How not to ask for a raise

You may have heard the inspirational phrase, “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.” But what if you do ask, and the answer is still no? Particularly when it comes to asking for a raise, that is not the desired outcome, especially because it will likely be a while before you work up the courage to ask again.

Thankfully you can get it right the first time by knowing how to ask. To help you get that “yes” you’re looking for, we’ve compiled several “don’ts” to remember.

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1. Don’t come to the table empty-handed

Gathering the courage to ask for a raise is difficult – but as momentous as it seems, the simple act of asking will not get the job done for you. You need to come armed with information, facts and proof points that you deserve the extra pay, says Jennifer Doran, consultant program manager at IT staffing firm Teksystems in Baltimore.

Relevant information can include accomplishments you’ve achieved for your team or the company, or responsibilities you’ve taken on outside your normal role. “That might give your manager pause to think maybe an increase is warranted based on that new information,” Doran says.

Don’t assume your boss has this information at the top of his mind, says Ashley Leonard, president and CEO of Verismic Software. “Make sure you have strong points that justify the raise,” he says. “Do you volunteer for projects? Have you taken responsibility beyond your current level of pay? Describe these objectively to speak appropriately on your own behalf.”

2. Don’t aim too high

You should also know the dollar amount you’re asking for, Doran says, to validate a compensation range. This means researching your market value by talking to recruiters and people in the industry. “Make sure your expectations are realistic, that your request meets the role you’re providing to the organization,” Doran says.

In other words, know your worth, says Tyler Mikkelson, team lead at technology talent recruiter Mondo in Chicago. “Be prepared to discuss how much money you saved the company, how much revenue you generated, new leadership tasks you’ve taken on,” Mikkelson says. “Facts and figures will go a long way.”

Tyler Mikkelson, team lead at technology talent recruiter Mondo

Researching the compensation of your industry peers can also keep you from asking for an exorbitant amount, Mikkelson says. Merit increases are usually 2% on the low end and 7% on the high end, he says. “Asking for 10% or 20% will make you look foolish,” he says. “That’s a promotion, not a raise in your current role.”

3. Don’t gamble on the counter-offer

Of course, your research into equitable pay may lead you to find an attractive job opening. Be careful, however, about using an offer as a lever to improve your negotiating position, says Marty Fredo, IT branch manager at staffing firm Addison Group in New York City. “You might think, ‘Now I’m in a powerful position – I can tell my boss I’d like to stay but that he’ll have to bring my salary up by $10,000,’” he says.

But what you’re really doing is forcing your boss’s hand, Fredo says, which is not a good foundation for a future relationship, especially if budget cuts or other organizational changes occur. “You’ve acknowledged that you’re actively interviewing and went so far as to get an offer vs. Bob Smith who comes to work on time and leaves late,” he says.

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Leonard calls this holding yourself for ransom. “Threatening to leave and noting that your love is for sale comes across as manipulative and at the very least shows that you’ve been job hunting — not something most people do when they love what they do,” Leonard says. “If you really do have an outside offer, bring it up late in the discussion, but only if you must. Be very clear that the offer found you without seeking it out, and be willing to move to the new company if this discussion causes problems.”

4. Don’t use e-mail

No matter how intimidated you may feel about the ensuing conversation, it’s too important to discuss over e-mail, Leonard says. “Always find the courage to speak to your supervisor in-person when asking for a raise,” he says. “Resorting to long-distance communication shows a lack of decorum and consideration for privacy, as e-mail is never 100% confidential.”

“Schedule a one-on-one so you have ample time for a discussion,” Doran says. Be prepared that the answer may not be resolved that day and may require a few follow-up meetings, she adds.

5. Don’t be informal

Even if you have a great personal relationship with your boss, you should strike a professional tone when asking for a raise. “Don’t be overly lighthearted or self deprecating,” Doran says. “If you want to be taken seriously, you need to convey confidence. You need to know why you deserve a raise and be able to articulate that clearly.”

You might even want to stage a mini-rehearsal, Doran says. “Think about the questions you might be asked and how you might present your information,” she says. “Bounce it off your spouse, friend or peers so that you’re able to articulate that information more clearly.”

“While you should avoid an overly aggressive self-pitch, you should be clear, compelling and on-point,” Leonard agrees. “Practice stating your reasons assertively, yet concisely and politely.”

6. Don’t think short-term

The time to begin planning to ask for a raise is not the week before the conversation but at your performance review, Fredo says. This allows you to be proactive about setting goals for the year that – if you hit them – can help bolster your argument for a higher salary. “Decide on what you want to achieve and research the price points for those skills or positions,” he says. “If that includes certification, know what the market is for that.”

7. Don’t get personal

In some cases, raise requests are precipitated by real financial needs – you’re buying a house, getting married, having a baby; however, it’s not appropriate to share those personal needs or financial predicaments with your manager, both Doran and Mikkelson say. “Your boss might empathize with you, but you need to keep it about your work, the company and your performance,” Mikkelson says.

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You also won’t earn any points by complaining about your current salary or how long it’s been since you’ve seen a pay increase. “Don’t talk about not having had a raise in two years,” Mikkelson says. Doing so could actually hurt you in the long run, as it could point to how long you’ve been complacent.

8. Don’t base your request on co-worker comparisons

It’s never an easy moment to hear that someone you consider an equal is making more than you; however, this is not a good conversation-starter, Mikkelson says. “You’ll come off looking very gossip, petty or bitter,” he says.

The pay another employee receives usually has nothing to do with your pay, Leonard agrees. “Most managers are instructed to give raises — beyond normal cost-of-living — only under certain conditions, such as an employee completing specialized training,” he says. “Be sure to focus solely on your own performance and value you bring to the company.” Another peril, Leonard says, is that in most companies, employees are not allowed — by contract — to discuss their pay with co-workers, so mentioning that to your superiors is akin to admitting to a wrongdoing.

9. Don’t neglect timing

Lastly, IT is always being told to “know the business,” and this is definitely true when it comes to timing your raise request. “If you’re noticing big profit margins, or that the company is exceeding its goals, that’s a good time to ask, especially if you’ve been a part of that success,” Mikkelson says. On the other hand, if no one is getting bonuses, and there’s talk of layoffs, that’s not a good time, even if your own business area is doing fine. “They’ll value the fact that you worked through the hard time, and when the company comes out of it, that’s the time to ask.”

Brandel is a freelance writer. She can be reached at

This story, "How not to ask for a raise" was originally published by Network World.


Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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