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How to Ask for a Raise or Promotion

A guide to moving up

Asking for a larger salary or a new position for yourself is difficult—that’s why most people don’t do it. It’s nice to think that a superior will recognize hard work and reward you, but that is not a typical reality. As a business owner and former career coach, I can verify that those that do ask usually ask in the wrong way. It is not difficult to learn how to successfully ask for a raise, promotion or both, but it does take some time and effort. 

Unless you are in a union or working under an explicit contract, employers generally are not required to raise your salary. Those that don’t may not offer a raise on any kind of regular basis, if at all. I was hired to consult on the redevelopment of a nonprofit business. During my review, it was revealed that a person in a key position—the competent front desk receptionist who also manages volunteers—had not received a raise in the 20 years she worked there. She said, “I thought I did once, but then realized it was because the minimum wage increased.” This is an extreme example, but it emphasizes that you must ask.

Many employees report their annual increase was predetermined before their annual performance review, with no negotiation. In other companies, a pay structure may be spelled out in an employment contract or personnel policies. In this instance, securing a promotion may be one of the only paths to elevate a salary. Since only about 19% of employees are satisfied with their rate of pay, according to a survey by online job board, we’ll explore strategies to address these scenarios.

It is also important to understand that you are primarily responsible for moving up and getting promoted. We’ll also jump into how that is done.

The journey to successfully moving up and getting paid what you are worth and, starts when you are hired. Learn your role well and document any successes you are responsible for. Also keep track of any data related to your job performance, such as customer conversion statistics, meeting or exceeding quotas, positive reviews that mention you or your position, etc. Keeping track of positive contributions, especially those that stretched beyond the basics or added to the company’s bottom line, will come in handy when you are gathering information to ask for a raise or promotion.

When opportunities come up for extra work or projects, don’t shy away. If it is something that fits within your goals and available time, jump on it right away. This shows you are a team player, willing to stretch and grow in your position. You will also add more to your list of accomplishments. 

Celebrate your successes often, in non-self-serving ways. A note to your boss might read: “It was a privilege to participate in the Jones project. We were able to increase conversions of online visits to sales by 35%. The client is thrilled! Thank you for the opportunity—I look forward to the next one.”

Man asking his boss for a raise or promotion

Clean up your online appearance
Just like when applying for a job, when being considered for a promotion, think about the persona you project to the world on social media and professional sites like LinkedIn. Does your LinkedIn profile still list you as working for a previous company? Does your Facebook page, Instagram or other sites have political or religious statements that some might find offensive? Is there a photo of you boozing it up at a party or anything that might not sit well should your boss see it? This should go without saying, but never, ever complain about your current or former employer on a public forum. Even making these social media posts private to friends only is a risk. You never know who and how people will share something ill-advised, including sharing with someone related to the company you work for. 

In fact, social media posts not only can prevent you from getting a raise or promotion, they can even get you fired. From a company perspective the concern is less about censoring your speech as it is about protecting their brand. 

Give your personal appearance a once over too. Clothing, hair style and color, jewelry and piercings are often used for personal expression. However, if you are looking to move up to a higher position, note how others in this role dress and groom and assess if you need to make any updates. Help company leaders envision you in this role, at least through the hiring process. 

Research the typical salary for your position
Most companies frown on discussing your salary with other employees. Fortunately LinkedIn and HR sites like Glassdoor, Indeed, PayScale and provide salary surveys. Try to find a close match for your job and size market to reveal a salary estimate. Just understand that these are estimates, and can vary widely based on the size of the company, your education and experience and other factors. However, this should give you a good starting point in knowing what to ask for. Also, this research can be used to justify your ask.

Anticipate objections
The company you work for wants reassurance that paying you additional money is worth it. Here is a good strategy in removing objections.

  • Anticipate what objections may come up and research solutions.
  • Keep a positive attitude- you are working through a problem and providing a solution.
  • Show respect and allow your boss to voice the objections completely. Reflect back for clarity. An objection and answer might go something like this:

The boss: “The salary amount is too high- it’s not within budget.” 

You: “I understand you are concerned the salary amount is too high and not within budget. As shown working on the Jones project and ABC account, I can apply my customer conversion and project management skills to increase budget revenues.”

Get your talking points in order

  • First, you must believe you deserve a raise before you can convince someone else. 
  • Raises are performance based. Create a list of rationale based on your job accomplishments. 
  • Phrase your approach from a company perspective. How are company goals being met or exceeded through your efforts. 
  • Show how you have provided value to the company throughout your pitch. You can start your list with “Over the past year I have made some significant contributions to XYZ Company and would like to be considered for a salary increase (or promotion to a specific role).” Give a specific amount for your request. Then make bullet points with a brief description of the accomplishment and the positive impact for the company, such as, “Sales increased 29% when we launched the “Make Something Happen” campaign.” Or, “Customer satisfaction ratings for my department increased from 51 to 89% over the past two years. If you have bullet points that start with or include “I”, rewrite from a company perspective.
  • Don’t bring up personal reasons or hardships like a rent increase, kids starting college, your dog needing surgery, etc. You can mention longevity with the company, and the time span from your last increase, if it has been over a year.
  • Interestingly, the Columbia Business School found that it works better to ask for a specific salary number rather than a round number, because it makes the person seem more informed.

