10 Tips for Negotiating a Raise

While asking for a raise can be intimidating, here's how to make the conversation go smoothly.

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When’s the last time you asked for a raise?

If you’re like most people, it’s been a while—in large part because it’s an intimidating conversation to have.

Here are 10 things you should and shouldn’t do to make the conversation go smoothly:

1. Pick your timing carefully. Check out these right and wrong times to ask for a raise.

2. Understand what your manager is likely going to be thinking. And what is in a manager’s head when a staff member asks for more money? Typically, it’s this: “Is this reasonable? Am I going to lose this employee if I say no? Where would this put her salary in the larger context of our overall salary structure? And most importantly, how valuable is this employee?” Managers are much more willing to go out of their way to accommodate someone fantastic who they don't want to lose—and much less likely when the request comes from someone they're lukewarm about.

[See 9 Little-Known Ways to Damage Your Reputation at Work.]

3. Don’t talk about personal reasons for wanting a raise, like your expenses. Your request needs to be all about your value to the company, not about the fact that your rent is going up or that you have bills to pay. Employers don’t pay people based on each person’s own financial needs—after all, the company isn't expected to pay more money for the same work to someone supporting a family of four versus someone single and without kids. Stick to reasons that are about business and your value to the company.

4. Don’t compare your salary to your co-workers’. Sure, it's absolutely frustrating to see someone doing a worse job than you and getting more money, but for better or for worse, managers do not respond well when employees use a coworker's salary as the basis for a raise request. Base your salary requirements on the industry norm and what you'll be bringing to the company, nothing else.

5. Base your request on your value to the company. Build a case for why you’ve earned a raise, and for why your company is better off because of your work. Think back to any special achievements in the last year (and it’s good to keep running notes on these throughout the year so that you can remember them when you need to!). Think about the positive impact you have on the business. Pretend that you’re your own manager and ask what about your performance would really impress you, or what your manager should be upset to lose about you if you left.

[See Keep Track of Accomplishments at Work.]

6. Provide details to support your case. For instance, maybe you can show a file of compliments you’ve received from customers. Or maybe you can show that your idea increased revenue by X dollars, or that your productivity rate is twice the average rate. The idea here is that you want to show a case for your value to the business.

7. Don’t threaten to leave if you don’t get a raise. Even if it’s true, you don’t need to say this out loud. Managers understand that this is the implied subtext when someone asks for a raise; it’s definitely on their mind that they risk losing you if they can’t do what you’re asking. You don’t need to spell it out.

8. Don’t have an attitude of entitlement. You want to be confident and direct, but it won’t go over well if you feel entitled to a raise just because a year’s gone by, or because you’ve done the basic requirements of your job.

[See Treat Your Career Like a SmartPhone.]

9. Rehearse what you’re going to say ahead of time. For instance, you might open with something like this: “This company has been wonderful about rewarding my performance with increased responsibilities and more challenging work, and I’m really appreciative of that. However, I’ve been performing at a high level for a while now, have consistently exceeded my sales targets, and have played a key role in mentoring new staff as well. I’d like to talk to you about adjusting my salary to reflect these contributions.”

10. Know what to do if your boss says no. If your boss turns you down, ask what you would need to accomplish in order to earn a raise in the future.

And if your boss says yes, congratulations! You just got a raise.

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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