There comes a time when every professional begins to wonder whether they’re being paid what they’re worth. Maybe you’ve taken on new, additional responsibilities outside of your job description. Perhaps you’ve started new processes and initiatives that have saved company resources or you’re well below the market value for your role. Maybe your reason for wanting a raise is simple: you’ve exceeded expectations for several months (or years) without a salary adjustment.
Feeling underpaid and undervalued can be a frustrating experience. It can lead to waning motivation, decreased enjoyment and enthusiasm in the workplace, and burnout. And yet women in particular often struggle with asking for a raise. By the same token, women tend to underestimate their value in the workplace—one study of 6,000 senior executives found that female candidates had lower salary expectations than their male counterparts for 10 of 13 of the roles studied.
Preparing to ask for a raise
Often, the thought of asking for a raise leads to stressful internal questions such as: Am I worth an increase in pay? Is it too aggressive to ask? Will I be seen as ungrateful or demanding?
Laying the groundwork for a raise or a promotion happens long before you meet with your manager. By the time your review comes around, you should have been: consistently performing at a top level, implementing feedback from supervisors into your work, building strong relationships with colleagues, and striving to achieve company goals. A positive performance review that details your accomplishments, skills, and growth is fertile ground for a salary request that is, at the very least, heard and respected.
Believing in yourself and the value you offer your team is key before you can articulate your worth and gain buy-in with someone else. How can you get to that point? Examining your role and responsibilities objectively and honestly in light of the competitive landscape is an effective way to quiet insecurities. Collect anecdotes and data from performance reviews, client satisfaction surveys, and salary statistics on the web, advises Lolly Daskal in Harvard Business Review. “When you’ve amassed this mound of information, you’re almost certain to feel worthy to make a case for yourself,” she explains.
The best companies operate from the premise that their greatest asset is their people, and investing in them reaps dividends. It’s unlikely that you’ll surprise your manager by professionally and respectfully asking for a raise. Expecting some kind of a merit raise yearly for exceeding the expectations of your job role is typical. That being said, not every raise request is granted for a variety of reasons that may be outside of your control.
Once you’ve set yourself up for success with the proper research and preparation, the next step is to use your voice to make a fair ask. Chris Voss, former FBI hostage negotiator and author of Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, says you don’t have to enjoy negotiating, but you do need to accept it as the way society functions. “In this world, you get what you ask for; you just have to ask correctly,” he writes. “Claim your prerogative to ask for what you think is right.”
When is the best time to ask for a raise? While you can email your manager and ask for a meeting regarding your compensation anytime, your annual performance review is an ideal opportunity to bring up the subject. (Keep in mind that salary adjustments are rarely made more than once a year.)
As you near your meeting, follow these steps to boost your chances of initiating a negotiation you can be proud of.
01. Set realistic expectations
When you come up with a ballpark figure for an upgraded salary, there are a few things to keep in mind so you avoid disappointment and make a thoughtful, reasonable request. Overall, the average range for yearly salary increases is about 3 to 5 percent and depends on various factors like your geographic location, your company’s other perks like bonuses and tuition reimbursement, and the budget reserved for salary adjustments. Of course, there are situations where you may be vastly underpaid compared to similar roles in your organization or competitor companies, which would warrant a larger increase. In the case that your salary isn’t flexible right now (maybe there’s a blanket freeze on salary adjustments), make a list of non-cash items you can request—the industry conference you’ve had your eye on, a continuing education course or certificate, vacation days, a professional membership, and so on.
02. Know your value and communicate it well
Salary data is plentiful online—while it may take some digging, using sites like Glassdoor and Payscale will help you benchmark your salary against that of similar roles in other businesses, taking into account factors like geographic area, years of experience, and company size.
Gather comments and ratings from past performance reviews, your curated list of accomplishments, and emails from supervisors or clients that praised specific work deliverables. Use these materials to craft a succinct summary statement of your biggest accomplishments that are most meaningful to the company at large. Practice this statement in front of a mirror, with friends, or on a video recording until you can express it calmly, kindly, and clearly. The summary of the contributions you bring to the team should be so well-documented and delivered in such an agreeable tone that your manager should be able to respond with “that’s right” or an equivalent affirmation.
Now, you’ve set the stage by focusing on something you can both agree on before making your ask. Your actual raise request may sound something like, “in light of the increased responsibilities I’ve taken on, and the market value for this role of [insert figure], is it possible to adjust my compensation to better reflect the value I bring to the team?”
03. Stay inquisitive and empathetic
A negotiation should be entered into with “a mindset of discovery,” writes Voss. Research has found that when people feel listened to, they tend to “openly evaluate and clarify their own thoughts and feelings” and become less defensive, he says. Use mirroring, the practice of repeating back the last few words people say, to encourage a bond and keep the other side talking. Ask open-ended questions that start with “what” and “how” so you can better understand what’s behind your manager’s possible pushback to a raise request.
Next listen actively and empathetically so that you can identify the underlying circumstances that might drive their decision. Here are a few questions you may want to ask to help you understand your manager’s position better (and to possibly turn the tide in your favor): What is the biggest challenge to this request? How can I further prove my value to the company? How can I be involved in projects that are critical to the company’s success? What else can I provide to help you make this decision?
04. Master the follow-up
If your request for a raise is granted, say thank you politely and graciously. Ask how your performance will continue to be measured so that you know exactly how you can remain a top performer and keep earning what you’re worth.
If your raise request is denied, take heart. No may mean “not now,” but it doesn’t mean the door is closed indefinitely. Ask if you can revisit the conversation in six or twelve months and then pull out your requests for non-cash items. If your manager cites budgetary reasons for the lack of a raise, don’t be afraid to ask if and when the financial situation is forecasted to improve or change.
If the reason for denying your raise is a gap in your performance, ask for specific direction and guidance so that you’re clear on what to improve and how. Regardless of the reason (which you may not be privy to), thank your manager for their time and try not to wear any frustration on your sleeve. Stay mentally grounded to maintain a sense of calm and self-control. With consistency and persistence, you may be able to turn that “no” into a “yes” in due time. Regardless, always conduct yourself with poise; being assertive and pleasant aren’t mutually exclusive.
05. Consider your career roadmap
Expand your mindset beyond your compensation and consider your career holistically. At the end of the day, your career isn’t in your company’s hands; it’s in yours. Reflect on where you want to go professionally (What is your dream role? Which projects are you most passionate about? What type of company would enable you to do the work you find most fulfilling?). Then, make a plan for your own learning, growth and development. If your advancement goals align with your current company but you believe you’re underpaid, you may want to stay there and angle for a promotion. If not, it may be worth entertaining the possibility of searching for a new job. With a lot of effort and a little luck, you can find an organization that will equip you to flourish and make progress on your career goals while paying you what you’re worth.
No matter the outcome of your raise request, following this process can help you be confident in your research, preparation, and your objective professional value. Plus, you can congratulate yourself for initiating the conversation with your manager, taking your career in your own hands, and advocating for yourself with poise and courage.