How to Ask for a Raise Even When You’re New to the Workforce

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By Jeff Smith, Editor of the Self Lender blog

Asking for a raise is one of the best and easiest ways to significantly improve your financial standing - both now and in the future. With an annual increase, you can pay off student loans faster, sock away money for that dream vacation, or save up for a downpayment on a house.

But asking for an increase can be intimidating, especially if you’re newer to the workforce, have never done it before, or are simply unsure of how to ask. In fact, many people are apprehensive about asking their boss for a raise, although it’s a normal part of holding a professional job. A recent PayScale survey revealed that 70% of people who ask for a raise receive one, yet only 37% of workers even ask.

Knowing how to ask for a raise is a skill that will serve you throughout your entire career. By keeping a few best practices in mind, you’ll be successful at negotiating your salary—no matter your age or work experience. If you think you don’t have the years to justify a higher wage, there are several factors beyond experience that you should leverage. Our guide gives you the tools to maximize your earnings at every step of your career. With the additional income, you can enhance your financial life with the ability to do everything from saving more for retirement, having cash for unexpected expenses, or buying a new car.

Understand What Your Work is Worth

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Part of justifying a higher wage is articulating how much value you bring to the department and company. That’s right, it’s not just about your years of experience. The bottom line is that excellent work should be compensated appropriately. If you’re not confident about your value, it’ll be difficult to prove that you should be paid more.

Take a close look at the full breadth of your responsibilities to capture the scope of your unique work.

Consider the following aspects:

  • Daily responsibilities and tasks
  • Projects—both regular and outstanding
  • Decisions you’re in charge of making
  • Committees you’re a part of
  • New processes, initiatives, and improvements you contribute to
  • Staff and teams you oversee or manage
  • Events you plan or co-lead
  • Training or mentoring you provide to other staff
  • Important relationships you maintain with internal and external customers
  • Goals you’ve accomplished
  • Income you generate (i.e. from sales, cost-savings, innovations)

By taking into account all of these components, you’ll have a better grasp of the value you bring to the table. Be sure to include anything that’s above and beyond your job description or expectations. For example, do you lead projects that other team members don’t? Have you helped to improve processes that have made the workplace more efficient? Create a full list to share with your boss when it’s time to talk numbers.

To get an idea of how much you should be paid, look at compensation levels at other companies for similar work. A comparison of salary data will indicate if you’re being underpaid—and by how much. While what to ask for varies by job title and industry, most experts recommend asking for 10% to 20% more than what you’re currently making during salary negotiations.

Ask Often For What You’re Worth

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Asking for a raise shouldn’t be a one-time career event or be viewed as something abnormal. A raise simply recognizes that you’re working at a level that’s higher than when your salary was last reviewed. In other words, you should be paid the fair market value for the work you’re doing, regardless of your experience level. If you’re not being paid a competitive wage, your boss is at risk of losing you to another company who will pay you justly.

Reminding your boss of your value should be a consistent practice. When your supervisor has you top of mind, they’re more likely to think of you during budget conversations and promotional opportunities. Confidently present your value during performance reviews and other one-on-one meetings so your boss notices your contributions and your ambition.

Make Your Request Timely

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When it comes to asking for a raise, timing is crucial. If you approach your boss just after she’s finalized the annual budget, you may not have a chance at an increase. Luckily, there are several instances throughout the year that are advantageous for asking for a raise.

  • After a noteworthy accomplishment. If you’ve recently surpassed a goal, consider it an opportune time to talk with your boss about a raise. With the recent success in mind, your boss is more likely to see your value and recognize your hard work.
  • During a successful performance review. Have your annual review coming up? Add your compensation to the conversation. Performance reviews are often scheduled around the time that market and merit increases are provided. Leverage your excellent performance as a talking point for your raise request.
  • Before the end of the fiscal year. If you’re not due for a performance review for a while, pull your boss aside before the end of the financial year. During budget planning, managers can often vouch for employee raises and budget increases.
  • With the acceptance of a new assignment or project. Has your boss asked you to join a committee or lead a department initiative? Sounds like it’s time to discuss your contributions and ask for additional compensation. New and expanded responsibilities make a strong case for increased pay and maybe even a job title upgrade.

