The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

6 tips from career experts on how to ask for that raise

(Thinkstock/Express illustration)
Placeholder while article actions load

Feel like you’ve been a superstar at work lately — but aren’t seeing any kind of monetary reward? It might be time to ask for a raise.

That thought may make your palms sweat. Or maybe it inspires you to break out the spreadsheets to demonstrate your worth. Whether asking for a raise makes you feel nervous or fired up, it’s a process that requires preparation and finesse.

“You can’t just walk in the door and say, ‘I’m a wonderful person, I work hard, I like it here, and I’d like a raise,’ ” says Stanley B. Corey, managing director at United Capital Financial Advisors in Great Falls, Va., who advises clients on these kinds of financial matters that impact their long-term goals.

We spoke with some local experts to get their top tips that could (literally) pay off when asking for a raise.

1. Don’t be afraid to ask
A lot of people undervalue themselves in the workplace, or are too terrified to ask for any kind of salary increase. This kind of thinking can leave a lot of money on the table.

“My clients typically wait longer to ask for a raise than they have to, because they keep hoping their work will speak for itself,” says Jean Stafford, a McLean, Va.-based executive coach who works predominantly with midcareer women. “And it does not. You don’t get anything you don’t ask for. My rule to my clients is to ask a lot for a lot.”

2. Know your environment
It’s important to understand the operations of your company for everyday work, but especially when it comes to salary increases. Does it consider raises only at certain times of the year, or at certain points in budgetary cycles? Is there a set process you have to follow when requesting a raise?

Take your company culture into account when you time your proposal. For example, “A family-owned company may value the loyalty of its employees — asking for a raise before you’ve been there a while may not go over so well,” says Mel Hennigan, vice president of people at Arlington’s Symplicity and a member of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Talent Acquisition Panel. “But in a performance or meritocracy type of culture, as soon as you demonstrate what you’re bringing to the table is worth more to the company, you can make that ask.”

3. Prepare your case
You need to be able to prove your worth when you sit down with your boss. Gather any statistics you have related to your achievements: sales figures, website traffic, media mentions and the like. Show what you’ve accomplished, the skills you bring to the table and how you’ve benefited the organization.

“You put yourself at an advantage when you’ve already put the ball over the goal line,” Stafford says. “You brought a big project in on time and on budget, or you’ve taken on something no one else was willing to do.”

But don’t spend too much time looking backward. “What happened in the past is in the past,” Hennigan says. “You want to talk about what you’re going to do in the future and use the past to help substantiate that.”

4. Ask the right way
An in-person meeting is the best option when asking for a raise. Practicing your pitch ahead of time can help things go more smoothly. “I ask my clients to write a script,” Stafford says. “It becomes a way of helping them prepare.”

The right attitude also increases your chances of success. Confidence and competence are good, demands are not. “Your sincerity can make all the difference in the world,” Hennigan says. “You want to be thoughtful, prepared and respectful.”

5. Think beyond the paycheck
Cold, hard cash is always nice. But there are lots of ways to increase your compensation. Maybe extra vacation days or more flex time would boost your well-being and cut down your commuting costs. Or a bonus plan could create parameters for more money down the road.

“A pay raise doesn’t have to be in your paycheck,” Corey says. “Look for the types of things that would make your work environment better or would make you happier.”

6. Be able to take no for an answer
These steps should help improve your chances of getting a raise. But even if you’ve followed the advice to the letter, your boss still might say no for all kinds of reasons. If the reason is legitimate, don’t take it personally.

“Many women tend to take a no as meaning ‘I don’t like you and I don’t like that you’re asking me,’ ” Stafford says. “I’m continuously amazed at what a tripwire that is for women. But at the end of the day, it’s a business decision that your boss makes.”

Keep your cool, and look at a no as an opportunity to revisit the topic. “It could be something that’s potentially only time or circumstance bound, so you want to leave it well,” Hennigan says. “You want your boss to remember your conversation favorably and leave that door open.”

More stories about getting ahead:

So you’re pregnant. How do you tell your boss?

Managing finances might be graduate students’ toughest test

These degree programs train future human resources professionals to fight for pay equity