How to ask for a raise—eight tips for negotiating salary

Experts share how to use cold, hard facts about your work and industry to get the pay bump you’re after

Photograph courtesy of Stocksy

Asking for a raise—no matter how deserving you may be of said raise—can be a daunting task. Initiating a conversation about money might be outside your comfort zone, and it’s something that can lead many people to fall into the imposter syndrome trap.

But a change in perspective about salary might help you become a more confident negotiator. “Salary negotiation doesn’t have to be combative,” says Christine Schrader, former senior manager of content strategy for Conductor, a company that provides search and content technology and services to help marketers increase visibility and revenue online. “What it should be is two parties coming together to find a mutually beneficial solution.” 

Schrader says that when you approach your negotiation from this perspective, you can feel more in control. And data—cold, hard facts—can help you feel extra confident, says Patrick Reinhart, Conductor’s VP of digital strategies.

When to ask for a raise

Asking for a raise at the wrong time can limit your chances of success from the start. Pay attention to what mood your boss is in. Are they particularly stressed about a looming deadline or budget cuts? Maybe hold off. Did you just save the day or finish a game-changing project? Aligning your ask with a recent win can significantly improve your chances of securing a raise. But be careful not to overthink it or use timing as an excuse to avoid this potentially awkward conversation. There will never be an absolutely perfect moment to ask for a raise. Use your best judgment and the moment to ask will arise. 

Why data is important when negotiating your salary

Data is the key to a salary boost because it provides some objective evidence that doesn’t leave much room for debate. There are all sorts of ways to use data to back your case; in a recent Conductor webinar focused on using data to influence your career growth, Reinhart and Schrader teamed up to provide actionable dos and don’ts for becoming an expert salary negotiator. 

Here are some pieces of data that you might include in your salary pitch:

  • The average salary range for your role
  • Specific salary data for your location
  • How your role and responsibilities have evolved during your tenure
  • The tangible ways your work has impacted your company’s bottom line

Here are eight dos and don’ts to consider when asking for a raise

1. Do research the average salary in your industry 

Salary ranges are impacted by a ton of variables—location, industry, and company size, to name a few—but examining averages can give you a general idea of what your paycheck should look like. Reinhart says that sites like Glassdoor and Payscale can offer some context about what you should be making; he suggests using data that’s as specific to your city and industry as possible.

Doing some internal research can be helpful, too, says Reinhart. If you’re comfortable, consider asking a mentor or peer about their salary to make sure you’re hitting the right benchmark. This conversation has the potential to feel awkward, but there are some ways to dilute this: Experts suggest taking the talk outside of the office, and positioning your curiosity around bettering your own career rather than competing with theirs. 

2. Don’t assume you’re owed a specific amount based on an average salary number

While becoming familiar with salary ranges can be helpful for negotiation purposes, the data isn’t a golden ticket to a raise. Figuring out how much of a raise to ask for can be difficult. If you feel you’re being underpaid compared with the industry average, it’s important to pause and consider why. Are there certain responsibilities tied to your day-to-day that aren’t part of your purview? Do people in your industry tend to have extra years of experience under their belts? Are there certain certifications or courses you could take to become more of an expert? If there is something you could or want to be doing more of, bring it up to your manager. Your proactive drive to do and learn more will only help to prove your worth.  

3. Do speak to your manager about your path for growth

More money often comes with more responsibility. The amount of time you’ve spent at a company, however, doesn’t necessitate a raise. “You have to be able to prove that you’ve done something for the company that is impactful—regardless of how well-loved you are,” says Reinhart. When it’s time to talk about bumping your salary, you’ll want to have some data to prove that you’ve added value to your company over time. Start by documenting new responsibilities and ways you’ve grown. It could be helpful to reflect on this every few weeks or so, keeping a running list. This way, you’ll have a long list of achievements to support your request when the time comes to start having a discussion about money.

4. Don’t assume there’s a single linear path up the corporate ladder

“Everyone thinks you can only get ahead by becoming a traditional manager,” Reinhart says. “That’s not true. Having a great [number] of individual contributors at a company is important.” If you’re not interested in overseeing a team, that’s perfectly OK. Immersing yourself in a topic to develop an expertise in your field can be just as valuable to your company. Do some research and speak with your manager about how your role as an individual contributor can become more specialized, or how you might develop seniority in your field so you can better position yourself for higher pay.

5. Do think beyond dollar signs

Jumping to the next tax bracket isn’t the only way to measure your career growth. “If you’re negotiating for [a new role], think beyond the number,” says Schrader. If you’re not making much headway in the financial realm, consider what else might be beneficial to your lifestyle. Would more PTO or a bigger stake in the company’s equity make a difference?

If you have been at your company for some time, you can also think about the different ways your company can invest in you. Can they subsidize your enrollment in a training course, class, or conference that would help advance your career? “Make sure to [show that you’re] looking to develop new skills,” Schrader says. “Find areas of opportunity within your business where you can educate yourself. A lot of companies are willing to invest in some of those things.”

6. Don’t save compensation conversations for your annual review

Talking money can feel extra uncomfortable if the conversation is infrequent. Rather than surprising your boss with a raise request, make it a topic you talk about often in your one-on-ones. Bringing up your raise just once a year puts you at a disadvantage: Your manager may have only a short period of time to advocate for you. If, instead, you express your salary goals throughout the year, the two of you can work together to set up a plan for success. 

If you ask for a raise during your review and don’t get what you want, Schrader advises you to “understand the steps you need to take to get there.” And once you have an understanding of those steps, keep talking about them. Set deadlines to discuss compensation and revisit the goals you’ve set out to achieve, and come to those conversations with proof of how you’ve achieved them successfully. This counts as data. “You should be getting feedback all the time, and money can be part of that conversation,” Schrader says.

7. Do advocate for yourself 

“I find it deeply uncomfortable to pitch for promotions,” says Schrader. “I was raised to believe that if I deserve it, they’ll offer it to me.” But Schrader says she knows her way of thinking prevents her from earning more, so she works through the discomfort. There are ways to highlight your professional success without coming off as braggadocious. The primary way to do this is—you guessed it!—using data to back up your worth. 

8. Don’t be afraid to look elsewhere if your needs aren’t being met

Advocating for yourself includes acknowledging when you’re not being valued or treated well. “If your company isn’t treating you right, you need to raise that flag,” says Schrader. “If they don’t do anything about that, it’s time to go. In the end, you’re the person who owns those reins.” 

When you are ready to start your search, don’t let a job description get in the way of landing your dream role. “You don’t have to fulfill a job description 100 percent,” says Reinhart, adding that oftentimes, people writing job descriptions aren’t even sure what they want until the new hire enters the role. If you do get turned down for lacking certain knowledge, you’ll know what to focus on in your current job in order to get to that next step. Reinhart says figuring out how to learn those skills you’re missing while at your current job is the best way to become a stronger candidate for the future. 

This article was originally published on August 5, 2019, and has been updated throughout by the editors.

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