Five steps for getting a raise

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More money is good, right? You’re going to be doing your job anyway, so you might as well ask to get paid more for doing it.

But you actually have to do a lot of preparation in order to ask for a raise effectively. The most obvious preparation is to find out what everyone else is getting paid for what you do. A recent New York Times story gives a good overview of online resources for salary comparisons.

Here are five other things you can do to get a salary increase:

1. Understand your boss’s perspective.
This is not a moment of truth, it’s a moment of negotiation. You convince your boss you’re worth more and your boss convinces you he or she is fair, and you reach some sort of compromise that makes everyone happy.

So be reasonable in your approach. You don’t deserve a raise just because you’ve been doing your job well for x number of months. It’s your job to do your job well — that’s why you were hired. You need to show that you’re doing more than you were hired to do, or that you’re doing different work that’s typically paid at a higher rate.
Gather as much information about your boss’s perspective as possible in order to form your strongest negotiating position. Consider this list of 10 things bosses hate most about employees.

2. Expand your job duties.
Get really good at your job immediately so that you can take on more responsibility in another job, in another capacity. Look around for something more to do, and figure out how to do it. Then tell your boss you’re doing more than one job and you want to be paid extra for doing the other job you’ve already been doing.

If you think your boss will balk at the idea of you taking on more responsibility, start looking like your current job is under control. One way to do this is to have a completely clean desk. A clean desk says, “I’m totally on top of my workload. Please give me more.” A cluttered desk says, “Help. I’m drowning.”

(I’m not making this stuff up — researchers actually study offices. Here’s a summary of why you should have a clean desk.)

3. Consistently over-deliver.
Even during a salary freeze there’s always more money for superstars, because losing a superstar costs a company a lot of money. So getting a raise is about conveying to the office that you’re a superstar. This could be in the form of taking on more areas of responsibility, but it could also be in the form of exceeding expectations in a very obvious way.

Exceeding expectations is something that must be announced. If you finish your project, that’s what people will understand. If you finish your project with incredible results, you need to remind everyone what the expectations were and what you delivered. If you don’t toot your horn, no one else will. A hallmark of a superstar is they know how to toot their horn with out being annoying.

Superstars aren’t overnight sensations — they work at it. So start performing like a superstar six months before you want to ask for a raise.

4. Get a mentor.
Employees who have mentors are twice as likely to be promoted as those who don’t, according to Ellen Fagenson Eland, a professor at George Mason University. A mentor can help you position yourself, time and again, to receive a raise.

An effective mentor helps you see your path in a way that maximizes your talents and stays consistent with your goals for life. This isn’t small task, and almost all successful people say they have more than one mentor. But start with one, because that will significantly increase the likelihood that you’ll get the raise you’re going to ask for.

Unfortunately, for some people finding a mentor is almost as difficult as asking for a raise. So here are seven ways to find and keep a mentor.

5. Think in non-financial terms.
If more money isn’t happening for you, try asking for something else. Telecommuting, a job for your spouse, extra vacation time, training, even relocation to a company branch in a city with a lower cost of living — these are all things that are worth a lot of money to you, but look a lot less expensive than a salary increase in a company’s budget. So non-financial rewards are a good place to compromise in salary negotiations.

Also, you can turn these benefits to cash next time you change jobs. When you negotiate salary at your next company and they ask you how much you made in your last job, add up all the benefits and include them in the number you give. Some people’s benefits total up to 30 percent of their salary.

If the shy ones among you are thinking this isn’t a fair negotiating tactic, get that thought out of your head. Even CareerHub, a group blog of career coaches, recommends that you include benefits in the total calculation of your salary next time you negotiate.

If none of these steps work, try not to be so obsessed with getting a raise. Think about it — most raises amount to about 4 percent of your salary. That’s nothing. Even if you earn six figures, 4 percent isn’t going to be life-altering.

There are so many more things you can ask for that will actually improve your life, like training in a skill area you’re interested in, or the ability to telecommute a few days a week.

Try focusing on the things that really matter to you instead of the dollar amount attached to your title. You may find that your salary will increase as a natural offshoot of the passion you develop for your work.


20 replies
  1. Rowan Manahan
    Rowan Manahan says:

    Great piece Penelope; I like the way you invite people to look at more than just dollars and cents too. I read recently that wages in the US have increased by just 17% since 1980, so corporates have done a splendid job in minimising people’s expectations.

