A reader asked me about how he could ask for a raise.  He explained that, at 27, he'd never asked for one before, he was nervous, and didn't know what to say.

Let me reassure you, this is perfectly normal, whether it's your first job at McDonald's or you're a senior director at a Fortune 100 company. Asking for a raise is scary, and it's one of those questions where the answer may well be no. But, that doesn't mean you shouldn't ask for one. Let's walk through the steps of asking for a raise.

Do you deserve a raise?

This is a real question, by the way. Everyone wants a raise; not everyone deserves one. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have I taken on more responsibilities?
  • Have I consistently exceeded expectations in my job?
  • Am I earning below market rate?
  • Am I earning less than others who do the same work in my company?
  • Has it been at least a year since my last raise?

If the answer to all these questions is no, you probably don't deserve a raise. Asking will likely result in a no. You'll look naive or greedy if you ask for a raise you don't deserve. If the answer to at least one of these questions is yes, you have a shot. (Although, the last one is your least likely bet unless your company gives annual raises anyway.)

It's Not About Your Finances.

Frequently, people think that because they are financially struggling, they should receive a raise. That would be awesome, but it's not how raises come about. Your car payment may be killing you and your ex  may be 6 months behind on your child support, but that is not the company's problem. Now, in a smaller company where there aren't strict policies and you have a super nice boss, it might be possible to get a raise in that situation, but most likely that will just elicit sympathy. 

The reason your boss can't give you a raise because you're in financial stress isn't because she's a mean and horrible person. She can't give you a raise because there are many other factors: market rates, midpoints, other employees doing the same job, and budgets. Just like you can't magically make more money appear when your car breaks down, your boss can't pull money out of her hat to give you a raise.

Prepare your pitch.

Don't just blunder your way into asking for a raise. Take the time to prepare. Think through your reasons and write them down. Writing it down can make the world of difference when you're nervous! If it's on a piece of paper in front of you, you can refer back to it.

Here are some suggestions of things to say:

  • I took on three additional projects when Jane quit. I've hit all the deadlines and the projects are all on target. With this significant increase in workload, I think I've earned a raise to reflect my new job responsibilities.
  • I've been in this job for two years, and I've consistently rated as "exceeds expectations." As a top performer, I believe my salary should reflect that. Can we talk about what we need to do to get me a raise?
  • I've been doing some research and I've discovered that the market rate for this position is $X per hour, and I'm only earning $Y per hour. I do a great job, I'm reliable, and I'm trustworthy. Is it possible to bring me up to the market rate? (Make sure you have documentation for the research.)

Now, of course, you'll want to customize these for your own company, but I do give you permission to plagiarize me if one of these statements work directly for you. 

Practice.

Once you've written down what you should say, practice it on a friend. Practice, practice, practice. When you're nervous, it's easy to freak out and say things you didn't mean to, so make sure you can say this backward and forward. 

Timing.

So many people get the timing wrong when they ask for a raise. Since lots of companies do annual increase, people often ask for more money when their boss tells them their raise is X percent. Don't do that! Your boss has no money then. 

If your company does annual increases, you want to make your case to your boss about 3 months before the increase. She still has time then to advocate for you, and that's a great time to point out how awesome you are.

If your company doesn't have annual increases, you can ask pretty much any time, but think about budgets and such. Don't ask right after your company has lost a major account. Do ask right after they've made a huge sale. You're more likely to find success when there is money in the budget.

Make an appointment.

Don't ask for a raise while you're in line in the company cafeteria. Don't bring it up in the hallway. Arrange a time to have a sit down meeting with your boss. Have your ideas put together and well rehearsed. If you have regular one on one meetings with your boss, that's a great time to bring this up. If you don't, schedule a specific time. 

You don't need a lot of time: fifteen minutes should do it. But, make sure it's dedicated time for discussion.

Take a deep breath.

Yes, this is scary. But, here's the secret--even the most seasoned of employees gets nervous when asking for a raise. You're not alone! You can do this! 

And if the boss says no?

It's absolutely possible that your boss will say no. She has lots of reasons why she can't say yes, and sometimes it's because you aren't as fabulous as you think you are. So, here's the follow up if the boss says no:

"What do I need to do to earn an increase in salary?" Listen to what she has to say, make notes, and then go forth and do those things. Keep in contact with your boss about your progress and hopefully, you'll find a fatter paycheck in your wallet in the near future. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published on: Jul 20, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.