If you’re afraid to ask your boss for a raise or simply don’t know how to do it, you are definitely not alone. But you might not realize all the reasons behind this very common fear and what else might be going on for you that gets in the way of career advancement. Things that stop you in your career tracks this way can have roots that go down deep — and affect other areas of your life.
The good news is that there are techniques you can use to help get yourself to move past the underlying fear of asking for a salary increase — and the fear of your boss saying no. Even simply screwing up your courage and facing the fear can begin to open you up to new things, whether you get the raise or not. But let’s focus on how to get it.
Reasons you might be afraid to ask for a salary increase
One of the things I’ve noticed when people talk to me about asking for a raise, is they spend countless time worrying about how to do it and then come up with all kinds of reasons NOT to ask for the raise.
- They’ll fire me
- They’ll laugh at me
- They won’t treat me the same way any more
- I haven’t done enough to deserve it
- I can already hear their objections in my head
- I’ll be too nervous
- I’ll be angry or hurt if they say no
- I won’t be comfortable staying if they say no
- My boss doesn’t like me all that much anyway
- I don’t know how to ask for a raise
And they let those reasons stop them, which leaves them feeling frustrated and undervalued. Just imagine if they spent the same time that they spend worrying or feeling angry at not being treated fairly actually strategizing about what steps they might take that could get them the raise they want!
Things to help you get past the fear of asking for a raise
The most important thing you can do is to prepare yourself, both in data and mental resilience. Some things that may help:
- Research comparable salaries in your area for the same job you are doing within similar companies. Also, if you can do so without violating company policy, see if you can find out what others in the same or similar jobs are getting within your company.
=> USEFULNESS: Your boss is under no obligation to match outside or internal salaries. But having an extra sense of your worth on the market and what others are getting can help you frame your arguments, should there be push-back when you ask for that raise.
- Gather your personal historical data, including major accomplishments within this company. Think about projects that you led, ideas you added, things you helped improve that went beyond the normal requirements of your job.
=> USEFULNESS: If you haven’t gone above and beyond what is required, it may be hard to prove you deserve a raise. People often make the mistake of asking for more money without having solid evidence that shows they’re willing to go the extra mile. Just doing your job doesn’t mean you get a raise any time soon. But doing it really well might.
- Be prepared to talk about how you see yourself going forward, including any new types of projects or responsibilities you’d like to take on. It also helps if you have a solid understanding of where your department and company are going.
=> USEFULNESS: This helps show that you are not looking to rest on your laurels. You expect to add more showing the same enthusiasm and drive as time goes on. But just make sure you aren’t describing things that are not in sync with a vision your boss can share.
How to go about asking for a raise
So now that you’ve prepared yourself, how do you actually ask your boss for that raise? Is there a right time and place?
The less than satisfactory answer is that it may depend on your particular situation. It’s probably best to let your boss know you’d like to speak with them privately (not usually a water cooler topic), and then meet with them to discuss what you want, why you think you deserve it, and how to get past any things that might be standing in your way. (Always working toward the “yes”, even if it begins with a “no”.)
Then again, some places may be right for a bit of informal seed planting. I once worked in a tech area where one person, within months of joining our department, made it quite clear that he wanted both a promotion and a raise. He did it pleasantly and with humor interjecting something like “Do I get my raise now?” after he did something well.
We used to laugh about it, but it planted the idea in all of us that this very talented person was not going to stay long if we didn’t find a way to get him more money and, as soon as he was ready, a larger role. And he got there faster than others who had been there longer — but he also delivered more, including new methodologies that he helped implement successfully.
How much should I ask for?
Again, this depends on your research and circumstances. I know someone who changed departments but moved laterally within the company structure. Still, she was determined to get more money and, although she didn’t get the 16% increase she asked for, she got 12%, which felt good to her, especially since the new role had lots of growth potential.
Come up with an amount that feels good to you, but reasonable enough so as not to close off negotiations before they even start. That said, please don’t try to negotiate yourself down, worrying this all through for your boss. Let them negotiate you down if they want to — don’t do it for them.
Be prepared for arguments as to why they can’t meet your number or give you anything at all. Listen carefully, and then come back again, saying while you understand, you would really like something at this time that shows you’re valued. Make your case, be firm, respect yourself and your value, and then shut up. Let them come back to you.
What if your boss says no?
There are many times when your boss might like to give you more money, but circumstances are not in his or her control. There could be many reasons a good employee gets told “no” — such as tight budget or giving you that raise might cause problems with everyone else in the department. But sometimes it’s simply because they can get away with it, so don’t back off too easily.
If the timing is really impossible at the moment, put your boss on alert … “I’ll be back!” Also, ask what you can do to get yourself to that raise you want — and how long it will probably take. If you haven’t been there long enough or aren’t seen as the shining star you think you are, then you want to know that too — and what will get you there.
But then again, if the money is something you really need / want now, and you’ve put in enough time and have done a really good job and don’t see this job coming through any time soon — or your boss won’t work with you to outline a path toward a promotion or salary increase — it may be time to get that resume polished.
A few more thoughts
Some places are notorious for not paying enough, and there may be little you can do to change that to meet your needs. Also, as I’ve mentioned, some employees start asking for raises without putting in the time or effort. Neither of those circumstances are likely to get you to that salary increase.
But too many people (especially women) never even bother to ask. And although it certainly would be nice if your boss, just out of the goodness of her heart, sprinkled raises around freely, in many cases it really is the squeaky wheel that gets the grea$e.
So if you think it’s time for that raise, just make sure you’ve got all your pieces in order and then go for it. You may actually get what you ask for — then again, a no is not forever. But never speaking up at all for what you want and deserve is a guaranteed no. Good luck!
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