Show Me the Money! Tips on Asking for a Raise

June 21, 2021

Why does having a conversation about money and our worth as an employee induce more anxiety than a wisdom tooth extraction?  Many women I know will go to any length to avoid directly asking for a raise, often staying in a position where they are not valued for far too long or even just finding a new position without even attempting to secure a higher salary.

I will give you a very recent and personal example.  A close friend of mine, we’ll call her “Mary” is a marketing director for a large retail organization.  Due to COVID, Mary was asked to take a 10% pay cut at the start of the pandemic as well as lay off all her staff.  As a department of ONE, Mary was able to retool their virtual presence – increasing sales, resulting in a top revenue year for the company. Mary is now back to her full pay, with no raise on the horizon and no mention of back pay as a reward for her tremendous success this year (and I will also mention while she had an elementary-aged child in remote learning and a disabled parent of whom she is the primary caregiver).   Mary is so traumatized by these events that she is now looking outside of the company for her next position.  Rightly so, and shame on this employer for not recognizing a Rockstar.  However, the point is – there were likely points along the way when Mary could have initiated a conversation with her apparently oblivious leader but did not.

So, for the Mary’s of the world that could, and should, before it is too late – here is my expert advice on grabbing those dollars.

Timing is everything.  Educate yourself on your company’s fiscal year, budget timeline and current profitability.  Put yourself in the decision maker’s shoes – would you be able to say yes to a salary increase after the budget has already been approved for the following year? How about if the year ended on a deficit?  Unlikely.  Ideally, you want to make your case one time and get a yes, so time it right.

Preparing Your Rationale.  Carefully prepare your request with thought given to your achievements and contributions to your organization.  Money talks – if you are in a position where you are directly responsible for revenue, use those numbers to make your case.  If you are in a non-revenue generating role, your contributions may be a little different, but try to connect them to the bottom line if you can.  Keep it business-focused and objective; avoid bringing your personal financial situation into the discussion.

Determine Your Own Worth.  Conduct your due diligence – what are companies paying in the market for your position?  Pay attention to regional or industry differences.  Use a variety of sources to gather information – PayScale, Glassdoor, and government data may be useful.

Closing the Gap.  If you are aware of a salary discrepancy between yourself and a coworker, you should absolutely inquire about it, but do so carefully.  Reactions to that information can vary – some employers get annoyed to know that employees are opening discussing pay (even though it’s your right!), some react defensively and take it as an accusation.  Generally, expect that your employer will be reluctant to discuss someone else’s salary.  I would suggest in the first discussion to reference your general market research.  If your request is initially denied, my next step would be to ask your manager to confirm with human resources that your salary is appropriate and in line with your colleagues.  Give them the opportunity to discover the discrepancy and correct it.  Only after that, I would bring up specifics.  Perhaps that person has responsibilities you are not aware of or other circumstances that warrant a difference in pay.  OR your employer has some fixing to do.  Either way, as uncomfortable as it is, you must bring this information to their attention, a good employer will want to correct a mistake (and in some states they are required to!) or at least educate you on how they make salary determinations.

Tread Lightly When Using a Counteroffer to Negotiate.  This is another area I would advise you to proceed with caution.  Although it is sometimes necessary to demonstrate to your employer what you are worth by another employer’s standards, carefully think through what you are prepared to do in the event your current employer declines to match or counter.  Do you plan to take that new position? Have you compared the value of benefits and total compensation?  What is that company’s reputation compared to your own?  What do future increases look like?  Companies will often make a strong offer to “poach” an employee from a competitor without plans to offer competitive salary increases.  This doesn’t mean that they are a better employer or will care about you more. How would this impact you in the future if you decided to stay with your current employer?

When your company finds out you are job shopping, it will influence how you are viewed in terms of your commitment to the organization.  Now, given that, employers earn your commitment by paying you a fair salary for your labor and contributions.  That is not necessarily synonymous with paying you the top of the range or being able to match other offers.  Look out for Number One but be beware of how you may be viewed in your industry for collecting offers you are not seriously considering.

Be Ready with a Plan B.  Good employers want to retain good employees and telling a good employee “no” is unpleasant.  Be prepared to continue goodwill by having an alternative suggestion in mind in the event your request is denied for legitimate reasons.  This should be something to keep your own disappointment at bay and demonstrate to your boss that you are still “in it” despite not getting what you want.  Examples could be a commitment to revisit the discussion in a specified timeframe or after a specific objective is met, adding a non-monetary perk like flex time or remote work, or increased exposure to demonstrate your skillset more broadly or to a higher-level audience.

Keep the Convo Simple and Direct.  As for having THE CONVERSATION.  Do not make a ten-minute speech.  It should go something like this “Hi Boss.  As next year’s budget is up for review over the next quarter, I thought this was a good time to discuss with you my request for a salary increase of 10%.  As you know, I was responsible for [insert accomplishments here].  I have prepared a memo with the details of this and other accomplishments this year as well as my rationale for this figure for your consideration.  Please let me know what next steps would be.”

Good luck and get it.


Jessica Milewski is a human resources/recruitment professional, masters level educated in management and SHRM/HRCI certified, currently being her own boss lady as a resume writer/career coach.  As her six-year-old daughter likes to explain “Her job is helping other people find jobs”.  For help with your own job search, you can find her at GreenLight Resumes and Career Consulting,

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