    The biggest mistake I see in this area is that people leave the raise discussion to the last minute. This is one area in life where you can’t ‘cram’ or haul an all-nighter like you did in college. The pastoral analogy is a good one here – farmers have to toil away diligently all year round to ensure a bountiful harvest. You have to do the same in order to plant seeds in your boss’s head early in the year.

    A lot of the mis-communication on this topic centres on bosses being genuinely surprised when people are unhappy with their raises. Establish clarity early in the year. “I wasn’t happy wth my 2.3%. I may not be a superstar, but I am a way better than average performer. What do I need to deliver this year to get a meaningful raise?” That will quickly notify the boss of your expectations and, more importantly, will force them to explain their thinking to you.

    * * * * * * *
    Great point about preparation, Rowan. Successful negotiation for anything depends on good preparation. Salary, especially, is about performance over a period of many months, so you need to spend many months gearing that performance toward your planned negotiations.


    • BrendaPatimkin
      BrendaPatimkin says:

      Love this. What a meaning, productive way of looking at raises and bonuses. I really like centering the conversatino around “What can I, as your employee do, to move forward?”.

      It centers the conversation around taking the right steps forward instead of “Gimme more money”.

  2. chris timlin
    chris timlin says:

    I’ve become a fan of your column. However, I’m not really sure it belongs in the financial section of Yahoo. Perhaps this is why your getting pretty poor comments. Do you think there is another section this column should be under?

    * * * * * * *

    Hi, Chris. I see where you’re coming from. Unless people have a huge amount of disposible income, their biggest financial asset is their career. People have more control over the trajectory of their career than the value of their home, and people have more ability to make a huge amount of money from their career than from investing their realatively small amount of money. Not that investing isn’t important, but for most people, managing their career is more important financial advice than how to invest their money.

    This is not the first finance site I’ve written for. I used to write at Bankrate — one of the most hard-core finance sites around. And the managing editor, Dan Ray, always used to say, “For most people, their career is their most important financial asset.”


  3. Hunter Arnold
    Hunter Arnold says:

    As a manager who is always evaluating compensation and benefits plans and interviewing employees for promotions and raises, I definitely agree with some of your points.

    The important thing for employees to recognize is the distinction between a periodic wage increase and a merit-based raise. In most organizations, the periodic (annual in most cases) wage increase is often determined by inflation and company performance and is not negotiable. This is what you get for simply doing your job. The 4% you mention is actually at the high end of the spectrum of annual wage increases.

    This is where your other points – particularly 1-3 – are important in considering when asking for a raise or promotion. Always look for ways you can add revenue, decrease expenses, and increase productivity. As you say, always over-deliver. I’d also paraphrase a Jack Welch quote: “Make your boss look smart.”

    I am hesitant to agree with the approach about including benefits in salary during negotiation. This shouldn’t be applied to all cases, most certainly. I can see it being beneficial in the examples that CareerHub gives. However, I’d personally be more comfortable with a prospect who was upfront about their previous compensation and benefits packages. Benefits plans are becoming more and more important in considering job change and should be talked about, but I believe they should almost always be kept separate in negotiation. There’s a lot of room for error in combining the two – you don’t want to be passed up simply because someone thinks you’ve misled them.

    * * * * * * *

    Hi, Hunter. Thank you for your comment. Re benefits. I think each person should present themselves in the best light. The goal of negotiations is to put yourself in the best light while still being honest. There is no virtue in reavealing your whole hand when you are playing a game of poker. The rules don’t demand that you reveal that, and the same is true in salary  negotiations.

    I provided the link to CareerHub, where they give this same advice. CareerHub is a conglomerate of well-respected career counselors. There is wide agreement that including benefits is fine. At high levels of corporate life it is impossible to discern benefits from salary, so people at lower levels shoud play by the same rules.


  4. Nerd Guru
    Nerd Guru says:

    Great list. It almost goes without saying that you have to be preparing for that moment for a long time before it actually comes. Documenting what you’ve contributed to and how you made a difference along the way can give you ammunition for this kind of conversation. You almost have to think of it in terms of a resume, listing out accomplishments using action verbs and using numbers to demonstrate where you’ve added value.

  5. Hunter Arnold
    Hunter Arnold says:

    Penelope – thanks for the feedback. Perhaps I worded it wrong, or I misread. Rereading CareerHub’s piece, I can see that they are differentiating between a compensation package and base compensation. In the case of a total package, benefits should absolutely included in the negotiation. Throughout my career, I’ve been on both sides of the table, and I know from experience that there must be a give and take between base compensation and the other elements of a compensation package.

