Unless you happen to be a successful self-employed individual or independently wealthy, you would probably appreciate a raise at your job! However, just like many other things, there’s a time and place for approaching that scenario. Fortunately, many organizations have somewhat standardized their process for salary increases, which is often tied to some form of performance review. There are, however, organizations that don’t follow this convention or enable salary adjustments outside of a routine schedule. But when is the right time to ask for a raise? Is there a right time? Will I be frowned upon if I do? This article will address those questions and give you some things to consider before going into hardcore negotiations for those extra dollars.

You can talk the talk, but do you walk the walk?

“Celebrate what you’ve accomplished, but raise the bar a little higher each time you succeed.”

– Mia Hamm

It’s probably a safe assumption that most or all of us would agree that we always deserve more than what we currently have in terms of salary; unless you’re one of those fortunate few that have that “dream” job where you wonder how on earth you get paid for what you do! The fact of the matter is that you should evaluate your current position and status before preparing to ask for a raise. Here are a few things to consider:

assessment smiley on paper
Think back to recent contributions, and quantify a few of your largest ones. This isn’t only good for the sake salary increase discussions, but also for your performance reviews, if you have them.

• What contributions have you made since your last salary increase? This isn’t referring to being a great person or a team player. This is referring to the value that you delivered. Just like an investor wants return on their investments, employers want a return on their investment in you. What has your return yielded? If you can’t immediately answer this, you’re not prepared to ask for an increase. Think back to recent contributions, and quantify a few of your largest ones. This isn’t only good for the sake salary increase discussions, but also for your performance reviews, if you have them.

• How is your working relationship with your manager and your peers? If anyone you know in the office was asked about you, what would they say? Relationships play a huge part in the overall success of your career. Maintaining positive ones without risking your integrity is paramount. Would your manager say that you jump at the opportunity to pick up a new and challenging project? Would you peer say that you were quick to help them complete a task? If not, then you may need to work on building those relationships and trust.

• Are you meeting or exceeding your core goals or targets? Since your last review, you hopefully received some objectives to achieve. If not, you should ask your manager to provide some. Based on how long ago those were received, are you performing well against them? If you are on pace to achieve all of them, then you’re probably in a better position to discuss salary.

How is the company performing overall?

“Holy Mackerel! It was consistently performing better than expected.”

– Jack Foley

If you’ve work or have worked for a larger company, you’ve likely sat in on a quarterly / semi-annual / annual shareholder or employee meeting delivered by the executive team to provide a health check on the company. Some of them may be long and drawn out, but it will basically come down to one of a few key messages: we’re doing great and just need to maintain the course we’re on, we’re doing well, but others are right behind us…it’s time to pick up the pace, or…we’re not doing well and we reported negative results. If your company is performing below expectations, it’s likely not a good time to discuss salary increases. Your best opportunity to discuss increases would be when the company is performing well! After all, you hopefully had a hand in that performance…right?

sad unhappy stressed in office woman with coffee
If your last round of salary increases was a few months ago, you probably don’t want to take an opportunity to bring up another salary increase now.

What have you done for me lately?

When was the last time you received some form of financial compensation? Was it recent, or has it been quite some time? If your last round of salary increases was a few months ago, you probably don’t want to take an opportunity to bring up another salary increase now. It may just make you look greedy. If it has been a while, it may be time to dust off your recent accomplishments and contributions and prep that sales pitch. You should also take into consideration any standard guidelines around increases.

Do your skills and abilities align with warranting an increase?

“If you are persistent, you will get it. If you are consistent, you will keep it.”

Have you taken on additional responsibilities over the past several months? Or perhaps you proactively stepped in to help on a complex project. Or, you may have recently completed a new degree or certification. If any of these are the case, it may give you a bargaining chip in your negotiation for a raise. Whatever the case, make sure you can tie back your statements with tangible results achieved or forecasted efforts. The key to this, assuming you are in an organization where you’d like to grow, is to continue performing well.
Tied into this, be prepared to answer why you feel that a raise is warranted. You should already have your objective reasons bulleted out and ready to discuss. In this, you should be building a story on how you have and will continue delivering value to the business. If they invest in you, you will invest in the company through your efforts.

