How to ask for a raise at work: 5 tips for success

  • Leigh Thompson is a professor with an MBA at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.
  • She said now is a great time to ask for a raise and that you should quantify your accomplishments when you do.
  • Thompson also said science suggests asking for a specific number instead of rounding up.

It’s that time of year again.

Employees dream of big raises, but companies are trying to cut costs and make massive layoffs – this year more than most.

It’s the perfect storm for those looking for a boost. As a business school professor, I work on both sides of the table, mentoring raise-seekers and grooming those who give or turn down the raise.

Before you walk into your boss’s office with your compensation demands, take each request to heart — it could be the difference between a smooth ride or a shipwreck.

Based on extensive experience in this field, I have five key tips.

1. Gather your data

It’s not because it’s the end of the year or inflation is high ipso facto qualify for a raise.

Two weeks ago, a young woman who had just received a promotion and a small raise asked me for advice on “raising the raise”. “Inflation is high,” she said. “Wrong answer!” I joked. You don’t want to use a justification that all colleagues could use – companies are aware of inflation.

Instead, your reasoning should be idiosyncratic. I asked this woman how her contributions were measurably different from those of anyone else in the business. She created a detailed list of accomplishments. I then asked him to quantify it. Did these accomplishments, for example, lead to a 5% improvement in the metrics the business cared about? She then provided even more detail on how her contributions had moved several important indicators. She used this much stronger argument to push up her raise.

2. Calculate a specific number

It’s a scientific fact that people who make specific offers are more successful than those who make vague or round offers.

Last fall, I coached a young man who had just been offered a job and wanted to make a counter offer. “Don’t use a round number,” I said. “People react more aggressively to these. Better be specific, instead.”

When you make a specific, non-rounded proposal, the person receiving sees you as more prepared, credible, and worthy; it signals that you have thought about it well. A word of advice: expect to be asked “Where did you get this number?” This gives you the opportunity to showcase your thought process and all of your data.

3. Don’t be emotional or demanding

Let’s face it: salary and raise negotiations are about us, especially our value. So it’s natural for people to be defensive and emotional. However, acting emotionally will not serve you well.

One of the emotional traps employees fall into is comparing themselves to their colleagues when, in fact, they should be looking at the larger market. People can become dysfunctionally myopic when it comes to how much money they get paid, and can do things in the heat of the moment that they later regret.

A research study found, for example, that people are more likely to devalue a salary offer from their own company that is higher than a salary offer from another company, if they think the salary is “unfair” based on what they are paid compared to others. To put numbers, people may view a $120,000 salary offer from their own company as less attractive if their co-worker at the same level earns $125,000, but consider a $115,000 salary offer from another company if others only make $110,000. Try not to let your emotions get in the way of acting in your best interest.

4. It is the right time

It’s not a good idea to ambush your boss at the holiday party or at 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. Also, don’t try the “tag him at the end of a meeting” approach, another form of ambush.

Instead, do what a young manager did: She emailed her boss asking for 15 calendar minutes to talk about compensation. This manager had a degree in psychology, and used decision fatigue research in its favor by scheduling the meeting early in the day, early in the week, before everyone was mentally overloaded.

It’s well established that people make more thoughtful, research-based decisions when they’re not fatigued., and are more likely to make rash, emotional decisions when overloaded.

5. Don’t make threats

The phrase most often spoken in any negotiation is: “This is my final offer”. Unfortunately, this rarely works. Any reference to leaving or another job is a threat – and the typical reaction to a threat is a counter-threat, leading to a growing spiral that never ends well. Of course, you may have another job offer. It’s awesome. Just resist the urge to use this as “leverage” in the early stages of trading.

A former MBA student of mine, call him Eric, had a good job at a company and was happy with his starting salary. As the months passed, it became clear that Eric was crushing him, and his phone started ringing with other companies looking to poach him. When the end-of-year discussions took place, I told Eric to resist the urge to dangle these alternatives in front of his current employer. “Keep it,” I said.

I knew from research that any mention of an outside offer – any hint of “I can go somewhere else” – is a threat and it’s best to play your threat card later lest you create a power struggle tense. I advised Eric to think of a set of terms that would delight him and yet seem reasonable to his managers. “Start there,” I told him, and if – and only if – they’re not receptive, he should come up with attractive exterior options. In the end, Eric put together an assertive but reasonable bonus and request for a raise, which the company agreed to.

Leigh Thompson is a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and an assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern University.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *