You know the feeling when you walk out of a positive performance review and you suddenly realize, “Damn, I should have asked for a raise.” You’re not alone. It’s happened to all of us.
For some reason, we don’t discuss our compensation when we have the upper hand. Instead, we wait until we’re frustrated, need extra cash, or are about ready to quit. But the best time to talk about your compensation is when your accomplishments are in plain sight and you’ve just nailed your performance review. That’s the time to ask for the damn raise.
Timing is everything, and the most powerful argument to make for a raise is you: Your contribution and the value you offer the organization and the future contributions you will make.
Yet many people wait until less positive circumstances arise to start their negotiation.
I’ve managed teams in over 30 different countries. Over the course of many years, I’ve had countless conversations about performance and compensation. Here are some of the most cringeworthy reasons I’ve heard people use for why they should get a raise.
Poor life choices
It wasn’t time for scheduled performance reviews when a team member of mine asked for a raise because they couldn’t make their rent. Now, most of us have had challenging times financially. But this person had been employed and was paid over $200,000 per year for a good while. Was their rent too expensive? Maybe. Did they have a devastating financial event happen? Possibly. However, not being able to make rent wasn’t about how much they made, but more likely about how they managed their money. Life choices are not a valid reason for a pay raise. And for the request to be framed that way makes you question that person’s judgment.
Time and again, I’ve heard employees say, “I’ve been here two years, so it’s time I get a raise.” Tenure does not justify a raise. Contributions and value do. Never go into a salary negotiation asking for a raise because it’s time or because you’ve been at your company longer than someone that earns more than you.
If you threaten to quit if you don’t receive a raise, be prepared to pack up your office. No one likes ultimatums, especially in the fraught conversations around performance and compensation. It’s a sad truth that no one is truly irreplaceable—okay, maybe your mom would disagree. But unless you’re truly ready to walk, don’t make this threat.
Salary negotiations are just that, a negotiation. Successful salary negotiations are based on who you are and the value you provide to the ongoing success of your company. So, as they say, “Know your worth, then add tax.”
Now that you know what not to do, here are three things you should always do before asking for a raise.
Do your research
Find out everything you can about the industry norms for your position and work, including how much people above, below, and around you are being paid. Have handy all the data points, especially if you believe you are being underpaid. Websites such as Glassdoor can be especially helpful.
Build your case
You’re good at what you do—now it’s time to prove it. Keep track of your contributions in your existing role and think about how you will contribute more in the future. Go into the meeting with clear wins and big achievements. Remind your boss just how valuable you are by showcasing measurable results. What you’re really doing is giving your boss the ability to go and make the case on your behalf.
Talk to the right people
Find your champion. The first conversation you have should be with someone who is empowered and in your corner. If you have a good relationship with your manager, they can negotiate with human resources and/or finance on your behalf. If you don’t have a good relationship with them, you will need to work much harder to show your value, and your manager’s word can undermine all the hard work you put in.
Remember that timing is everything. Be strategic about when you ask, and realize that it may be months between when you make your case and when you get the raise. Even if you get a “no,” take it as a “not right now” and don’t give up.
Practice how you’re going to make your ask and advocate for yourself and your long-term financial success. Too many people leave their jobs for more money in another position, leaving behind expertise, relationships, and institutional knowledge, without asking for the money they want. Don’t assume that your employer will recognize and reward your hard work on their own. Do your homework, demonstrate the measurable value of the work that you’re doing, and make the damn ask.