How to Ask For a Raise

Money on the Table, originally uploaded to Flickr by tuchodi.

2018 Update: We still stand by this advice on how to ask for a raise — but you may also want to check out some of our more recent discussions on salary negotiation.

How DO you ask for a raise?  Reader K asks this classic question…

I am looking for tips on how to successfully ask for a raise! I have a unique situation – I was promoted just under 1 year ago, and got a significant raise in my salary. However – I actually took a pay cut, since I went from base salary + commission. The powers that be don’t view commission as part of your salary, so I essentially took a 20k pay cut if you look at my W2’s, but on paper I earned a significant raise. Now, looking online at salary ranges for my position and the company’s pay grade chart, a 15% raise would put me smack dab in the middle of nationwide salaries in positions like mine, and my company’s pay grade chart. Asking for a 15% raise seems ballsy to me, especially in this economy, but I have received a LOT of praise this year, including from the CEO directly. I feel I have earned it. Suggestion or tips on how to go about this? I actually have never asked for a raise before! Thank you!

Congratulations on your great year, and the bump (on paper, at least) in salary.  A lot has been written about how women don’t negotiate raises the same way men do — we hesitate to do it, we ask for too little, we don’t do it often enough (to say nothing of employers who have a bias against women). (Pictured.)

– Do your research.  It sounds like you’re one step ahead of me here — it’s great that you know the salary ranges for your position and the company’s pay scale.  Others have suggested that you can use professional groups as a resource, as well as bounce ideas off of mentors.  Research was also a common thread in the anonymous profiles Forbes Woman recently did of four women who asked for (and got) raises.

– Schedule a meeting to “discuss your career growth.” Don’t blindside your boss with a drop-in conversation.  (Even if you do schedule a meeting, don’t be surprised if your boss a) doesn’t remember when you started working there and b) what your salary is.)

– Practice the conversation. You don’t want the first thing your manager thinks is, “Boy, you should have made a better deal last year, lady!”  So consider phrasing it like this:  “As you know, I took a bit of a bottom-line paycut because I was so excited to join the team here.  Now that you’ve seen what I can do — including projects like X and Y — I’d like to see if I could get a bit of a raise.”  I would hold off on that “15%” number because — you’re right — it does sound a bit criminal in this economy.  Instead, wait for him to ask how much, and then say, “I’d like to move my salary up to $__. This number is in the middle of this company’s pay grade chart, as well as of the nationwide range for positions like mine.”

The big question that I think the reader in this particular situation should prepare for is: why does she deserve a raise after a mere year on the team?  Have your duties expanded, or are you currently doing more than what was in your job description?  Are you willing to take on more responsibilities in exchange for the money?  Was there a possibility that you might make a commission that has since been taken off the table?  Particularly because it sounds like you still work for the same company — prepare to answer these questions.

Readers, have you asked for a raise (ever? recently?)?  For those of you who are on the hiring/managing side — how do the savvy workers ask for a raise?

This is our best advice on how to ask for a raise -- it's great advice for everyone but we wrote it with young professional women in mind! Tons of great reader stories as well.


  1. TO Lawyer :

    On an incredible tangent so early on, anyone else notice there’s Canadian money in the photo accompanying this post?!

    • Anonymous :

      I actually glanced and thought they were Euro, realized they weren’t, and was very confused. That I can’t remember what Canadian money looks like is sort of embarassing.

    • Haha that’s the first thing I noticed! I wondered if people would be aware that it was CAD =)

  2. For me the hardest part about asking for a raise was getting up the gumption to do it. I did a lot of second-guessing myself and wondering whether I really deserved the raise. I also asked a million questions on here and got lots of great advice, reassurance, and hand-holding so the hive deserves some credit.

    I’m in a government position, but I think my tips can probably be used in any office.
    First, I wrote up a memo of my accomplishments and contributions. I thought about all the major projects I had worked on and noted those along with the positive outcomes I achieved. Then I thought about the smaller, more routine things and quantified them, e.g. “Completed 57 x assignments without ever exceeding the three-day deadline for completion.” I also noted the things I did that were outside our main mission – committees, volunteering for special projects, etc. – and trainings that I completed.

    Then, I researched the formal criteria for the higher pay-level to make sure I could make a case for why I met them. This was tough for me because I tend to be very self-critical, but I got over the hump by telling myself that it was my job to make the best case for myself that I could and it was my bosses job to make the decision for the organization. I sort of thought of myself as my own client for this mental exercise, which helped.

    Next, I sat down and did the asking. It was nerve-wracking, but writing the memo ahead of time meant that I knew all my talking points and the best ways to communicate them. Then I followed up by sending the memo.

