How to Get a Raise

Angela Colley — Ask an Insider

Ever get the feeling you’re making less than you should be? After analyzing pay data on 1.3 million U.S. employees, Glassdoor, a career site, found the average American worker could be earning $7,528 more annually—a whopping 13.3 percent more than they’re currently getting.

But knowing they should be making more doesn’t stop them from earning less. Glassdoor also found only three in five workers negotiate a higher salary when offered a job, with the majority of women (68 percent) accepting the first offer.

Thankfully, if you’re feeling heavy on hours and workload and light on salary and perks, you may be able to ask for a raise now—and actually get it—as long as you do it right. The key is all in how, and when, you ask. To find out the best approach, we talked with Ronda Ansted, career coach and founder of Be the Change Career Consulting, a firm geared toward helping workers build the life they want through intentional career design.

My first question, and I think this comes up a lot for younger workers, is there a standard acceptable timeframe to ask for a raise?

This really depends on the company or organization. You want to work with the systems they already have in place—if they have them.

If you’re still fairly new, schedule some time with your boss to ask about their measures for your success. How will they know you’re doing a good job? In what timeframe do they want to see those results? Then work hard to meet their expectations within that timeframe. If you meet them, schedule another meeting to review your performance, and that’s when you can broach the subject of a raise.

If the company doesn’t have those systems in place, what’s a good timeframe to broach the subject? Should you wait, say, six months or a year?

Again, think about your work from your boss’s perspective. If you have exceeded expectations within six months, you can make a case for yourself for a raise then. If not, then a year is a good time to talk about a raise.

When you work in a less traditional field like nonprofit or for a startup, is the process different?

The main difference between corporations and smaller, nontraditional organizations tends to be structure (there’s less of it) and money (also less of it). So, instead of a regular review process and an assessment for a raise, you want to think about your work in terms of how much money you are either saving the organization or bringing in.

Has your work led to a new lucrative account? Make a note of that. Have you streamlined a process so that it takes hours instead of weeks? You can calculate the number of hours saved and multiply that by your hourly wage to have a concrete number of how much you’ve saved the organization and how your time is now spent on more valuable tasks.

When is the best, and worst, time to actually approach your boss once you’ve hit those company benchmarks or have been there six months to a year? I’ve often heard performance reviews are the ideal time, but what if your company doesn’t offer traditional performance reviews?

If there are no performance reviews, then the best time to ask for a raise is right after a big success or just before budget time. For smaller organizations, resources are the major limitation in offering raises. If a department has a small budget, then a raise can throw that out of whack. But if you can talk about compensation before the creation of next year’s budget, then you can ensure that your raise is included.

Is there anything you should do to prep before you ask?

Keep a list of all the valuable ways you’ve contributed as you work so you don’t forget. Save emails singing your praise. And think through your accomplishments in terms of money brought in or money saved. The more you can put a (realistic) dollar amount to your work, the easier time you’ll have justifying yourself.

If you are going to ask for a raise, should you come with numbers in mind?

Yes. Have a number in mind that’s a reasonable stretch. Asking for $50,000 is probably unreasonable, but don’t aim too low, either.

What’s the best way to ask directly?

Remind your boss of how valuable you are before the ask. For example, ‘over the last six months, I’ve helped to bring in a $500,000 contract and have streamlined things that save about $50,000 annually. I’d like to see how we can use those savings to increase my salary.’

What’s the worst way to ask?

Don’t say, ‘I’m behind on rent, and I need a raise.’ Your financial needs aren’t their responsibility. Frame your ask with your value, not your personal life.

Do you find people often do anything in this process to unintentionally hurt their chances?

Asking for a raise is an emotionally fraught process. You may not feel like you’re in a position of power, so you don’t prepare, you don’t advocate for yourself, and you may just hope that you’ll get something without asking. On the other extreme, some people expect raises even if they haven’t met expectations. So being too timid or too entitled are both ways people sabotage themselves.

Why do you think people fear to ask for a raise as much as they often do?

Money and employment often equate with self-worth and it’s scary to ask someone to value you more, especially if you don’t have a high sense of value. And if the situation for getting a raise is ambiguous that brings up more fear.

So, get information about how raises happen in your organization, track and quantify your contributions, plan for the right time to ask for a raise, practice before you ask, prepare for objections by reminding them of your contributions, and plan a reward for yourself afterward, even if you didn’t get the raise. You confronted an uncomfortable situation and you deserve a pat on the back for that!