How to Ask for a Raise in a Bad Job Market

The best time to ask for a raise is just after a stellar performance review because your boss will be anticipating it. If you've just been promoted or received new responsibilities that are typically associated with a higher-level position, it's always appropriate to broach the subject of a salary increase even in a difficult market.

But how do you ask for a raise? Here are some of my top tips:

  • Before the meeting takes place, role-play it with a friend so that you can practice a tone that sounds friendly and assertive rather than bitter and entitled.
  • If you can, try for an informal setting like coffee.
  • Once you sit down with your manager, start positively. You might, for example, say something like: “I've gotten so much out of working here and really appreciate you mentorship and the opportunities you've given me.”
  • Then, ask if she'll consider a salary increase in light of your recent performance. You might lead off with: “Now that I've been doing the work of a senior account manager for almost a year, can we consider an increase in compensation to reflect these new responsibilities?”
  • As clearly and concisely as possible, go over the highlights with some concrete examples. Focus on the benefits your boss and the company receive from your contributions rather than the additional money you need or desire.

For example, you should say something like: “Because I can do the job of both an account manager and a programmer, I'm saving the company an additional salary” rather than: “I need to be making more income to pay for my wedding next year.” And don't bring co-workers into the discussion by saying: “Well, Peter Gibbons has only been working here a few months and I know he's making way more than me.”

If you don't get the answer you want, don't act angry or disappointed or say something to the effect of: “This is completely unfair” or “I can't believe what I'm hearing.” Calmly ask your manager what you need to do to receive a raise and if it's possible to revisit the issue in the near future.

Perhaps say something along the lines of: “Okay, I understand where you're coming from. Am I correct that if I take on three additional accounts before the end of the fiscal year, you will be able to reconsider a compensation increase then?”

No matter how frustrated you feel, don't say anything resembling, “Well, now I'll have to consider whether I'll be able to stay here” or “I guess I'm not as valued here as I thought I was.” Refrain from giving any ultimatums unless you are prepared to resign that day.

Even once it becomes clear that you won't get an increase, listen carefully to what your boss has to say and keep an open mind. In lieu of cash, she may be able to offer you concessions such as extra vacation time or game seats in the company box. She may also agree that you deserve a raise, but say that she doesn't have the authority to give you one. If this is the situation, ask her if the two of you can schedule a meeting with the executive responsible for your compensation. Don't go to the executive without your boss' knowledge.

Note: If a meeting with a higher-ranking executive isn't an option for logistical reasons, ask your supervisor if she can pursue the issue on your behalf in four to six months.

Sometimes, a more passive boss will try to “yes” you out the door with no intention of following through. This is why you should take careful notes on everything that is discussed and any verbal promises he makes and recap them in an e-mail sent immediately after the discussion.

Bottom line: Be assertive about asking for a raise, but be smart about your timing and your approach. Think it through in advance, and don't let your emotions get the better of you. The more professional you are, the more deserving you will appear.

More about...Career

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abby
abby
8 years ago

great article. i wish it could apply to me. at my job they don’t give raises ever. you make what your paygrade is. to get a raise to you have to apply for and get a job with a higher paygrade.

Ally
Ally
8 years ago
Reply to  abby

I feel your pain. In government, you make your paygrade regardless of whether you’re substantially outperforming people who have been there longer than you. So you’ve got job security in government but the pay can be unfair if you’re a top performer. And I like my job too much to want to apply for a management position.

Beth
Beth
8 years ago

Good tips! I’ve never worked for a company that does regular performance reviews. What do you do if that’s the case?

Also, should you go into the meeting with an idea of what you want, or can you (should you?) negotiate that with your boss?

sjw
sjw
8 years ago

“Don’t go to the executive without your boss’ knowledge.”

This. It really hurts your relationship with the boss. Also, don’t go to your boss’ boss’ boss for the negotiations. That makes even more people annoyed with you, especially if communication lines are disjointed, and your boss (and potentially your boss’ boss) is then presented with the end result instead of being part of the discussion.

sjw
sjw
8 years ago

[email protected] – speaking as a person with a couple of direct reports, I recommend you set up a semi-annual meeting with your manager and indicate that you want to get feedback on your performance to date and discuss your career path.

Nobody cares more about your career than you do. 🙂

Depending on your relationship with them, it can be a straight meeting, coffee, or lunch. In any case, I recommend that you try to make it outside of their office – it’s a more neutral location and you’re less likely to be interrupted.

