Initiating a conversation with your boss about a possible raise is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The thoughtfulness of your rationale and the thoroughness of your argument could not only determine whether you get more money, but it could also impact (positively or negatively) the way your boss sees you from that point on.
So what can you do to make sure you don’t get a raise? After speaking with colleagues and looking back at my own personal experience, I’d say the reasons fall into two buckets— weak arguments and bad timing.
Weak arguments or bad judgment…
"Everybody else in the department makes more." If there’s one argument that will set most bosses off, it’s bringing up the salaries of coworkers as part of your rationale for asking for more money. In a perfect world where salaries were more transparent, it would be a different story. But we’re not there yet. So instead, reference industry averages for people with similar years of work experience working in similar positions outside of the company you’re working for.
"But I’ve got bills to pay." Unless you’re Warren Buffet, Oprah, or Suze Orman, so does everyone else. Raises are usually handed out based on performance, not because you think the company should give you more money so you can pay back your student loans. Focus on your impact on the department, organization, and bottom line results of the business.
"If you won’t give me a raise, I’m going to have to consider other options." Nothing like a good old threat to persuade the boss to give you more money. This is almost always a one way ticket out of the company. If you’re even going to go that route, 1) be ready for your boss to call your bluff (assuming it’s a bluff) and 2) have another job lined up because you’re probably going to need it.
During the first month working with a new boss. Maybe the raise has been something you’ve been stewing over for a while, but it’s not in your best interest to approach your new boss about it before he or she even has time to observe your contributions to the team. Give a new boss at least six months before you start asking for a bump in pay.
After missing key milestones. If you’ve been unable to perform at the level expected of someone in your role, that should be a pretty clear indicator that you’re not ready to ask for more money. You should be firing on all cylinders on a consistent basis before you have that discussion.
During an unscheduled drop in. Bosses don’t like to be caught off guard on most issues and that especially goes for raises. Instead of popping your head in his or her office or bringing it up by the copier, schedule a time to have the discussion. That will allow you and your boss to be fully prepared.
During a recession or after the company just finished massive layoffs or both. Nothing says selfish than asking for a raise during an economic crisis—especially when the company you work for has just had to lay people off. Some companies are struggling just to keep their doors open. Gauge the health of the company you work for to determine whether or not any discussion about compensation is appropriate given current circumstances.
Shawn Graham is Director of MBA Career Services at the University of Pittsburgh and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job.