How and When to Ask for a Pay Raise



by Kofi Annan, VCCS

For those of you who are fortunate enough to have worked in the same location for a while, you’ve probably pondered whether or not you deserve a raise; and if so, how to go about asking for it. Asking for a raise can be a awkward experience. It’s difficult to ask for money without feeling either like you’re begging, being greedy, or even ungrateful. In these tough economic times when many Americans in general - but particularly veterans - find themselves unemployed or underemployed, is perfectly normal to experience these emotions. Nevertheless, knowing your worth and understanding your industry will give you the confidence you need to have this tough conversation with your boss.

What you’re worth is a relative estimate: relative to your co-workers in the company; relative to counterparts in the same field in other companies; and relative to the city or town you’re in. After you’ve conducted your research you will be able to assess the market rate; and once you’ve done that, you will be able to tell how your current salary stacks up against that market rate. If you determine that it is lower, you can approach your supervisor with that information as your basis for your case. If you determine your current salary is higher, that does not necessarily mean that you cannot ask for a raise, but you better be able to prove that you are an extremely high performer. That means that you must be able to approach your boss with tangible evidence of your overperformance. Again that proof of overperformance needs to be relative to your counterparts.

The other thing to consider when considering asking for a raise is company performance. If you know that the company has undergone sweeping layoffs in the past year, asking for a raise at that particular time may make you appear tone deaf. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to get a raise in tough times, but expect resistance, and again be ready to demonstrate overperformance.

The very worse thing you can do is approach your bosses and just make an emotional plea with no evidence. Avoid bringing up your personal hardships. Your boss is not your family, and probably not a friend. They hired you to perform a task, and their primary concern is to make as much money as possible for the company while expending as little resources as possible - including salary. If you make an emotional plea, be sure it’s tied to your performance and the company’s performance.