Asking your boss for more money can be a touchy thing.
Everybody wants to be paid more money for what they do. Everybody wants to feel like they’re valued at work. But so many people approach asking for money the wrong way.
Most of the time it’s because the discussion is long overdue—they feel like they’re underpaid, they’re bitter, they’re overworked and don’t feel appreciated in general. Since the motivation is coming from the wrong place, it usually ends badly. They either won’t get the raise, or worse, they might get the raise but their boss or the company resents them for forcing their hands.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
When done well, asking your employer for money can be a very positive experience. You’re essentially giving your employer an opportunity to keep you happy. And just like with personal relationships, if you can do a good job of communicating your needs in a nonthreatening way, you will reap the rewards.
Here are some tips that can help the conversation go smoothly:
Deserve the Raise
This is the hardest part, and that’s why I want to cover it first. To really be successful, you actually have to deserve the raise. There’s no sleight of hand or shortcut here: the best first step when asking for a raise is to deserve it. Meaning that you have been busting your butt creating value for your company and your customers, whoever they may be.
Deep down you probably know whether that’s true or not. But when you have a hard job and you feel like you’re swimming through crap every day it’s easy to get a distorted view. “Of course I deserve a raise! I’m killing myself everyday for this job!” Step back and really look at it objectively: are you really due for bump?
Do Your Research
What are other people making? You can usually find salary surveys for your industry in journals or online. You can also find out salary ranges from other job postings. What are other companies offering for comparable positions? That’s obviously highly relevant, because your boss knows that if every job posting you see for your level is $10,000 higher than you’re making, it’s not long before you’re going to head for greener pastures.
Be Specific About Your Ask
Just going in with the message “I need more money” makes the ask less real, and makes it seem more aspirational. Somehow it’s easier for your boss to turn down or brush aside. It’s better ask for a very specific amount (“can I get a $10,000 raise? I’d really like to be making X”). This makes the request more real and immediate.
By providing a specific amount, it’s also easier to tie it to a justification. “I’ve done some research, and I found that the market rate for someone in my position with 5 years experience is X. So, I’d really appreciate it if you could bring me up that level.”
Be Unemotional With Your Argument
Build a business case. Paint a positive vision of why it’s a good thing for the company for you to get paid more. Allow them to feel good about giving you the raise as opposed to feeling like you’ve ripped it from their pockets.
What you don’t want to do is make your boss feel like he or she is backed against the wall. You want to make it clear that you’ve carefully considered the way things are now, you’ve done your research, and you think it would be great to get you to a certain level.
Avoid Playing the Martyr Card
Again, the last thing your boss wants to hear is how beaten down you feel and how you’re overworked and really deserve more money because of how hard your life is. When you use the martyr angle you’re putting a negative halo around the whole conversation: it makes you look bad because it shows you can’t communicate your needs like an adult. You’ve waited until you reached the breaking point before bringing it to their attention.
It also makes your employer feel bad, because it’s an implicit indictment of their management abilities: you’re basically saying they’ve done a bad job managing your work-flow. Or that maybe they’ve made a mistake in terms of how much money you should be making.
The martyr angle is bad for everyone involved.
Ask, Don’t Threaten
When you’re talking to your co-workers or friends, it’s easy to fantasize about threatening to quit in order to get what you want. “Dude, I’m going walk into Johnson’s office, bang my fist on the desk and tell him if I don’t get a 20% bump, I’m GONE!”
Actually, using this approach is probably one of the douchiest things you can do. And most of the time, it goes very badly.
Even if you feel you have legitimate leverage because you’re a critical part of the team, you should avoid using it at all costs. Threatening to quit might work, but it puts a bad taste in your boss’ mouth—they’ll definitely resent you. But more importantly, you don’t need to threaten to quit. You don’t even need to go near that topic. Because the threat is implicit.
When you ask (nicely) for what you want, the employer knows in the back of their head that they can only let you down so many times before you decide to re-evaluate your options.
Even if your boss agrees that you deserve a raise, he or she is probably going to challenge you a bit when you ask. Hey, if a conversation was going to cost you $10,000 wouldn’t you milk it a bit? Be prepared for the counter arguments your boss is going to throw your way. Most likely, you’ll be able to identify them upfront…and you’ll be able prepare a solid rebuttal to diffuse each point.
Be Prepared to Get Creative About “Compensation”
Maybe they won’t give you a $10k raise, but they’re willing to let you have every Friday off or they’re willing to give you some more vacation time. Or maybe they’ll let you telecommute a couple days a week.
Thinking like this can be a great solution, especially if the only reason they can’t give you a monetary bump is because they don’t have the cash. Or if you MUST have cold hard cash, another creative approach is to propose compensation that’s tied to your specific performance or the performance of the company. That way you get around the issue of your employer being able to float the money.
Choose the Right Time
As with most things in life, timing is everything. On a macro-level, you want to find a strategic time when the company and your boss are in the right frame of mind. Think about major events that may be happening in your office or with your team. Have there been some big wins? Have you had a good quarter?
Obviously, it’s going to be a hard sell if your company has just posted losses and laid off staff. On the other hand, if the company’s doing well, you’re more likely to get a good outcome.
Or from an individual perspective, has there been a time when you’ve had some wins lately, or really shown your value? If you’ve just lost the company money because of a dumb ass decision, hey guess what, you’re probably not getting your raise. On the other hand, if you’ve recently been kicking major ass, maybe now’s your window.
Timing is also important on a smaller, more mundane level. Choosing the right time of the day and blocking out a time is critical.
Ideally, you’ll want to choose a time when you and your boss are not going to get interrupted. Most likely that’s going to be early in the morning or at the end of the day. Having this dedicated time can allow you to state your case and allow the conversation to percolate, hopefully for the positive.
Plan Out the Conversation…and Practice!
Lay your argument, including how you’ll open the conversation, what your specific ask will be, and how you’ll justify it. The more you practice, the smoother and more confident you’ll be.
The last thing you want to do is go in there and say “Boss, I think I deserve a raise because…uh..[look at notebook]….” It can’t come across as though the realization just struck you in the shower this morning. It’s got to be clear that you believe it deep down in your heart and you know it’s the ways things need to be.
Practice not only what you’re going to say, but how you plan to listen to your boss’ rebuttals and counterarguments. Practice how you’ll take a breath and be confident and non-threatening when you respond. You may even want to role play with a friend, and ask them to throw objections at you so you can practice responding to different questions. It’s best not to memorize specific statements, but to have a loose outline of “ammunition” in your head. That way it will be more genuine.
I would never say that asking for a raise is EASY, but if you follow the tips above, you can most certainly improve your chances of getting the bump you want…while still preserving the relationship with your boss.
Now go get ’em, tiger!