The right way to ask for a raise

Headshot of Hanna Horvath


Hanna Horvath, CFP®Managing Editor & Certified Financial Planner™Hanna Horvath, CFP®, is a certified financial planner and former managing editor at Policygenius. Her work has also been featured in NBC News, Business Insider, Inc. Magazine, CNBC, Best Company, and HerMoney.

Published|4 min read

Policygenius content follows strict guidelines for editorial accuracy and integrity. Learn about our editorial standards and how we make money.

There may be times in your career where you think you deserve a raise. But it’s not always obvious when (or how) you should ask for one. And the thought of rejection can keep you from speaking up.

Asking for a raise can be scary. But taking small steps to prepare can set you up for success. Here are the do’s and don’ts of asking for a higher salary.

Get prepared

The very first thing you should do when asking for a pay raise is decide what your value is, said Darcy Eikenberg, leadership coach at Red Cape Revolution.

“Value is an arbitrary term, so you have to define it for yourself. Value is in the eye of the beholder,” she said. “Ask, ‘What is my contribution that creates value beyond my job description?”

Your value to the company may be determined by how you’ve helped the business in money, time or energy, she said.

Tracking your accomplishments throughout the year can help you visualize your value. Don’t wait until right before a performance evaluation to get everything down. You will be less likely to remember everything. Being prepared will make it easy for your boss to see your value at the company, said Eikenberg.

Get a feel for what else is out there in terms of pay. Take the cost of living in your area and how much other employees with your skill set in your industry are paid. Use this as a range to base your request on. But know it’s not gospel.

“Online resources are great, but you should really be talking to other people at the company, especially people who recently left,” Eikenberg said. “They will have a better idea of what’s true in your organization.”

Approaching the conversation

Try and time the big question around a company-wide performance review or right after a big accomplishment. Make sure this conversation takes place in person and, most importantly, don’t make the request too personal.

“Make sure the ask isn’t about you,” said Eikenberg. “We make the mistake of feeling like it’s about your needs or that you deserve this and therefore should get it.”

Eikenberg suggests focusing on answering the question: “Why are you worth what you’re asking for?”

“If you can back that up with examples, and it’s clear you’ve done your homework, you will be more successful,” she said.

What to do if you're rejected

Try to stay as positive as possible throughout the process, and don’t take rejection too seriously. Being denied a salary increase may be indicative of other external factors, like the company's financial performance, said Eikenberg.

If you can’t get a higher salary, consider negotiating other aspects of your job, including paid time off, bonuses and other benefits.

“Before asking, make sure you know what the pay is really about for you,” she said. “Is it about status? Freedom? There may be a non-cash equivalent to what you’re asking for, like a role change.”

Eikenberg said hearing “no” shouldn’t prompt you to immediately look for other jobs. If you still believe you are being compensated fairly, your benefits package is solid and there are growth opportunities available, you may want to consider staying with your company.

Lastly, don’t give an ultimatum unless you’re willing to lose your job. It almost never goes over well, said Eikenberg. Pulling a Vontae Davis and just leaving may not be the best move either. Here’s how to leave a job professionally, and eight things you should do before you go.

What to expect after you ask

Don’t go into the salary negotiation expecting an answer right away. There’s a good chance your boss wants to think it over, or needs to discuss it with human resources. In either case, rushing them to make a decision will likely push them toward “no," said Eikenberg.

Give your boss time to think your request over, but don’t let it fall off their radar. A gentle reminder a couple of weeks later shows you’re still committed and are open to further discussions, she said.

If you get that raise — congratulations! Here are nine things to do after you get a raise to make the most of your extra money.

Want money advice in your inbox every week? Sign up for the Policygenius newsletter.

Ready to shop for life insurance?