Beth
Beth
8 years ago
Reply to  sjw

That’s what I do currently. I also keep a record of my achievements, a portfolio of my work and a file of feedback from clients. Nothing like being prepared!

I think people should also be wary of what’s going on with their company in this economy. A friend of mine wanted to ask for a raise, but then found out the managers had taken a pay cut in order to prevent layoffs so she waited until the company was on better footing.

Laundry Lady
Laundry Lady
8 years ago

I think this is a very helpful article. My husband was able to do something similar a few years ago. He knew he was hired at a lower pay rate because he was still working on an applicable degree. When he was getting ready to graduate he casually reminded to his boss that he would be graduating at the end of the semester (two months before annual review and raise time). His boss confirmed that he wanted to discuss his new degree at the annual review. I think raises are harder to discuss in companies where there is no annual… Read more »

Vanessa
Vanessa
8 years ago

This is good advice about asking for a raise in general, but nothing that addresses the issues about the job market we’re in NOW. With high unemployment, there’s little incentive for companies to reward employees. So many are desperate for a job, any job, and will work for cheap and companies use this to their advantage. Many companies are also struggling with record losses in revenue so they may not be in a position to give a raise, even if they want to. At my previous job corporate mandated pay freezes for everyone– well, everyone but themselves of course. (Then… Read more »

20's Finances
20's Finances
8 years ago

Great point about not getting upset if it doesn’t happen. I think this is a great way at communicating that you are determined to succeed. Unfortunately for me, my employer just announced a hiring freeze, and I’m sure this means, limited or no raises next year. 🙁

Adam P
Adam P
8 years ago

Interesting article. In 2009, our company– andabout a million others seemingly– gave no raises due to the 2008 recession. I think regardless of actual profit that year, someone in an executive chair somewhere decided that salaries could be frozen for every rank and file worker. Frustrating, because we had a very good year. Since then, we’ve had normal raises and even better profits. Next year, we’re losing our biggest client and 20% of our sales. We’ll still be profitable, but in this case there is an actual reason to hold raises. But since they did this in 2009 with everyone… Read more »

Laura+in+Cancun
Laura+in+Cancun
8 years ago

Love the Peter Gibbons reference 🙂

Maggie
Maggie
8 years ago

Asking for a raise in a bad job market is hard, for sure. I would add a few thoughts to this, having gone through a wage freeze in a job a few years back. 1- If you discuss anything affecting your wage, like increased responsibilities, scheduling, raises etc., have another person, like an HR, employee advocate, middle manager, present at the discussion with your boss, and get promises in writing. This post hints at what to do with underhandedness in the suggestion that you reiterate the discussion via email afterward — but speaking from experience, it’s pretty shocking if you… Read more »

Megan E.
Megan E.
8 years ago

I agree that you are ultimately the one responsible for making sure your compensation is what you want/deserve. I also think it’s important to highlight that there are alternatives to money. For example, maybe they can’t afford to give you a raise, but they can increase your vacation time. Or maybe they can give you a raise in your 401k matching amount, but not directly to you. Or perhaps they can improve your insurance… or give you a free gym pass, or bus pass. Try to be creative and make sure you come into the meeting knowing EXACTLY what you… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
8 years ago

I just asked my manager for a raise after he bought a brand new Audi A5 and two co-workers bought ~$750k houses (fun facts: he paid cash for the $50k car and the other guys put down 20% and 50% on the homes). We normally do raises and bonuses at the beginning of the year and I said it would be ok if it couldn’t take effect immediately, but he seemed pretty confident he could give it to me by the normal time, if not sooner. He wouldn’t mislead me on purpose, so I do expect I’ll get the 10%… Read more »

Dee
Dee
8 years ago

Since he didn’t balk at 10%, do you think you should have asked for more?

L
L
8 years ago

Congrats!

