In 2016, I had my first “life-changing” pay raise.
Until it happened, I’d been living most of my young adult life paycheck-to-paycheck.
Then, suddenly, I had an expendable income for the first time in my life. Not much—but enough that I could eat at a nice-ish restaurant once in a while, splurge on a concert ticket, take a weekend getaway, or tuck money away.
On a deeper level, the pay raise gave me breathing room. I no longer had to think and worry about money all the time—which meant I could focus more on myself, my friends and family, and my future.
But it took a lot of stops and starts to get that pay raise.
I had to learn, through a combination of trial-and-error and mentorship, how to ask for a pay raise… and when to ask… and what to do after the fact.
If you’ve been thinking seriously about how to achieve that salary bump, this article is for you. I’m sharing the exact strategy I developed to get a pay raise—the one that struck gold for me more than once.
3 questions to ask before you start
What is your ultimate goal with this pay raise?
Obviously, your primary goal is to earn more money. But what else? Are you simply looking for a standalone pay raise, or are you hoping for a promotion and title change? Do you want to negotiate for better benefits or more holiday time? Figure out your ideal options, so you can aim for that with your strategy.
Why are you thinking about a pay raise now?
If you’re reading this article, you must be thinking seriously about how to ask for a raise. What brought you here? Have there been changes in your personal life? Has it been too long since you had a salary increase? Have you been performing particularly well? Knowing your true motivations will come in handy later as we craft a strategy.
What is the company policy regarding pay raises and promotions?
Many businesses have set guidelines and policies regarding their raise structure. For example, you may be required to undergo a certain number of performance reviews or pass a probationary period before you’re eligible. Or you may discover that you’re overdue for a raise based on company policy. Either way, it pays (literally) to know the rules before you start playing the game.
Stage 1: Checking the temperature and timing
The first thing you should do when preparing to ask for a raise is assess the timing and vibe of your work environment.
There will be moments when your manager is more likely to give you a raise than others. You need to time your request for when things are going well for your manager, when you look good as an employee, and when there’s no other drama that could thwart your best efforts to start earning more.
Here are a few examples to give you an idea of when to ask for a pay raise:
✅ It’s a good time to ask for a raise
❌ Hold off on asking for now
After you receive high praise
Your boss is stressed or upset due to something work-related
After you helped the business get a big win
Your manager is just about to go/just got back from vacation
Following an excellent performance review
You recently made a significant mistake or misjudgment
After you’ve taken on new responsibilities successfully
Your performance reviews have been tepid or negative
A quick caveat: If you have a boss who never seems to be in a good mood or who is unfair or harsh during your performance reviews, then you may need to rethink your strategy.
You can’t wait around forever for a toxic manager to be ready to give you a raise. We’ve got a whole guide on how to deal with this situation, which you can find right here:
Stage 2: Gather your evidence
You already know your personal motivations for asking for a salary hike. But in order to succeed, you have to provide concrete reasons for asking for a raise that your boss finds compelling.
Start making a list of everything you’ve achieved since you started. You can begin with your basic day-to-day tasks at the top. More importantly, think of results-driven examples that go above and beyond business as usual.
Here are a few examples you might add to your list:
Positive feedback from clients, customers, and colleagues
Impressive sales/conversions you have been responsible for
Big projects you worked on that achieved/exceeded their goals
Challenges and unexpected setbacks that you’ve managed successfully
Contributions you’ve made to the office culture and environment
The more specific and results-oriented you can be when creating this list, the better. This list will form the foundation of your reasons to ask for a pay raise—something your boss will expect you to have right off the bat when you make your request.
Write down as many achievements as you can, and do your best to tie them to results for the business and your team. Here are some examples:
Example Reasons to Ask for a Pay Raise
“I’ve made over a dozen sales in the last two weeks.”
“Customers frequently mention my name in their positive reviews.”
“Our client said they loved the strategy I worked on with my team.”
“I’ve averaged 24 sales a month, higher than the store average.”
“I’ve received 18 positive reviews on Google, and my clients have tagged me 32 times on Instagram.”
“In the feedback survey, the client mentioned that the design of the slides was particularly compelling. That was my work.”
“In the six months since my last review, I’ve made over $15,000 in sales for the business, helping us nearly double our quarterly revenue.”
“I pulled survey results from the website, and found that over 50 new customers from the last 3 months came via referrals from my happy clients.”
“My graphics were cited as part of the reason the client renewed their contract, guaranteeing our team exceeds our targets.”
If you feel your reasons to ask for a pay raise aren’t compelling enough, it may be time to ramp up the work you’re doing. Find a project you can contribute to, take on a new responsibility, or go above and beyond in your day-to-day work. In other words, if you don’t have good reasons to ask for a pay raise now, go out and make some!