    In light of that, I intended “salary” to reflect “base compensation.” As someone with a sales background, a compensation package to me (commission, bonuses, trips, etc. on top of insurance and vacation) is indeed much more than just the base compensation. The entire package should definitely be negotiated as a whole. Hope that clears things up!

  6. Dale
    Dale says:


    The truth hurts only when we are not prepared to accept it! This advice will only work if we are prepared to actively manage our lives/careers/actions in the same way that top level management manage a company’s resources – STRATEGICALLY.
    Thanks for the heads up:)

  7. Kumar
    Kumar says:

    This article is an eye opener to me. I really liked this sentence:

    “You don't deserve a raise just because you've been doing your job well for x number of months. It's your job to do your job well – that's why you were hired. You need to show that you're doing more than you were hired to do, or that you're doing different work that's typically paid at a higher rate.”
    Yes, we have go above & beyond to demonstrate that we are trudly adding a value to the organization. I’m going to keep this in mind at the time of performance discussions with my reports as well as my management. Great one, Penelope.

  8. AjiNIMC
    AjiNIMC says:

    I was wondering why a lot of people are giving negative comments to your article at Y!Fin.

    * * * * * *
    Yeah, I wonder this, too. I can’t believe how many people take the time to comment week after week about how much they hate me. I wonder why they don’t just read a columnist they’d like more. Also, I find it incredible how many people post comments about sex. I asked my editor at Yahoo about that and he told me he actually deletes most of them, which is amazing to me, since there are so many left over.


  9. AjiNIMC
    AjiNIMC says:

    No worries Penelope, keep doing what you like. As someone once said, “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who matter, don’t mind and those who mind, don’t matter.” (if they hate they have choices and can leave but if they are after you then they are reading it for sure, thats a good achievement.). I always love checking the online behavior and planning to visit some of your posts and comments.

  10. Alexander Santos
    Alexander Santos says:

    I like #1 most especially. BUT, what if I’ve been working on my job for years, of course that would include doing it really well and that my boss does not seem to notice it. Does it mean something already? Should I quit my job?

  11. Jonha | FriendsEat
    Jonha | FriendsEat says:

    “Try focusing on the things that really matter to you instead of the dollar amount attached to your title.” – I love that. Or don’t focus too much on the title.

  12. Tom
    Tom says:

    “Think about it – most raises amount to about 4 percent of your salary. ”

    I got my first ever salary raise earlier this month – only 2.5%! To be fair, I’ve been at the company just over a year, but still this makes me think that I got a bad deal.

    I am likely to get around $1000-$1500 in education support to support a program I’m taking, so that’s good (and I don’t have to pay tax on that!)

  13. Biron C
    Biron C says:

    #5 is a GREAT tip. A raise isn’t always possible, but that doesn’t mean the negotiation has to end. Maybe a flexible day (like working from home on Fridays) could save you time on the road and gas expenses. That has some value, right?

    I’m really glad you included #5 in this article to supplement the other 4 tips. It’s really an important angle to be aware of when negotiating.

  14. AKlindo
    AKlindo says:

    This is great advice. From my experience in a job I’ve held for 4 years: Straight out of the gate I started delivering more than expected. It was a new position, so I had an opportunity to raise my profile almost immediately. Every year I received amazing reviews. Every year I was given a “merit” raise of 1%. “Blah Blah the economy. We need to stay competitive” The company applied a formula that had no basis on whether I was mediocre or awesome at what I do. Don’t even get me started on the fraction of a percentage “bonus” that afforded me the equivalent of a steak and a glass of wine at a middling bistro. After the second year of this BS, I countered with a “Hey, I can understand that maybe you can’t drop some more coin on me, but how about another week’s vacation, or let me telecommute once a week?” I got a “Nice try, kid, but tough sh*t.” response about a month later. The bigger the corporate beast, the less likely those tactics you offer work. Though I’m glad I’m not crazy for trying. Because you don’t know til you do. What I’m trying to do now, as I’ve peaked in my role, and am tired of being an underappreciated cog, is to get the hell out. There is no other way to go up but out, but I don’t know how to reposition myself for the market that’s out there and get what I deserve in compensation, in a role that challenges me. It’s not easy, as I’m aged out of anything in tech – but I’m not even 40. So what the hell?

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