What is the company’s policy on increases?

Some companies have set guidelines on increases. For example, they may occur once a year during performance reviews. Or they may occur in smaller portions each quarter based on company results. In any event, this could prove to be a difficult scenario to deal with if your company is on a schedule such as this. In this case, it may take something very significant to get the HR or executive team to budge. And if they do, they will probably want you to keep it completely under wraps because they won’t want people lining up to ask for more money! If you have earned it but the decline to provide one now, this may increase your chances of getting a better increase when their increase cycle comes around.

Do you know where you stack up?

“Have pride in how far you have come. Have faith in how far you can go.”

If you were to ask everyone in your company if they deserved a raise, you’ll likely get a 100% “yes” response. You will probably get a similar amount if you ask them if they feel they are a top performer. Well…they could be a few slouches hiding in the crowd, but don’t worry about them! You should be having routine discussions around performance with your manager. If you aren’t, then you should be proactively asking for feedback.

At any given time, you should know where you stand – low / middle of the road / high performer. To be in the best position to ask for a raise, you should be on the higher end of performing across your peers. If you aren’t at this moment, then now is the perfect opportunity to put in the extra effort on your existing tasks, volunteer for some stretch assignments or helping others. The overall performance across organizations typically follow a bell curve – 10% may be low performers, 80% or the bulk are considered average performers, and then you have the top 10% of performers. Aim for that top 10%; not just for the sake of raises, but future development as well.

woman on line walking career path
So, what if you get “we aren’t able to offer any increases at this time” or “you’re doing great, but it’s just not possible”?

So, how do you approach this?

Just like an interview, it can get very awkward and stressful if you aren’t prepared for your approach and responses. Pull your best accomplishments since your last increase (if you’ve had one) and outline the major contributions to the organization or company. Have a few ideas penciled down for further improvements. Bundle those together, make a great story of how you’ve been an asset, and why that should lead to an increase. Close by reiterating your continued commitment to deliver excellence in your daily routines. It may take a special person to be great in sales, but when it comes to selling yourself, everyone should be an expert or working toward it.

How to handle “no”

So, what if you get “we aren’t able to offer any increases at this time” or “you’re doing great, but it’s just not possible”? It’s not the end of the world! Ask you manager what actions would need to occur in order to consider a raise. In some cases, it simply may not fly at all. Especially if the company has strict guidelines around pay. However, in some cases, you may get feedback on tangible actions you can do to be considered. Whatever the case, don’t get discouraged by hearing “no”. Change strategies and plan for the next opportunity.

What if they ask how much I’m looking for?

This can be a difficult question to answer, and it should be one you’re prepared to address. In an ideal situation, you’ll have an idea of what you’re looking for based on a combination of your current salary, what the typical increases are, and where you want to be. While there’s no science to it, it can almost be like a real estate offer – if it’s far too much, you insult the buyer and the transaction never happens; if you offer too low, you end up regretting it later on.

Think of a reasonable amount that falls within the standard increase guidelines (if you know what those are), that also reflects your efforts. If it makes more sense, you can offer a range by % of your salary. For example, “I was thinking that something between 3-5% reflects an increase I believe is commensurate with my contributions”. Fortunately, there are many sites that provide valuable insight into companies relative to salary by positions, benefit information and other details. If you’re unsure of ranges, do some research to arrive at your calculations.

Closing thoughts

Asking for a raise can be intimidating. However, if you prepare the story of your recent accomplishments appropriately and deliver it well, it can have a positive outcome. If it isn’t the right time for an increase, be prepared to kick into high gear. And sometimes, you may even have some developmental opportunities to progress and get increases to gain additional responsibilities. Just like you’ve probably heard at some point in your life, “you never know if you don’t ask”. So, if you truly feel that an increase is warranted based on your contributions, then prepare that elevator speech. If you’re a solid performer, it may just be your lucky day!