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How to Make Your Case for a Raise

By Nicole Cavazos

Asking for a raise can be about as comfortable as walking outside on a cold day in your old underwear. It can leave you feeling exposed, self-conscious and just plain foolish. But if you’ve worked hard and added true value to the company, you have every right to ask for what you’re worth.

The key is to know when to ask and why you’re asking. “I’ve been here a year, so I think I deserve one,” won’t cut it. You’re going to have to demonstrate what you’ve accomplished over the year and why it merits a raise. As long as the company is in good financial shape, pay raise requests are natural and expected.

And with all other factors considered, there’s never been a better time than the present. According to the latest numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor, unemployment is at its lowest in seven years and many companies are scrambling to fill positions for skilled workers. This gives you some leverage, but you still need to make a convincing case. Here are some things that can help you successfully negotiate your next pay raise.

Time it Right

While there’s no “perfect” time to ask for a raise, there are times that are better than others. Obviously, you don’t want to ask for a raise when your company is in the process of layoffs or when your industry is suffering a setback. Also you don’t want to ask too soon after you were hired or had your last raise.

The ideal time to ask is right before your yearly evaluation. You should start talking about it before rather than after the evaluation, before the budget for the year is decided. But even if you don’t get an evaluation, a year gives you sufficient time to prove yourself.

Understand Your Value

The going rate for your position can depend on many factors including geography, industry and individual companies. A good place to start is with sites like and for a general number. Just keep in mind that the figure might have little to do with the market you’re in.

Colleagues, recruiters and local job listings can give you a better idea of how similar professionals in your area are paid. Many companies, particularly government agencies, have specific salary ranges to which they must adhere. Rarely does a person start out at the higher end. It’s much more common to start somewhere near the middle.

A more worthwhile tactic is to get an idea of average raises in your company. If everyone you know has gotten a certain percentage and you’re expecting something much higher, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment.

Understand the difference between promotions and raises. Raises are awarded for an awesome job performance and are typically in the 3-5% range. Promotions are given when you’ve taken on new duties and are exceeding your job title, and generally come with a raise in the 10% (or more) range. Unless you’re seeking a promotion, don’t expect to earn significantly more after just a year. If it’s a promotion you seek, lay the groundwork for next time by asking your boss for some additional duties and responsibilities.

Make Your Case

Gone are the days when most people could expect to always get a cost of living increase every year. These days, you’re not entitled to a raise unless you’re doing something to earn it.

If you’re simply meeting rather than exceeding expectations, then you’re still working at the salary level at which you were hired. You need to show what you’ve accomplished over the year, especially since your boss might not be aware of everything you do.

Keep a work diary or at least a file of notes listing achievements, new tasks, leadership roles, and complimentary emails from clients and co-workers to support your claims. Try to quantify your contribution as much as possible by demonstrating how your work has benefitted the company, either financially or in some other significant way like brand recognition, improved efficiencies or company reputation.

Practice your conversation with a friend so that you can avoid sounding self-satisfied, entitled or arrogant. And don’t give ultimatums. Your boss will be more motivated to help you if she likes you rather than feels threatened by you.

Finally, don’t be deterred if the answer is no. There are many valid reasons why your boss might not be able to offer a raise just yet, including budgetary restraints. At least now she’s aware of your desires and can consider it for the next round of budget talks.

And, if your request is denied because of performance concerns, it’s better to know now, while you still have time to change course, than find out when it’s too late.

Nicole Cavazos

Nicole Cavazos is a Los Angeles-based copywriter and blogger. As a former contributor to the ZipRecruiter blog, she covered the job market and wrote advice for job seekers.

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