5 Things You Should Have Together Before You Ask for a Raise

salary-paycheckThis past week I asked my boss for a fairly sizable raise. I've been with this company for over 5 years now and thought it was time to “ante-up and kick-in” (as Denzel Washington's character boldly declared in Glory) and make a request.

Needless to say, it was not easy. I haven't been that nervous in years. The whole day I was rehearsing what I was going to say, how I was going to say it and even the questions or objections I might receive from my boss. I even had Mr. Self-Doubt come for a visit, saying things like, “aw, you don't deserve this raise – what are you thinking, asking for so much?” “don't you know there are thousands without jobs – and you're asking for more money?” “you should be grateful you just have a job“. I could go on – but I'll spare you the gory details of my thought life. 

And so – like I've seen before in my journey – things in our minds often have greater scale and consequence than what actually plays out in real-life. I made it through the request without losing my job and my boss received it as well as to be expected.

My preparation for that raise didn't start the day or two before asking. No, it actually started the first week I started with the company, some five years prior to the simple creation of a Word document, entitled “Comments“.

Here's a few other things you'll need to in preparation for your next review/raise request.

  1. Comment (or compliment) sheet. I first picked this up from a consultant who was working at a design firm I was employed at. I saw a printout of “kudos” she'd received from some of my co-workers, by the printer. Soon after I was keeping track of all the compliments and atta-boy's I'd gotten with who said it, what it was in reference to, and the date. Even if you don't have a comment via email or in a letter – you can still jot it down if it was received verbally. These comments will serve you well down the road when you go to your boss for a raise. They show that you are a valuable member of the team and that others in the company are noticing and appreciating your efforts as well. The compliment sheet is great for many of us who are too bashful about bragging about ourselves.
  2. Money saved sheet. Most good companies are out to make customer's lives better – as well as improving their bottom line. If you have a job where you can reference you're saving the employer X amount of dollars – all the better for you. In my case, I can put a cost estimate together of what many of my job functions would cost if my employer were to outsource them. You may have a job where you are explicitly saving money for your company. Perhaps you're in Quality or Accounting. You'll likely be able to note some real figures that you can use down-the-line when your review comes up. Make sure you have a document solely for these activities.
  3. Comp sheet. Another important item to have before requesting a raise is something similar to what you'd have when going shopping for a home – a comparables sheet. What are other people making in an identical role, in the city you live in? You can find a lot of this date via Salary.com, GlassDoor.com or Payscale.com.
  4. A pulse on the climate. Is your company currently struggling? Or, are they coming off one of their better years? Are they hiring or firing folks? Have you been getting more and more projects or less? Believe it or not – timing is a crucial thing to consider when asking for a raise. You'll need to be the judge of this and “feel out” the climate at your workplace. As a general rule – I would try to do it after any of the following: a big company win, a large successful project you've completed, towards the end of the week and (but not least) before budgets are solidified. Of course, you probably can't time your review or request perfectly – but these are a few things to keep in mind before approaching your superior.
  5. Exceeded expectations. Ever since being unemployed and knowing what it feels like – I've tried to make sure I'm a “value-add” employee at the places I work. That I am adding to my job – taking initiative and creating real value with my work. I know we all have lulls in our employment at jobs that grow mundane – but overall – there should be a sense of going the extra mile and doing all you can for your employer. This is really a win-win situation. Your employer is happy with a good employee and you will likely be rewarded – both in terms of having the satisfaction of a “job well done” and future rewards (ie, raises, commendations).

What are some other things you've done in preparation for a raise request? Any other recommendations for those seeking a raise?

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  1. Aaron,
    I definitely agree it’s best to ask after a major success, either for you or the company (recency effect).
    I think overestimating what you’re worth isn’t a bad thing either. If you plan to negotiate, start high but not outrageously high. But be in touch with reality. If you’re hesitant to ask at all, give it some serious thought. Talk to your coworkers to see what they think of your performance. You should even feel comfortable talking to your boss about what you’ve done well and where you could improve.

    -Christian L. @ Smart Military money

  2. Great tips! I can’t imagine how nerve-wracking that must have been to ask for a raise. I’m sure I will come to that at some point in my career so I’m glad to have your advice on how to handle it.

  3. These are some great tips Aaron! Like Kyle, I am self-employed so I thankfully do not get to deal with this anymore. That said, I would use a few of these things when I was at my previous jobs. I would also add being rational during the conversation. That goes a long way to help you communicate more clearly and passionately.

    • @John – I’m thinking moving away from working for the man is what we should probably all aim for
      @Nick – Hope it helps
      @Christian – You’re right, have to be somewhat sober in the request

  4. These are amazing! Even several I had never thought of.
    The only idea I may add is how to prepare for the presentation of your actual request. I have seen employees with most of the above but in their presentation / verbal ask, came across as very arrogant. Perhaps it is wise in presentation to be humble, compliment others, compliment the company.
    My concern has always been how do I present that salaries from competitors or offers from headhunters without coming across as if do or die, I might fly……

  5. Great list. The only thing I would add is that be aware especially in larger companies there may be budgetary cycles that your manager has little control over. I know in companies I have worked for in the past, managers have been given a set amount of dollars that they are able to distribute to all their employees. Regardless of what they may desire they might not be able to give you the raise you deserve. Also, large companies often have a yearly time when raises are handed out. If that time is January and you are asking for a raise in July there may not be anything that your boss can do. If you are in that environment it might be wise to time your proposal a month or so prior to the “annual pay increase” time. This kind of goes with item 4 above, but it is just something to be aware of when you walk into that room.

  6. Great tips, especially like the comment file, terrific idea. Having been self-employed for the past 13 years I have never had to do this, but yeah, I think I would be incredibly nervous as well. But you left us hangin’….did you get the raise??

    • @Kyle – Thx – I did get one, but not all that I was asking for. I probably was shooting too much for the moon :)
      @Bob – Great tips – thx. I came across this too when I asked for it – that the budgets had been set already. Still – for a top performer (not saying I am) I’m sure there is some leeway for company to work it in.
      @Diane – This is true. Best to be as humble in your approach as possible. Also – this is something I struggled with having that thought “they are going to think I could fly if I don’t get er”. I made it a point to let them know I wasn’t necessarily looking. Though, I think one should always have their “eye” open :)

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