When to Ask for a Raise

Be smart about the timing when you ask for more money—that can determine whether your boss says yes.

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Asking for a raise can be nerve-wracking. You might worry your boss will react badly or think your request is premature or presumptuous, or just that you’ll be turned down. And some people get so nervous about this that they never even get up the nerve to ask.

Despite these fears, it’s perfectly normal to ask for a raise when you’ve earned one. But one important key is to get the timing right—because timing can be the determining factor in whether your boss says yes or no.

Here are three examples of the wrong time to ask for a raise:

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1. When you haven’t been on the job for long. If you’ve only been on the job a few months, you already did your salary negotiation—when you were hired. In most cases, you want to have a solid year of work behind you before asking for a raise.

This rule includes a few exceptions, such as if the job dramatically changes or if your responsibilities increase far beyond what was envisioned when you were hired, or if you’re asked to take on new tasks that cause real hardship, such as constant travel or a horrible commute. In these cases, it might be reasonable to revisit the question of your compensation. But for the most part, you should wait a year before you ask for a raise.

2. When you haven’t been performing well. When you approach your boss about a raise, your request should be based on the great work you’ve done. If you’ve been struggling and not wowing anyone, this isn’t the time to ask for more money. Otherwise, your boss may think you’re completely out of touch with the job expectations and your own performance.

3. When the company is struggling financially. When employers are going through a rough financial time, they’re looking for places to cut costs, not add them. A lot of companies will freeze salaries during difficult financial times, and a smart employee will be sensitive to those constraints.

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So when is the right time to ask for a raise?

1. When you have a sustained track record of accomplishment that you can point to. A raise is recognition of a job well done, acknowledgement that you’re now contributing at a significantly higher level than when your salary was last set (whether that was when you were hired or when you got your last raise). A raise says “your work is now worth more to us.” So you need to make sure that’s true before you make your pitch.

[See How Loving Your Job Helps You Succeed.]

2. It doesn’t hurt to have just done a great job on something. Hopefully you’re doing a great job all the time, but ideally you’d ask at a time when your fantastic performance is particularly fresh in your boss’s mind because you just wrote an amazing report or saved the company significant money or wowed a client.

Asking for a raise is nerve-wracking, but remember, good managers want to keep good employees. If your request is reasonable and backed up by your value to your employer, a good manager will try to work with you to keep you happy. And even if your company can’t say yes right now, a good boss will explain what would need to happen for her to be able to say yes next time.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.

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