It’s hard to ask for a raise, and it’s even harder to ask for a big raise. Money in our society is too often the measure of our self-worth, which makes hearing “no” sting more than it otherwise should. So unless you’re completely confident discussing your compensation–and most of us aren’t–you can find yourself not knowing what to say during raise conversations, especially when your boss pushes back.
To avoid getting tongue-tied, it’s smart to practice ahead of time what you’ll say, no matter what turns your raise negotiation might take. Here’s a script you can adapt to stay prepared for anything.
Set The Stage
Before asking for the money, start the discussion by reminding your boss of your accomplishments. Point out how your skills and expertise have helped them in the past and will continue to help them in the future. Knowing and recounting your own achievements will significantly reduce the fear that naturally comes with asking for a raise. You could start with something like:
As you know, over the last year I’ve revamped our social media program, and we’ve not only seen our followers grow but also new sales that came directly from our online presence. I know that you’ve been happy with that progress.
I also took over the management of our site and the vendor team. I appreciate the compliments that you’ve given me as we’ve streamlined the process and gotten our site vendor’s billing to align with our budget.
Given these accomplishments, I’d like a significant increase in my pay. Also, I’ve done my homework and taken a look at current compensation levels for roles like mine in companies like this.
But before I get to that I want to describe how I believe I can help going forward and get your feedback. Is that okay with you?
Then Look To The Future
With your boss’s permission, continue with something like this:
The online sales that come from our social media followers represent a huge opportunity for us. Over the next few months I’ll develop a series of content options that, with A-B testing, I’ll refine into an interactive conversation with our followers that is designed to help them find and use our best solutions. I believe this will lead to happier clients because we’re helping them grow their businesses, which in turn will lead to growth in our sales.
As you know, less than 5% of our sales are online. That is so low it should be easy to increase, given a chance to focus on it. How does that sound?
For many people, this sounds too far into the weeds for an ordinary raise discussion–but it isn’t. You’re explaining exactly what you’re planning to do in order to make you worth investing in.
Even if this particular strategy isn’t what your boss wants to run with, you’re showing that you’ve thought hard about ways to bring more value to the company going forward, which will make you worth more to the company, too.
And Now For The Money Part . . .
Wait for your boss’s reply, and be prepared to discuss. Then you can move the conversation toward your pay:
As you can tell, I’m really excited about what we can do with this. And as I said earlier, I’ve done some research and given my responsibilities, I’ve found that I should be receiving $X.
Now it’s time to wait for their response. Silence is golden in a moment like this. After a moment, your boss might say, “Yes, that amount is completely appropriate. And I want you to know that the whole management team really appreciates what you’ve accomplished so far.” Congratulations! You win!
Or they could say, “Fantastic, great ideas and great work this year. And yes, you are asking for a huge increase, and I’m inclined to just say yes, but we’re a bit tight right now. So with that in mind, would you be willing to accept part of the increase as a raise and the rest as a performance-based bonus in six months?”
At this point, you know that your boss has accepted your expertise as a valuable asset and backed it with a partial offer. You can think about it overnight–I always recommend thinking about any deal overnight––or you could negotiate the split between salary and bonus right there in the moment. In any case, you now have the leverage you need to make a great deal.
When They Can’t Give What You’re Asking For
Or this could turn into your worst nightmare with a response like this: “Yes, we really appreciate what you’ve accomplished, but that’s beyond our budget. Our budget for increases this year is half what you are asking. Could you take a little less?”
Don’t freak! This is the type of raise-negotiation scenario that a lot of people aren’t as prepared for as they could be–it can feel like your whole pitch has failed. But it’s a mistake to just give up. Now’s the time to get your boss to talk a little bit more, not to wind down the discussion and leave feeling defeated.
Your real goal is to get your boss feeling comfortable in a conversation where they know they’ve just disappointed you, and to actually feel good about the back-and-forth you’re having nevertheless. So ask a non-confrontational question like, “Help me understand how you determined your budget?”
They might say: “We always use salary surveys to determine what we pay.” Now, if you’ve done your homework and know that your ask isn’t out of line, ask to review the surveys and compare them with your own research:
I’d like to see those surveys. Could you pass them along? As mentioned, I did do my homework and looked at the salary data that’s out there, so I’m surprised at your findings, but I’d love to compare notes.
You may find that your boss backs away from this point because those surveys aren’t up to date or possibly don’t even exist. (If not, you’ll have to begin to question whether it’s an opportunity that you still want, because this survey business is not a good sign.)
Or perhaps instead your boss says something about how the budget was established: “We went through a company-wide planning session and determined our budgets based on the plan.” This may very well be true, but it’s corporate talk designed to close off any possibility of your boss running your request up the ladder to see if more money can’t be found for you, official budgets not withstanding. So stick to your guns:
I understand. Thanks for clarifying that. But to be successful for you, I need to feel respected for my accomplishments and responsibilities in this role. That means, given my experience, that I need to be paid at the top of the range, which is what I’m asking for.
Then hold your tongue and wait for your boss’s reply.
The Power Of “No”
You’ve effectively just said “no.” This forces your boss realize to that you’re willing to go to bat for yourself, just as you have gone the extra mile for them. This is a valuable asset to an employer. And if they recognize it as such, they will likely soften their resistance, and you will do well there. If not, you may need to consider other options.
Yes, it’s hard to ask for a raise. And it can be especially scary to ask for a significant increase when you know there’s a good chance of being told “no.” But if you don’t ask, you won’t get anything. And always remember that your leverage comes from your expertise and what your employer believes you can do for them.
Hearing “no”–and knowing how to say “no” yourself–don’t need to stop you in your tracks. In conversations like these, those are just temporary roadblocks on your way toward demonstrating–and earning–every penny of what you’re worth.