    This next part is key if you work for a slow-moving organization or an avoidant-type boss. I followed up. A lot. I waited a couple of weeks and asked if any decision had been made. I was told no, so I asked when I should check back in. And then I did. A lot. I tried not to be annoying, but I know these decision do not get made at my organization without some pushing.

    When I got some pushback about the raise, I didn’t cave. I was a little crushed (see the self-critical part above) but I stuck to my guns. I wrote a new memo addressing their concerns. I didn’t back down. And eventually, I got the raise. It wasn’t 100% under the conditions I wanted, but I know if I hadn’t advocated for myself, I wouldn’t have gotten anything.

    TL;DR version: Be prepared, be brave, be stubborn. Be your own best advocate, even if you aren’t sure you totally believe in yourself.

  3. Instead of saying “Now that you’ve seen what I can do — including projects like X and Y — I’d like to see if I could get a bit of a raise” I would say “Now that you’ve seen what I can do — including projects like X and Y (which will include references to actual value added to the company, right?) — I’d like to discuss how we can ensure that my compensation accurately reflects the value I bring to the company.” Look at it from their side. What do you bring to the table? How much would they have to pay to hire the same talent off the street? What does your salary say to the rest of the company about your value? Is there anything you can say about how it’s actuallyto their benefit to have you at a higher rate of compensation (e.g., it raises your profile in the company, shows other employees what qualities are valued, helps you to work more effectively since it shows the management sees you as valuable)? Obviously you’re not going to trumpet your comp to the whole company, but word gets around.

    If they don’t think you should get a raise now, change the topic to how to move toward getting your compensation to that level. Maybe it’s a three year path, with benchmarks along the way. Also, see if there’s anything else you want besides salary that they can give you if salary is a problem. Can you get a bigger bonus based on your contribution? Is it feasible with your new position to still have something like commission?

    • Instead of saying “Now that you’ve seen what I can do — including projects like X and Y — I’d like to see if I could get a bit of a raise” I would say “Now that you’ve seen what I can do — including projects like X and Y (which will include references to actual value added to the company, right?) — I’d like to discuss how we can ensure that my compensation accurately reflects the value I bring to the company.”

      TBK – Thanks, I completely agree with your comment above and I loved the way you phrased it! (Mind if I steal that directly?!)

      BTW, I am “reader K’… In my company’s pay grade chart there are three zones, beginning, middle and end. While I’ve been here for 5 years I’m in the upper beginning zone, even with my new salary. So I do think this raise would simply compensate me for what I’m already doing. In my new position I’ve taken on more responsibility, not only at the client level but also internally, I’ve been responsible for two hires, (although they are not direct reports, that happened because my boss was out of town and didn’t want to reschedule interviews, so she delegated to me.) I’ve been responsible for training colleagues, tasked to become an “expert” on a particular modality at work (which I think I have), and am the initiative leader for a new project that can save the company money, time, and increase volume with our current team.

      However, I am eager for more responsibility in general, so even though I think this pay increase makes sense for what I am doing now – I would definitely be willing to take on more, simply to make a name for myself and increase promotion chances in the future.

      Long story short, I think I have a lot hard-facts I can put on paper that will help my case. I’m open to negotiation and maybe a different bonus structure, etc.

      Thank you TBK for your insight & help!

    • Agree. Be bold. Is Kat outsourcing the writing? “I’d like to see if I could get a bit of a raise” doesn’t sound like the effective communicating I’m used to seeing here.

  4. karenpadi :

    You aren’t in the legal profession but take it for what it’s worth: most lawyers in BigLaw and midlaw get about a 10% raise every year. FWIW, if you are a rockstar, I don’t think asking for 15% is ballsy. But then, I watched a man walk into a partner’s office and demand a $40k bonus (that was truly earned)–that was ballsy.

    Like Kat said, I’d stress that the salary you want is competitive. It’s a way to say “I’m motivated enough to research similar positions and salaries, and therefore I’m motivated enough to leave if you don’t make this happen.”

  5. I was far below average pay at my first “real” job out of college. I worked my tail off for a couple of years to build a reputation and get rid of any stigma associated with youth and lack of experience. Then I compiled a list of salary ranges for comparable positions in the area, along with how I had nailed my initial job description plus taken on so much more than was initially asked of me. It helped that my counterpart (same title, job description, etc.) made more than double my salary for no reason other than he was male and in his 50’s. I got a 35% raise with very little questions asked, putting me in the middle of the salary range. Still far less than my counterpart, but a win nonetheless. I sometimes kick myself for waiting so long, but am also proud of myself for making such a gutsy request when I was in my early twenties and the only female on the professional staff. Make your case: the worse they can say is no. Then you need to ask for concrete expectations to get you there on your next review.

