How To Ask For A Raise–And Get It

A long chain of events leads to a bump in pay. Let’s trace the path upward.

How To Ask For A Raise–And Get It

As Cosmo editor-in-chief Joanna Coles once told us, nothing can annoy your boss more than over-asking for money that you “need”–you’re better off “explaining that you’re worth more.”


Begin by knowing the average salaries for your title, industry, and area: Sites like and can help. But you need the small scale, too: Like Shawn Graham wrote for us, it’s wise to gauge the health of your company before starting the compensation conversation.

When Amazon is hiring, they don’t want to know what school you went to; they want to know your accomplishments. That same substance-orientation applies to the art of this ask: If you’re going to get paid, you need to show how much value you’re creating.

The raise question is one of relationships

If you become integral to the work of your company (and especially your boss), you’ll have better footing for your ask. Like consultant Mark Samuel writes in Making Yourself Indispensable, you only become indispensable when you “use your gifts and principles in service to other people’s success, improvement, or survival.”

Managers do the raising. While it’s not always obvious, the truth is they are (mostly) human. This fact that has many consequences, like that they walk around with unconscious assumptions. One of those is that we tend to use ourselves as the measuring stick for the worth of others (for more on this, see how hiring is like dating). Since this is the case, we can infer that your boss will be more apt to hire you if she feels like you guys have common interests, culture, or “alignment”–though that attitude does put the syc in sycophant.

If you’re less interested in kissing asses, you should be more interested in showing the way you create value for the company. Like Y Combinator founder Paul Graham discusses at length in his essay “How To Make Wealth,” getting paid is a matter of measurement and leverage:

  • “You need to be in a position where your performance can be measured, or there is no way to get paid more by doing more. And you have to have leverage, in the sense that the decisions you make have a big effect.”

How can you tell the difference? If you’re working in a sweatshop, Graham notes, you have measurement but not leverage: Your productivity gets measured and you get paid accordingly (we hope), but you’re not party to decision-making. Big earners, in contrast, have both measurement and leverage: The CEO’s company either booms or fails; the director’s film either gets big or doesn’t; the pro athlete’s team either wins or loses.


This, then, shows the logic beneath another one of Amazon’s hiring factors: owning projects. If you own a project, you gain leverage and more material for your raise-nabbing argument.

Bottom Line: They don’t want your needs. They want your accomplishments.

The 10 Reasons You’re Not Getting a Raise

[Image: Flickr user Conan]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.