Greg Miliates
Greg Miliates
8 years ago

Look at it from the business owner’s perspective. They: –>want to reduce costs and increase revenue; –>know that employees are the biggest expense to their company; –>want to keep productive employees who add value to the company. So, no matter what the economy is like, when asking for a raise, you need to ALWAYS demonstrate your value to the company, and talk directly about that value. Like the article said, don’t worry about what others make; likewise, personal reasons for wanting more money are irrelevant. The only thing to focus on is the value you provide to the company. Maybe… Read more »

Charles
Charles
8 years ago

Here’s what I did in August to negotiate a $20K raise from $55K/yr to $75K/yr. Your mileage may vary: – Make oneself a key person at the company. This may mean finding new revenue sources for the company, building the technology that the company sells, etc (for me it was building the technology that half our sales rely on). – Look for another job at competitors and get a feel for salaries being paid at other companies for equivalent work. – Talk to your boss (for me the owner of the company) about the work you’ve done to improve the… Read more »

Alison+Wiley
Alison+Wiley
8 years ago

Excellent tips. I especially think that role-playing with a friend beforehand helps. Asking for something we really want is something we rarely do, and has lots of emotional charge. But doing it over and over takes the intensity away, and helps it become a more normal conversation. It’s also good to not let our world revolve around a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. For instance, are we truly prepared to use the raise, if we get, for our greatest good? Or would it end up going into more meals at fancy restaurants? What brings us lasting satisfaction, as opposed to momentary… Read more »

andyg8180
andyg8180
8 years ago

Another tip… dont ask for it at your review… your review is already pre-determined… I would say a couple months out or at your half-anniversary is excellent timing…

Also, try going out on a couple interviews… Dont ever use it as leverage, but it’ll get you good practice, plus you will know if you are truly worth more based on what others think of you…

Dont get cocky… We all think we’re worth more, but realistically, you may be getting paid what you deserve…

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago
Reply to  andyg8180

I disagree that we all think we’re worth more. I personally am one that struggles to recognize my true value as an employee. At one job my boss raised my pay $15/hr in a year. It felt ridiculous and I asked him to stop because I felt bad (he is a personal friend as well). Then at my new job (I have 2) I am getting paid $25/hr less than at the 1st job. I did request $5 more than I was initially offered and it was accepted without question. Now I’m working on demonstrating my value. I’m saving my… Read more »

Harmony
Harmony
8 years ago
Reply to  andyg8180

I don’t like the idea of going on interviews unless you are interested in changing jobs. You are wasting the company’s time. If you are offered the job and turn it down you are souring them from hiring you in the future.

Wealth Management
Wealth Management
8 years ago

These are some great tips. I always have a hard time being super formal in these situations. Whenever I’ve needed to ask for a raise in the past, I would ask during a lighthearted time. This made it more difficult for my boss to say no, as it would have put a damper on everyone’s easy going nature.

If anything, make sure you’re going into this meeting with tons of proof that you deserve such a raise. You don’t want to be stuck empty handed when asked to provide documentation of your work.

Jaime B
Jaime B
8 years ago

What do you mean here? It sounds almost like you’re asking for a raise in front of other people? I have to save I immediately pictured a team party or something.

Jaime B
Jaime B
8 years ago
Reply to  Jaime B

*I have to say (not save).

LOL

Stacy
Stacy
8 years ago

The agency I work for (non profit) just came out of a 2 year across the board wage freeze and several layoffs/restructurings. We are also looking at further budget tightening this year. Raises there (when we get them) are somewhere in the 2-3% range and they’re predetermined. I also work in an industry where people pretty much accept and expect that you aren’t going to make decent money.
All of that makes it difficult to even think about asking for a raise even though I excel at what I do.

Lauren
Lauren
8 years ago
Reply to  Stacy

I’m in a similar scenario. We’re a large university and all things related to salary are determined by a centralized office that does this for thousands of employees. If you get a raise outside of the regular raise period you are either getting a new job or you are negotiating because you have an outside job offer in most cases. With the way things have been there have been multiple years recently where there weren’t even annual raises. Those raises aren’t necessarily tied into your review either. It seems there is a pool of money that gets divvied up among… Read more »

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  Stacy

I don’t think asking for a raise in a nonprofit organization is any different than at a corporation. I worked in nonprofits and have asked for (and received) raises, and negotiated my salaries. Granted, you can’t do this in a wage-freeze or layoff situation. And I imagine it depends on the type of nonprofit you work for – ie a foundation vs a homeless shelter. But otherwise, I think it’s fair game! (PS: My first boss, a 66 year old longtime nonprofit exec worth a couple million, told me that there was no reason why a nonprofit career couldn’t provide… Read more »

Stacy
Stacy
8 years ago
Reply to  imelda

I work for a nonprofit that serves people with developmental disabilities. We are partly funded by state money and in the past 2 years the amount of money that the state pays as reimbursement for our services has been cut by about 20%. They were working with razor-thin margins to begin with.