    • That’s awesome! I’ve been reading “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” – or something along those lines and a lot of it is about the difference between men and women – not they are are better, but they negotiate up front, ask for more, demand to be heard, etc. While us women tend to work our tails off and hope the work speaks for itself! I am (sadly) no longer in the “young” category, but I’m learning how to be a force in the office and “act like a man” to a certain degree.

      I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’ve never asked for a raise. Ever. This will be a first, hence why I am so nervous!

  6. Anon Attorney :

    Related–Any advice on negotiating (whether you should/how to do it) when you make a lateral move, or how it differs from asking for a raise? I know the starting salary for a first year attorney, but don’t really know what the annual increase is.

    • Diana Barry :

      Where are you moving from/to? I definitely negotiated when I went from biglaw to small law. They offered me X. At biglaw I was making about 2.1X. I asked for 1.5X and got 1.25X.

      • Anon Attorney :

        I’d be moving from small law to mid/big law. I know the starting salary, and that the first few years (which I’d be within) are generally lockstep, but I don’t know what the increase is. I don’t know if negotiating is done in that situation.

  7. Anon for this :

    I provided my boss with lots of hard evidence, including “anecdata” from here to argue why competitive pay for my year would be x. I also quoted my boss when he wooed me into coming to his firm that the pay cut would be a “temporary financial setback.” I reminded him of all the value I provide the firm. I even had a “brag” file of major accomplishments over the year. I went over the things I do that are above my year. We are not lockstep so I had to also argue why it would be okay to pay me more than people who have worked here triple the number of years I have been an attorney. (I work and bill far more hours – I checked our billing software to know that.) I work on more complex cases for higher paying clients. I do far more marketing. I also went over how happy I am to be at the firm and how I hoped my pay could be competitive so that I could stay there. I didn’t threaten to quit but suggested that if I wasn’t paid what I was worth I would be looking. I am in a unique situation where I know my boss really really values my work, doesn’t want to lose me, and truly did want to pay me competitive but didn’t know what competitive looked like. I also somewhat discounted my research to reflect the fact that we are a small firm but reminded my boss that we take “big law cases” sometimes at “big law rates” (partners are former big law) and that we are more of a boutique and less of a run of the mill firm. I received just shy of a 15% raise, plus a guaranteed Christmas bonus, plus an hours based spring bonus with a guaranteed minimum.

    Where I failed – we were supposed to meet again to discuss those bonus numbers. That never happened. The raise was in July. So, I have a guaranteed minimum but don’t know what it is LOL.

  8. Here’s a question I can ANSWER! Yay! I can help the hive! I you want a raise ASK!!!!

    You cant be bashful my DAD says. My dad who still works as a senior adviser, tho he DOES NOT have to always told his bosses how much he wanted. Because he was smart and valued, they ALWAYS gave it to him!

    So I get raises when I dress right (red dress/ red pumps / red lipstick) and even tho he ooogles and asks me to walk like a model for him I get a raise and an increase in my clotheing allowance! Yay!

    So do what I do and you will be like me!! Yay!!!

    • I don’t think your dad getting a raise for you is appropriate for the workplace, really.

  9. I don’t have a comment on this post but a question maybe you can answer in a later post?? I wanted to get your thoughts on how frequently you can wear the same item (top, dress, etc.) without it being too frequent? For example, if I have my favorite top, can I wear it one week with pants and the following week with a skirt? Or do I need to wait 2 weeks to re-wear? Or longer?? Thanks!

  10. Also,

    It helps to practice the “script” with a girlfriend (no one who works in your office thought!). Have your girlfrend play out any scenarios/objections that your boss may have to giving you a raise, so that you work through how to respond before hand.

  11. I am so happy to see this article. I have been in my current role for about four and a half months, with the same company for twelve years. I accepted the position with the company’s standard 5% increase, mainly because it was a tremendous opportunity. I have over five years of relevant experience and am told by senior leaders that I am a “rising star,” and that I “set the example for what others should be.” A senior director that I’ve worked with for years recently said, “I couldn’t do this without you here.” As a result of my performance, more and more responsibilities are being assigned to me, and I now have more oversight than my peers, and certainly more than what I was initially hired for. However, I know that I am underpaid in comparison to my colleagues, and also that there is 15% more in my own budget for my salary than what I am earning.
    I have been in a similar position in the past (two years ago), and under a different supervisor, I was successful in having my salary increased by 15%. It was a little tense at times, and it wasn’t really fun, but I learned that I had to be my own advocate, and in the end, it was worth it.
    I hate being in this position again, but I can’t forget what I have learned, and continue working as hard as I do, knowing I could and should be making more.
    What I am concerned about is that my supervisor is brand new to her role (one month in), and was just recently promoted. That, coupled with the fact that I have only been in the role for 4 months, makes me a little concerned about the timing. However, this month is when annual merit increases are determined and awarded…
    Any advice?

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