoff at asking for anything above 5%, and $2K is a lot of money to come up with on a whim. Continuing with this example, let’s see where the salary would end up after 3 years.
$45K multiplied by an annual raise of 2.5% for 3 years = $48,460.00
$45K multiplied by a one-time raise of 5% after 3 years of employment = $47,250.00
The difference: $1,210
As you can see from this example, it’s in everyone’s best interest to address raises during your interview so that you can have them allocated ahead of time. You end up making more money by being granted small but regular increases than you would from a larger raise years down the road, plus your management team will have an easier time making room for it in the budget.
The best way to get a raise is to think about it from the eyes of a manager. At the start of every year and financial quarter, management teams everywhere make budget predictions. And unfortunately, the cost analyses that companies produce when they're setting up those budgets don't often leave space for larger one-time raises.
Plus, giving someone a raise isn’t usually up to the discretion of just your manager. There is a lot that needs to be reworked in a company in order for them to be able to afford and sustain a raise in employee salaries without risking going into the red.
Keeping all of this in mind as you approach your manager about a raise will help you negotiate the best situation.
Yes, anything over 20% is generally unheard of. If you have played your cards right, increased your responsibilities, received an advanced degree, and also haven’t asked for a raise in years, then sure, you could ask about a 30% raise. But a likely counteroffer from management would be around a 10-20% raise.
Another way you can approach asking for a raise is by looking up fair market values. To do this, Google, “Average salary for [insert job title]”. This will give you a national average. Take it a step further by adding the name of your state to the Google search. Some companies make their salaries public, so you can also look to see where you fall compared to your coworkers.
Once you have this number, try to dig around to find what kind of responsibilities other people with the same title as you have. The best argument for a raise would be if you could say that you are paid 23% less than your state’s average for your position, while also taking on greater responsibility. If a company wants to meet standards for fair pay, they’d have a hard time avoiding a raise.
Very few cases of asking for a raise will result in you walking away from the meeting with a committed salary raise from your manager. The process takes time, so don’t get defeated if you don’t get a final answer.
To avoid being strung along for many weeks though, end your meeting by asking, “When should I check back in about this?” or alternatively, “Thank you for hearing me out, I’ll follow back up with you by the end of next week to give you time to consider”.
You have options if you are denied a raise. But first, listen to the reasoning provided by your employer. Don’t fight them about it in the moment, but do ask when you can re-examine the topic. Then go and consider how you would like to proceed.
If they tell you there’s no room in the budget, you can ask about what you can do to help create room. If they continue with their answer as final, that’s probably indicative of unfavorable but honest financial forecasting. In this case, the company might literally not be doing well enough to afford to pay its staff fairly.
Decide for yourself if the job is worth it for you, or if this is the push you needed to start looking for a new job. Maybe you make a deal with yourself that at the next quarterly review, if there still is no opportunity for a raise, then you begin the job hunt.
To indicate to your manager that not receiving a raise will determine your future with the company, say something along the lines of, “Thank you for your transparency. At this time I am going to need to consider my options”. This is a much better route than indicating that you’re quitting because of it.
Worst case scenario, you do decide for yourself that your work is worth more, and ultimately decide to leave the company. Best case scenario, they follow up with you saying they realized their error or they found extra money in the budget and can now afford your raise. This is the benefit of using the quote above rather than quitting outright. After all, it’s easiest to not have to begin the job hunt over again.
At one point, the general recommendation was to stick with your employer through life. A loyal employee was thought to be the one who receives the most rewards. AKA, they get the best raises.
However, that’s not the reality of today’s workforce. People who stick with the same employer for years on end, who are trying to prove their loyalty, see significantly less salary than people who move around.
Why is that?
Because the loyal employee isn’t making a business deal. They aren’t asking to be incentivized for their loyalty, they’re just offering it willingly. Their employer runs no risk of losing them if they do deny their request for a raise.
Because of this, current workforce trends suggest that changing employers every 2-5 years is the best way to get significant increases in salary.
It might be counterintuitive to walk away from a job when you’re just a few years in, but your career is ultimately about you, not your employer. You determine your worth, and if your expectations are reasonable but are not being met, it’s okay to have a breaking point.
Professional hierarchies aren’t just for show. There is a lot of trust, conflict management, relationship building, and respect that go into the development of a team. Therefore, it is imperative to understand that everyone on that team works together.
Going to your supervisor’s supervisor to ask for a raise is not recommended. The higher-up person will answer your request by saying they will discuss it with your manager, upon which your manager will find out you went above them, providing them with an easy response for why they think you’re not ready for a raise.
If you tell your supervisor that you’ll have to quit if you don’t get a raise, you should be ready to back it up. Employment is not something to bluff about. And a statement like that can easily be answered with an invitation to leave.
Your reputation as an employee will be with you long after any one position will be. It doesn’t matter if you’re asking for a raise or leaving a job because of not getting one–always act your best.
Your approach matters. Practice inviting your supervisor to discuss compensation.
There are multiple ways to justify your request for a raise.
Be prepared with a number that you wish to ask for, and make sure it's appropriate.
Emma is a certified employment specialist with over six years of experience in career mentorship and employment training. Emma is passionate about nurturing professional growth and helping people gain momentum in their field. She uses her writing and strategic career planning skills to help her clients fulfill their aspirations and reach new chapters in their professions. In 2020, she helped design Colorado’s first state-certified training program for people with disabilities entering the workforce.