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.

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