Effective Communication

How NOT to Ask for a Raise

ask raise

Many years ago, when I was fresh out of college, I remember asking my first boss for a raise. It was promptly denied. At the time, I was crushed and angry.

Of course, looking back on it now with my “coach cap” on, I see quite clearly what I did wrong. If I could go back and do it again, I’m betting I could get a more favorable result. Sadly, time machines are still a few years from mass-market availability, so I’ll have to settle for altering the future rather than the past.

Here are the four biggest mistakes I made asking for a raise and how you can avoid them.

  • I didn’t plan the conversation.

Asking for a raise should not be a spur-of-the-moment conversation. It should be a scheduled meeting for which you prepare thoroughly.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: Never walk into a crucial conversation about your career empty handed. Always bring evidence to back up your point of view and your accomplishments—documentation to prove your value to the company. Words are only so powerful; indisputable proof is…well…indisputable. Especially if you’re making a request (like asking for a raise or promotion), you need something substantive to support your reasoning.

  • I didn’t make a specific request.

I simply asked my boss for more money; I didn’t say how much. Vague requests are always more likely to be turned down. This showed a lack of sophistication and preparation on my part.

Once again, be prepared to offer back up for your rationale. Do your research and be able to cite the comparable salaries of people at your experience level in competing companies. Make sure your request aligns nicely and makes sense in comparison.

  • I made it about financial need over accomplishment.

This was, by far, my biggest, most embarrassing mistake.

I couched my request in the fact that I didn’t feel I could survive at my current rate of pay. Never mind the fact that I was making very decent money for a recent graduate, this kind of rationale is completely unacceptable. I knew the pay when I accepted the job. I knew how to budget. Obviously I wasn’t starving.

More important, if those were true, they were still my problem. Not the company’s.

The company doesn’t care if I’ve deemed a new car necessary. Why on earth would my perceived financial need warrant a raise?

Raises aren’t given; they’re earned. And there are usually two possible reasons: (1) as a reward for past accomplishment and (2) as an incentive for future accomplishment.

Your personal budget has nothing to do with it.

Either prove what you’ve already done and the quantifiable impact it had on the company’s bottom line, or outline what you’re planning to do and the estimated impact.

  • I accepted “no” as the answer.

Any good sales person will tell you a simple “no” is never the end of the conversation. When my request was turned down, I shuffled off in disappointment and cried to my friends about the injustice. The far better path would have been to ask for a written plan.

Whenever any request is denied, the follow-up request should always be: “Can we put together a plan to get me where I want to be in the next six months?”

Together, outline a step-by-step plan for how you can earn the salary you’re seeking within a reasonable amount of time.

If it’s flat out impossible to get there, that’s valuable information you can use in your career decision-making process. Perhaps it’s time to consider moving on.

About the Author

Chrissy Scivicque is a career coach, corporate trainer and public speaker who believes work can be a nourishing part of the life experience. Her website, Eat Your Career, is devoted to this mission. Chrissy is currently a contributing career expert for U.S. News & World Report and the author of the book, The Proactive Professional: How to Stop Playing Catch Up and Start Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life!), available on Amazon.