Stage 3. Find your angle with your manager
By this point, you have a solid list of ways you’ve delivered on your job expectations and helped improve the business at large.
Now, it’s time to zoom in the microscope a bit and focus on your manager. How will you frame your reasoning for a pay raise in a way that will appeal to your manager, specifically?
This question is part of a larger practice known as managing up. In short, this means actively thinking about your manager’s perspective, wants, and needs while observing their behaviors and personality. You then use this information to manage negotiations with your supervisor.
Ask yourself this question: “If I get what I want in terms of a pay raise and promotion, what will my boss get in return?”
If you’re asking for a promotion, think of what new responsibilities you can take that would lighten the burden for your manager.
If you’re asking for a title change, highlight what kind of voice this would give you with clients or customers and what new tasks and processes you can manage for your boss.
Find a way to make your promotion seem like a win-win for you and your manager, and you’re more than halfway to the pay raise you deserve.
Stage 4. Refine your pay raise request
With all the information you’ve gathered so far, you’re ready to put together a very compelling request for a pay raise.
Now, it’s time to carve out the details. We need specific answers to these questions, depending on your situation:
How much of a pay raise are you expecting, in dollars? You can check average rates on sites like Salary.com and Glassdoor. Use these as a guide.
What exact job title do you want? Use LinkedIn and other job boards to see what titles are assigned to roles similar to yours.
What specific improvements do you want to your benefits? Consider if you want more vacation days or sick days, longer breaks, more healthcare options, etc. Be specific.
What new responsibilities are you taking on? Think of day-to-day tasks as well as long-term projects and targets.
Which of your existing responsibilities need to change, and how? What tasks and responsibilities will you need to reduce or drop to make room in your day for the new tasks? How will you and your team redistribute work in a way that’s fair and effective?
Stage 5. Pull it all together and set up the pay raise review
If you’ve followed the process this far, then you’ve got everything you need to request a pay raise. To summarize, you should have:
1. A solid idea of what your ideal scenario would be
2. A list of your achievements, highlighting results you’ve brought to the business
3. An approach to the pay raise that appeals to your manager’s wants and needs
4. Specific and clear requests to lay on the table
Now, all you have to do is start negotiations. *Gulp.*
It’s nerve-wracking, for sure, but let all of the work and planning you’ve done bolster your confidence. Going in with such strong evidence and a clear vision is something to be proud of, no matter what result you get.
There is a lot to consider when it comes to negotiation, and we have several other articles you can read to help prepare. Check these out:
Stage 6. Preparing for what lies ahead
After you have the conversation, take a deep breath and congratulate yourself. No matter what outcome you received, you just did something challenging and brave, and that deserves praise.
Hopefully, you got everything you wanted. But don’t panic if you didn’t—more often than not, it takes multiple negotiations to find common ground.
Depending on how things went, there are certain actions to take now.
What to do if your manager agrees to the pay raise
First, celebrate! Pop that champagne. Order your favorite takeout. Get a massage. Whatever works for you!
After that, it’s time to show your boss you were serious about everything you said. Be proactive. Draw up a plan for what will happen next to get you where you need to be in your new role, with a specific timeline.
Be gracious, as well. Thank your manager for seeing your perspective, and show gratitude to any colleagues who may have helped you along the way.
What to do (and not to do) if you didn’t get the pay raise
Rejections suck, and it’s natural to feel a lot of turmoil after getting turned down for a pay raise. You might feel angry or frustrated, depressed or hopeless, or just plain confused.
Let the feelings happen, and take time to reflect before taking any drastic action. When you’re ready, calmly review your notes from the meeting and allow it to replay in your mind.
Try to be as objective as possible. Ask questions like this:
Where did communication break down?
What reasoning did your manager give for saying no?
Was there room for further negotiations?
Did your manager tell you what you need to do to get the pay raise in the future?
By reflecting and analyzing what happened, you can start planning what you need to do to push forward again soon. Perhaps your manager gave you some new goals to focus on or a better idea of when a pay raise is possible. If so, all you need to do is get back on your horse and keep striving for the pay raise.
If what your manager is asking seems unreasonable or unfair, it may be time to consider moving on to a new role where you can earn a better wage under the title you deserve.
If that’s the case, we have a lot more Career Advice that can help:
Learning how to ask for a raise will serve you well throughout your career—even if your first attempts don’t go exactly how you want them to go.
With a good strategy, confidence in your evidence, and the right angle, you’ll be much closer to earning the salary you want in the role that fits.