Practice what you will say
The difficulty in going before your boss or a committee and asking for a raise, promotion or both is similar to a job interview. In both cases, practicing ahead of time will help immensely. 

Ask a friend or trusted colleague that owns or manages a business to play the role of your boss and listen to your pitch and give you honest feedback. You may need to practice in front of a mirror and try your pitch a few more times before trying again in front of the same person. 

Alternately, record yourself on Zoom as if you were in a meeting with your boss. Here comes the painful part—play the recording back and watch yourself. How was your tone, facial expression and emphasis? Were there any parts that were not clear? Keep recording yourself until you are satisfied with your presentation.

Throughout your pitch, use positive action words- increased, acquired, improved, solved, etc. Avoid weak and unclear words that may convey uncertainty, such as: believe, might, feel, think, just. Keep it brief and don’t rely on your notes—you won’t have notes when talking to the boss, so practice without them.

When to not ask for a raise
If you have been on the job less than six months, it is likely not the time to ask for a raise. You simply have not been on the job long enough to fully embrace your role and prove your worth.

Timing is also critical. Pay attention to your boss’s schedule, both weekly and at other times like month end and quarter end when there may be additional responsibilities. Can you identify a certain time period, day of the week and time to suggest a meeting? You are more likely to get a positive response if your ask comes at a less stressful time.

If there are obvious signs of the company struggling, such as laying off employees or reducing hours, this is probably not a great time to ask for a raise, unless you have been asked to absorb the responsibilities of an eliminated position. If you have access to company financial reports, you can glean information on company health. If financial or other indications are dire, consider quietly looking for a new job.

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Other tips to prepare for and ask for a promotion
Prior to asking for a promotion, schedule a meeting with your manager. Emphasize you are committed to your current role, but also have a long-term goal of advancing within the company. Be open and express what your dream position would be. Ask him or her for advice on how you might work toward that goal. The Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential founder Danielle Harlan, PhD recommends asking for specific recommendations on how you can improve in your current role and what you can do to position yourself well for the next step up. Would working on specific projects help? Do you need additional training?

Do ask for a meeting a month or two before a scheduled annual review. This will give you a chance to discuss your goals and accomplishments with your manager prior to being given an automatic salary increase.

Take action on the feedback you receive so you can refer back to it when asking for the next promotion.

Once you have excelled in your current role, see how you can solve problems or contribute to the job you want. I recently switched fields and took a job a few notches below the level I had been working at. After mentioning my background in writing strategic plans, I was asked to write the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis for a large project. Companies will often ask employees to do such “stretch” exercises—tasks that challenge an employee’s competency and willingness to grow.

Understand your organization and its needs, apply your strengths, and take on more responsibility. Don’t forget to continue to positively communicate accomplishments along the way. You will be advancing and excelling in no time.

Dealing with rejection
If you’ve made your best pitch confidently and you still get a negative response, there are replies that could, at a minimum, leave the door open for further discussion. For example, if your manager defers your request by saying it’s not in the budget now, but something he/she could make a case for in the future, try parroting back and getting more details. “I understand. What I’m hearing is you would support my getting a raise, but not right now. Is there something I could further do that would help you make that case, and a timeframe to revisit in the near future?”  

If the meeting seemed to be going positively but you still get a “no”, you could ask if there is an amount that would be within budget, and start a negotiation. Some companies have flexibility to offer more perks—additional time off, flexible hours or a hybrid work from home schedule—instead of raising your salary.

If it’s a hard no, ask what skills or accomplishments you might work on to earn an increase in compensation. Depending on how the conversation goes, you might ask if your boss is satisfied with your performance overall. There may be a problem you are not aware of that needs to be resolved. 

Thank your manager
End the conversation with a thank you, no matter how the conversation went. Let your manager know you appreciate their time. 

Often you will not receive an immediate answer on a raise or promotion request. By the next day, send a follow-up email briefly recapping your reasons for requesting a raise and/or promotion, and a brief recap of your conversation and any action items. This will give your boss something to refer back to, or when consulting with higher ups. 

Following this guide, you will ask for a raise and/or promotion detailing the specific increase or salary you’d like, come prepared with research to support that number, and cite specific examples of your work that justify the change, and then follow-up.

If you think you are not being compensated fairly and haven’t received a raise in two years or more, it may be time to look for a new job.

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