How to Ask for a Raise

By Madeline Vann, MPH Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH

Is it time for a step-up in your salary? Even if that rightful raise is long overdue, actually asking for it can be the hardest part. So before you schedule a meeting with your manager, you'll want to do some research and carefully plan your approach.

Here's your first step: According to standard career counseling guidelines, it's important to research the salaries of people who do your job at other organizations. Making this comparison could give you leverage when asking for a salary increase.

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So does that mean you should suggest to your boss that you'd be making a better salary somewhere else? Not necessarily, says researcher Hannah Riley Bowles, PhD, an associate professor at the Kennedy School for Business at Harvard University - especially if you're a woman.

"My research suggests that this type of argument - that you could get a better salary elsewhere - can backfire on women," says Bowles. On the flipside, she notes: "If a woman is perceived as someone who cares about her organizational relationships, she can likely avoid some of the negative costs of asking for higher pay."

Factor in a tough economy, and there's even more need for more strategizing before you talk to the boss.

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9 Musts When Prepping for the 'Big Talk'

Consider these tips to make your argument:

  • Put yourself in your boss's shoes. When you ask for a raise, remember: It shouldn't only about be about the money and the reasons you want a pay upgrade. Your boss will want to hear how a raise will motivate you to bring even more to your organization.
  • Get input from a mentor. Your best strategy, says Bowles, is to be able to say, honestly, that someone who is well respected within the organization recommended you ask for a pay increase. "It self-presents you as somebody who has close, positive relationships within the firm. This is not a unilateral threat to go elsewhere," she says. In addition to backing your request, a mentor could provide other career counseling advice, such as tips for improving your portfolio, or the type of problems that keep your boss up at night - problems that you could help with.
  • Spotlight your strengths. In addition to highlighting your professional skills, Bowles recommends positioning the negotiation as an asset. Say something like "I hope you'll see my negotiating as a strength I bring to the job." Try to signal that you are team-oriented, even when asking for more pay.
  • Print out your proof. "Bring a manila folder with copies of your resume and letters of reference," says New York City mediation and relationships expert Laurie Puhn, JD. "It's a good idea to wait to ask until you have three substantial pieces of evidence that prove your added value to the company. If one of those three things is a current project, then wait for near-completion or a point at which it is clear that your role in the project makes a large, positive difference."
  • Consider the when and the where. Be strategic about the time you choose for your meeting. Says Bowles, "Some people get their raises on the golf course. In other places it's over coffee or a very standardized thing when you come up for a quarterly review." Try to find a time when your boss is most likely to be relaxed and able to concentrate on your argument. If your boss has to get approval for any pay increase, you should schedule the initial meeting early in the week, says Puhn. Ask for at least 30 minutes.
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  • Probe into pay. It's important to know what other people with your same expertise are making. The challenge for women, says Bowles, is to step outside of their usual network to find out what men (who are often paid more) are making. That's the comparison point to shoot for.
  • Lean on your network. A network of professionals can be valuable: If you want honest feedback about what you are asking for or what your boss is offering, share it with a few people in your network.
  • Be open-minded. Budgets are tight all around, so you should consider some alternative requests for professional advancement if your boss can't or won't support a pay increase. "You could ask for a match to your 401K or a paid maternity or paternity leave," suggests Puhn. Consider asking for your boss's support to join a specific team within the organization, work on a prized project, choose specific colleagues for your departmental team, or get some additional training in your field or in leadership and management - all of which could strengthen your request for a raise later on. Other possibilities are more flexible scheduling or telecommuting, if your tasks allow these.
  • Keep calm. Asking for a raise is stressful, but if you are well prepared, you should be able to take a deep breath and get back to your argument and your evidence. If it becomes clear that money is a sticking point, acknowledge that and bring up the other career advancements you have considered. You can also ask for time to consider your boss's counter-offer before you respond.

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Sure, talking to the boss about a raise can make you a nervous wreck. But there's a the silver lining, says Bowles: Generally, when well-prepared people sit down to negotiate over a pay raise or other career-enhancing benefits, they walk away with something.

"What is the ideal work that you'd like to be doing? Say, I think I can serve the firm better, serve the company better, if my role looks like this. Always look for a way to frame the negotiation so it's in the interests of the organization," says Bowles. Within this framework, you can achieve a great deal.

To learn more visit the Everyday Health Emotional Health Center.

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