Krantcents
Krantcents
8 years ago

Whether you try this right after a good review, always have your accomplishments ready to persuade your boss of why you are worth more.

Joan
Joan
8 years ago
Reply to  Krantcents

Does not matter in the large company I was at. You could list pages and pages and they still won’t give you one. My last week there the CFO spoke to me twice in his office. He wanted to know why I was leaving – I told him the pay. Then he says that he could “try” and get me more money and he would need to ask the president. Yeah, now that I’m leaving they say that.

Joan
Joan
8 years ago

Good article. I was always told that I do a great job and they really appreciate me and all the work I do but sorry, no pay increase. I asked for years even when they knew I took on more responsibiltiy and work. No cost of living for 8+ years. We used to get a $25 gift certificate every Christmas and a free turkey every Thanksgiving but now both of those are gone. The hourly had a 5% pay cut 3 years ago and company did not give it back yet. Salaried were 10% pay cut – twice actually. As… Read more »

Regina
Regina
8 years ago

I feel like this works better at medium to small companies. I work at a very large company, with all the bureaucracy that involves. There’s a complex system of rules that governs your yearly raise. There’s a whole rating system(a behind-closed-doors subjective bunch of nonsense). I’ve gotten both really good and average ratings out the process when I feel like I put the same amount of effort in both years. I’m convinced that the system is not based on anything quantifiable. Nonetheless, I only know of one person that even tried to challenge their rating. They ended up taking an… Read more »

emily
emily
8 years ago
Reply to  Regina

I’m not currently employed, but #1, I used to be a teacher, and you got a raise when your time came, and no sooner; #2 I think you’re right about large companies – DH works for one and you don’t ask for raises. They give you a little if you rated high enough on the annual evaluation, otherwise if you want more $$ you need to apply for a promotion.

Ian
Ian
8 years ago

The first tip I would give someone is to actually ask for a raise! It’s a pretty good bet that the company isn’t going to just surprise you with a raise from the goodness of their hearts. I have gotten two raises in the last 18 months (one raise and one promotion with an accompanying raise) that never would have happened if I wasn’t proactive about it. If the company is doing well and you stand out as more productive or a better employee than others around you, ask! As someone else said, nobody cares about your wellbeing nearly as… Read more »

lk
lk
8 years ago

“And don’t bring co-workers into the discussion by saying: “Well, Peter Gibbons has only been working here a few months and I know he’s making way more than me.”” This. A former co-worker tried this once, in the most convoluted scenario imaginable. He saw my paycheck on our boss’s desk (waiting to be signed), and decided (wrongly) that I made more than him. (My take-home pay was just more because he was single without any significant tax deductions, where I was married, owned a house, had tuition payments, etc.) Oh yeah, and he was not supposed to be in our… Read more »

Michael
Michael
8 years ago

I once asked for a raise right after my boss handed me a layoff notice. I work at a fairly large company and the department was closing, so the layoff notice was not unexpected. I knew that I had a good chance to get a new job in another department so I thought it would be a great time to ask for a raise. My boss was taken aback, but did agree that the department closure had nothing to do with my performance and that I did deserve the raise. I got it and also a new job in another… Read more »

Natalie @ Mango
Natalie @ Mango
8 years ago

Thanks for the post, J.D. The thing about asking for a raise these days is that you have to be verrrrryyyy careful. With the economy as it is, if you wind up upsetting or offending your employer, you might just turn out to be more expendable than you thought; there are plenty of people looking to fill your shoes! I’m not saying don’t *ask* about a raise– just be prepared to take “no” very graciously, and continue to improve at work. Once it’s on the table and you continue to go above and beyond, perhaps your boss will reconsider. I… Read more »

Aaron
Aaron
8 years ago

As someone who just negotiated a 15% raise along with being able to do the work I want to do, not what the company was happy to keep me doing, I found that the best way is to first secure an offer somewhere else I was willing to take if things didn’t work out. It allowed me to speak more freely without being disrespectful about what I wasn’t happy about at my current job. My value to the company was already evident, although I reinforced that in our discussions, and they fought hard to keep me.

Lori
Lori
8 years ago

Great article! I’ve always been too nervous when it comes to asking for a raise. You’ve given some great advice in this article. And, I think you may have helped me figure out how to finally ask my boss for more money. Good timing since my review is scheduled for next week.

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