Getting a raise isn't all about timing, but that's a big part of it. Before you consider asking for a raise, you first need to feel confident that your work is excellent or at least has been steadily improving. More than that, you need to have some sense that your contributions are appreciated by your boss and coworkers.
You should also size up the current and future state of your organization. Is it doing well? Does it have a bright future? How does it compare to competitors? Have there been significant changes recently? And does your work contribute measurably to the whole?
"Okay sure," you’re probably thinking. "But what do these questions have to do with me and my raise?"
A lot. Those who are most valued and get the biggest raises are the same folks who are attuned to how their companies are faring and what their own efforts have contributed to that. So start doing your homework, and once you feel you have a handle on that, consider timing your request for one of these key moments.
You need to position your request for a raise in terms that speak to your work and your organization's goals (hence the above), but that doesn't mean your personal circumstances are totally irrelevant. Years ago, I’d been in a new job for three months when my wife said, "Honey, I’m pregnant. We’re going to need more money soon!"
At first glance, that timing may sound pretty disastrous: How could I ask for a raise so soon after being hired? But caught between fear of disappointing my wife and fear of asking my new boss for a raise just after starting, I decided that marriage and child would have to win out.
Ideally, any employer-employee relationship is about mutual support. And even if you've been newly hired, it's a safe bet that your employer has decided to invest in you for the long term. So, bolstered by some encouragement my boss had recently given me about my work, I went ahead and asked.
I’d noted that my boss often took long lunches on Fridays and returned to the office in a good mood—a very good mood. So I decided Friday was the day I’d ask. And yes, I got the raise, and yes, I’m kind of joking: An inebriated boss probably isn't a good thing. But the simple lesson here is that your timing strategy needs to take your manager's emotions and personal quirks into account. When people are happy, they tend to be more generous. Look for a moment when your superior is feeling good in general and good about your work in particular.
Your work anniversary is often a good time to consider renegotiating your salary, especially if things are going well. In the business world, yearly increases are a basic protocol. No one will be surprised when you ask, meaning this is a good time to approach it with minimal trepidation.
It also makes sense to time this to coincide with your annual performance review. Organizations often try to separate performance from money, often in order to restrict their costs. But if your boss is praising your work and wants you to stay, chances are they'll invest in keeping you—as long as you ask them to.
I can’t count how many people have told me about taking on new responsibilities without being offered a salary increase. Or they’re congratulated on the new responsibilities in person and get an email later offering a minimal raise. The fact is that if you're now doing a bigger, tougher job than you were hired to do, it's time to ask for a raise.
Believe it or not, people are offered promotions all the time without a corresponding raise. Sounds stupid, but I’m afraid our anxieties about self worth sometimes conspire against us.
I once was promoted to running a design office while the owner took a year’s sabbatical. I was so thrilled he thought I was worthy that I accepted on the spot without asking if it came with a raise. It did not.
"A rising tide lifts all boats," the old saying goes. But often the tide needs to be reminded which boats to lift. If your company is doing well, and everyone is upbeat and excited about the future, you can bet that those in the know are asking for and getting more money. You should ask, too.
One of my favorites: Leverage. There is no better leverage than someone else offering you a position for more money. If you like your organization and want to stay, ask for 20% above what the competitor is offering.
And while I’m on the subject, if you do want to take the competitor’s offer, ask them for 20% more than they’ve offered. This is one of the key reasons why changing jobs helps boost your wages.
When Flora in the next cubicle brags that she got a big raise, and you know that her performance isn’t any better than yours, it’s time to check in with the boss. Now, don’t go spilling the beans on what you know about Flora. Just build a case for why your value to the organization is worth more than you’re currently being paid.
Here's another time when there's potential for leverage. Now your company is short-handed, and word will be getting out that talent is leaving. That's not good for them, but it an excellent time for you to subtly point out where they’d be if you left, too. Hit them up for some additional bucks.
I’ve managed hundreds of talented creative professionals over the course of my career, and those who asked for raises were actually quite rare. I was amazed to learn in a 2014 CareerBuilder survey that 56% of workers have never asked for a raise. As a manager, when my employees asked, my respect for them rose, and I can’t remember a case where I didn’t comply. Maybe I countered a notch lower than the ask, but if I liked their work and wanted them to stay, I gave them the raise.
If you time it right, hopefully your boss will, too. But you'll never know if you don't ask.
Ted Leonhardt is a designer and illustrator, and former global creative director of FITCH Worldwide. His specialized approach to negotiation helps creative workers build on their strengths and own their value in the marketplace. Follow Ted on Twitter at @tedleonhardt.