Ask Avery: How Do I Ask For a Raise in This Economy?

Asking for a raise isn't easy—and chances are you're going about it the wrong way, too
(Illustration: iStock)

Welcome to CB’s new work-advice column, Ask Avery, featuring Avery Francis, founder of workplace design consultancy Bloom. Each month, Francis will answer reader questions on topics that affect our ability to thrive in our jobs, and she’ll offer her real-world insights on how to handle even the most rock-and-a-hard-place conundrums. Have a work-related question? Send it to [email protected] with the subject line “Ask Avery.”

The cost of living has jumped over the past couple years, with housing and grocery prices increasing due to factors like to supply chain disruptions and a hot real estate market, and many salaries haven’t kept up. As inflation rates rise, many people are now in a position of trying to figure out how to ask for a raise.

Unfortunately, most people don’t know how to ask for one. One of the most common pitfalls is that employees often frame the raise conversation in a way that makes it all about them and what they feel they are owed. Their feelings might be valid, but they aren’t a very effective negotiation tactic. Managers have to defend their budgets against company priorities and revenue goals, and that can make it difficult to justify a raise simply on the grounds that an employee thinks they deserve one.

The pandemic has added additional complications due to remote work: Many people who work from home are unsure of how to navigate compensation negotiations without the opportunity for face-to-face conversations with their managers.

But no matter where you work, there are best practices that will increase your chances of securing a pay bump. It’s imperative you prepare, make your ask and have the right mindset for what comes next. Here’s how to ask for a raise.

Step 1: Prepare, prepare, prepare

How do you know if you are in a position to ask for a raise? The simple answer is: You qualify for a raise when you deliver more value, on a consistent basis, to the company than you were expected to per your original job description. There are a lot of ways to define value—it could be financial, such as bringing in new customers above and beyond quotas, or cultural, such as taking a clear and active role in team building or recruiting—but the gist is that you are performing at a high level and adding to the company’s success.

As a general rule, you should have about six to 12 months of high performance at a job before asking for a pay raise. This amount of time lets an employer see what you’ve contributed to the organization and gives you enough examples to build your case.

However, simply qualifying for a raise does not mean you will get it. That’s where preparation comes in.

Ask yourself hard questions

Are you meeting performance expectations consistently? Are you bringing measurable value to the team? (Be honest with yourself here, even if it’s hard.)

Gather examples

Do you have two to three clear examples of when you went above and beyond to deliver on a project or task? Any associated numbers or data can help. If you’re making a financial case, you can talk about revenue you brought in or the number of customers you influenced. If you’re making a cultural case, you could talk about things like positive feedback on events you planned or number of candidates you helped to recruit.

Do your research

You need to know the market rate or value for your role with context—such as company size, industry, years of experience and job location. Sites like Payscale or Glassdoor are good resources, but you may also want to ask friends who work in your field for their insight. If you learn you are being underpaid, this can be a good piece of information when negotiating.

HR expert Avery Francis
HR expert Avery Francis (photo: Avery Francis)

Pick your number

Before you ask for a raise you need to know what amount you’re going after. Based on market research and evidence of your value, pick the number you want—either the monetary amount or total compensation, which can include things like paid vacation, benefits, title changes and stock options, if applicable.

Rehearse what you will say

Practice your ask with someone outside of your organization like a career coach, friend, mentor or someone else you trust. Ask them to play the role of your boss, asking tough questions so you can prepare your answers, and then get them to give you candid feedback on how you performed.

Know your next steps

If you get turned down for the raise, what are you going to do? You have three main options: Ask for feedback on what you need to do to demonstrate your value and get a raise in the near future; bide your time while starting to look for a new job; or make the decision to quit your role regardless of having anything else lined up. (The third route isn’t necessarily the best option, especially if you don’t have the financial resources to go without work for a month or more while you job search. But, it is an option you can take if you feel you are being severely underpaid and the company doesn’t recognize your value.)

Step 2: Make the ask

After you’ve done your homework, it’s time to make the formal ask. Here’s what to do when it comes to asking for your raise.

Pick the right time

In general, it is best to wait until regular scheduled performance reviews—especially if one is coming up within a couple months—to ask for a raise. This is because annual reviews are often tied to a company’s fiscal year and budget, and managers should expect that the topic may come up. But if there are external factors (like wanting to buy a house or fielding other job offers) you may want to request a formal review sooner.

Send the request

Requests to bosses or HR should be polite, formal and to the point. They should include the information that you are requesting a formal salary review, and allude to the evidence you will use to make your case. Here’s a template:

Hi [Manager name],

I’m writing to request a formal salary review based on my performance. I believe I’ve been exceeding expectations for months based on the positive feedback I’ve received, and I’m happy to show you more evidence of how my work has contributed meaningfully to both team and company success. Does next Friday work for you?

While raise meetings were traditionally done in-person pre-pandemic, remote work has made that difficult. If you’re working from home, scheduling a video meeting is a suitable replacement for a face-to-face one. Slack or email is not the most appropriate way to have a deep and meaningful financial conversation; it doesn’t allow for natural dialogue or for you to pick up on non-verbal cues, like body language or tone of voice. What’s more, raise requests sent via email can be easier for a boss to reject.

Make your case

In the meeting, start by reiterating what you wrote in your request email. Then share examples of the value you bring to your role, and finish with a clear ask for the raise you want. After making your case, pause and wait for a response before continuing the conversation.

Some common counter arguments that employees can anticipate and prepare for include a manager indicating that budgets are tight or suggesting that the evidence of value doesn’t justify the raise. If you hear the latter, you can politely ask for feedback and what evidence you would need to qualify for a raise. If your manager says something like, “We’re in a pandemic and can’t give raises right now,” you can respond by reiterating your value to the company—especially if your contributions brought in additional revenue during the pandemic.

Step 3: Follow up and wait

Once the hard part is over, you can take a deep breath. But know that your work isn’t finished. Managers often need time to process or approve a raise request, so after you’ve asked for more money, it’s important to follow up.

Reiterate your ask

Regardless of how the meeting went, follow up in writing to capture the conversation shortly after the meeting. Reiterate your ask, your justification and clarify next steps. Having everything documented in writing will be helpful for future reference, either as proof of agreement or evidence you can use later on if the request is rejected.

Be patient

If you didn’t get an immediate “yes” during the meeting, you may need to wait a week or two before you hear back. If you don’t hear anything after two weeks, you should send a polite follow up requesting an update.

Ending the conversation

This is often where the process comes to a close. Either you get the raise, you get offered a smaller raise than you requested or your request is rejected. In the case of a smaller raise or rejection, you need to start acting on your planned next steps.

Regardless of how it goes, you should be proud of yourself: Nearly two-thirds of people never ask for a raise. You are in the courageous third that knows your value and isn’t afraid to ask for it. That’s something to celebrate.