Six Essential Strategies for Negotiating a Raise at Work

Negotiating a raise at work is a powerful way to improve your financial situation with a single stroke. You suddenly have more income, which means that it immediately becomes easier to pay off debts, build up an emergency fund, save for future goals, and have some quality of life improvements to boot.

At the same time, a raise negotiation is something that many people dread. The simple act of negotiating something creates a challenging conversation of the type many people want to avoid, and some hold the fear that asking for a raise indicates disloyalty and will put the job they currently have in danger.

Remember, almost everyone on Earth wants better pay. It’s not surprising to your supervisor that you would want to have better pay – in fact, he or she probably assumes it. What matters is whether an employee has the courage to bring it up in conversation and whether or not that employee’s performance merits an increase in pay.

Furthermore, almost every strategy in this article works very well for other types of workplace perks. Let’s say that, rather than a raise, you want to be able to work just four days a week instead of five. Perhaps you want to be able to telecommute two days per week. Maybe you want to be able to start coming in an hour or two earlier and leave an hour or two earlier. Those types of changes can save you a lot of money in your day-to-day life and can also significantly improve one’s quality of life, too.

Here’s how to get started.

Use your performance reviews as a template. If you’re in an organization that gives regular performance reviews, your most recent performance reviews are the best place to start. Such reviews usually make it abundantly clear whether or not you are an effective employee (meaning you’re more likely to receive a raise if you ask). They also provide areas in which you can improve, and improving in those areas is often a clear path to be perceived as an exceptional employee.

So, grab those performance reviews. Are they strongly positive? If so, you already have a pretty good case for asking for a review. Are they mediocre, with lots of areas for improvement? If so, then you have a checklist of things to work on before asking for a review.

With just the simple step of looking back over your performance reviews, you instantly know whether or not you have a good case for asking for a raise and, if not, you also know what things you should be doing to build a good case for a raise.

Learn about comparable salaries and know what you want. This is another invaluable preparatory step: know what people in your field and in your area are getting paid. One great place to start is with’s salary database, which lets you see what people in your area are earning for the same job title as you.

Remember, use this as a baseline. If you’re an entry level employee, your salary should likely be a bit below the average, as the average includes people who are exceptionally talented and those with a lot of experience. However, if you are experienced or have a track record of exceptional performance reviews, then you should be expecting an appropriate salary.

Time your negotiation well. For example, it’s a bad idea to ask for a raise shortly after a poor performance review. It’s a bad idea to ask for a raise when the organization is having severe financial struggles. It’s a bad idea to ask for a raise when you’re on some form of probation.

It’s a good idea to ask for a raise after the successful completion of a project. It’s a good idea to ask for a raise after a glowing performance review. It’s a good idea to ask for a raise after you complete a major certification or earn a degree.

In other words, if you’ve just done something that demonstrates your strong value as an employee and the organization seems healthy, that’s a great time to strike. If you’ve not done anything to raise your profile or you have a less than stellar profile or the organization is struggling, then you shouldn’t be asking for more pay right now.

Be clear, but not emotional or demanding. When you decide to have that conversation, be clear and avoid emotion, particularly if you don’t get an immediate yes.

What you need to do is decide in advance what you’re specifically asking for and why you should get it – your performance and the salaries of people in similar positions as your own. Decide exactly what you’re asking for and give them reasons to say yes – do not give them reasons to say no.

So, for example, you might come in and request a 10% raise because you’ve had three excellent performance reviews in a row and you just played a key part in finishing up a particular project. You’re stating exactly what you want and why you deserve it.

If you are straightforward like this, without emotions and threats, and you’re clear about what you want, virtually all supervisors will respect that. As long as you don’t bring emotions into the situation or make empty threats or make “or else” demands, your supervisor is likely going to at least understand where you’re coming from. Everyone wants to be paid more, after all.

The same thing is true if the “raise” you want comes in the form of non-financial perks, like a more flexible working schedule or a day or two of telecommuting per week.

If you don’t get an immediate yes, don’t get upset. Don’t react emotionally. The story isn’t over yet. Be patient and calm.

Create a plan with your supervisor. If your supervisor declines your request for a raise, your immediate response should be “Okay, then, what do I need to do in order to receive such a raise?”

Work with your supervisor to come up with a plan that, if you complete it, will lead to the raise you want. It may be that your supervisor does not perceive your value in the same way that you do, so the goal here is to display your value in such a way that it’s abundantly clear to your supervisor in the terms that he or she cares most about.

Frame the conversation in terms of things you need to do to earn such a raise in the next six months. What do you need to do so that, when you have a follow up conversation in six months, the answer will be an easy “yes”? That’s your new checklist of things to do at work.

Document your efforts. If you have a plan that will lead you to a raise, keep track of it. Review it constantly, work toward the items listed there, and most importantly, document your efforts toward those goals.

Treat it like a work diary. Whenever you take steps toward any element of that plan, record it. Keep a saved document going that lists all of the things you’re doing to complete your part of that plan.

Then, when the timeline of the plan finishes up, you can draw upon those notes to make a detailed case for how you executed that plan and thus why you deserve that raise. You won’t have to include every detail, but you will have tons of source material to create a great summary that can be backed up with details if your supervisor digs into the rabbit hole.

One final suggestion: bulk your resume through these efforts. As you’re going through the steps to meet what your supervisor wants in order to earn a raise, don’t forget to think of those steps in terms of your resume. Most of the time, the steps in your plan also match up well with bolstering your resume so that, if your supervisor doesn’t follow through on his or her side of the plan, you are in a much better place in terms of seeking out a new job.

That’s the best part of this kind of process: not only does it increase your likelihood of getting a raise at work, it also sets you up for your next career step if you don’t receive that raise.

Remember, asking for a raise in a calm manner with a clear request and reasons for doing so won’t anger your boss in almost any rational situation. They’ll understand, even if they can’t immediately say yes. If you prepare for the conversation, it’s nothing to fear.

Also, remember that “no” isn’t the end of the road. It’s just the next step. Use it as an opportunity to build a plan for a “yes” down the road, and if that plan doesn’t get the results you want, use the results of that plan to improve your resume and find a better job.

Good luck!

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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