How Soon Can You Ask?

If you’ve just started a new role, it can be challenging to know how soon you can expect a raise—and how soon is too soon to ask. While every company is different, it’s beneficial to pay attention to general best practices to ensure you’re asking at the proper moment. Most experts recommend waiting until you’ve been a the job for at least a year to ensure that you can make a strong case for why you deserve a pay raise. It’s wise to avoid asking for a raise before this one year mark unless:

  • You negotiated a salary discussion after 3 or 6 months when you took on the role.
  • You’ve saved the company money or generated new revenue.
  • You’ve taken on new responsibilities that are above and beyond the original job role you accepted.
  • You’ve risen to a new leadership role.

Unless one or more of the above criteria has been met, it’s best to focus on working hard day in and day out until you’ve hit the one year mark. At that point, take stock of what you’ve accomplished so you can make a strong case for why you deserve to be paid more.

Do Your Research

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For the best results, head into a raise conversation as prepared and as informed as possible. Most importantly, you should know the market value for the work you’re doing. Look at your job description and the full breadth of your responsibilities. Research what others are being paid for comparable work.

Rather than asking your coworkers how much they make—which could cause tension in the office—rely on market data to develop your case. Websites like GlassDoor, PayScale, Salary.com, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provide detailed salary information on a range of jobs and industries. Comb through the data related to your job title, industry, and geographical region. Create a document or spreadsheet to record what you find. By having concrete numbers and averages, you’ll enter the conversation with your boss with confidence and information to justify your request.

As you look at the salary you should be making, consider how the raise will impact your financial life. For example, will a $5,000 increase allow you to finally save for a new car or a downpayment on a house? Will you be able to stash more for retirement or a dream vacation? By seeing how a pay increase impacts your life, you’ll feel more motivation to make the ask.

Prepare and Practice Your Pitch

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Enter your boss’s office with a gameplan. The way you present your case makes all the difference in how successful you are and how well you maintain a positive relationship with your boss.

As you prepare for what you’ll say, focus on a few important aspects:

  • Compile a list of your accomplishments, goals, and contributions. It doesn’t need to be a full list of everything you’ve done, just the major and most recent achievements. You may not share the list with your boss, but you’ll have talking points ready to go when you meet.
  • Include both your qualitative and quantitative attributes. Measurable contributions, like saving the department time or money, are powerful tools for talking money. Don’t forget your qualitative traits either, such as maintaining relationships with key clients or moving the team forward on a difficult initiative.
  • Focus on merit vs. need. Instead of mentioning your increased rent payments or your child’s daycare costs, concentrate on the value you bring to the company. Bosses give raises based on work performance—not how much your bills cost.
  • Always talk in person. While it may be uncomfortable to ask for a raise, it’s mature and professional to broach the topic face-to-face. Emailing and calling can seem unprofessional and send the message that you’re not confident about what you’re asking. If you work in a different geographical location than your boss, consider a webcam conversation as an alternative.
  • Rehearse your pitch beforehand. Run through your main talking points ahead of time. You’ll feel even more prepared if you can rehearse your approach with a trusted friend or mentor beforehand. Ask for their feedback on what you can improve. After all, the goal is to achieve a higher wage—that’s certainly worth an hour or two of practice.
  • Channel your confidence. Coming across as self-assured will help your boss see that you’re firm in your request, making them more likely to take your request seriously.

Dress for Success

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Just like you’d dress professionally for a job interview, you should wear a clean, sharp outfit for any raise conversation. While it’s important to make sure you look professional, you don’t have to go over-the-top. If your workplace attire is typically business casual, there’s no need to wear a full suit. The key aspects to remember are: come with good hygiene, choose simplistic colors instead of bright ones, and avoid revealing clothing. Wear an outfit you’d choose for a special presentation or a big meeting.

Communicate Your Goals

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Tying your raise request to a long-term plan shows your investment in your career and the company. In other words, it tells your boss you’re not looking for a short-term gain or fast money, but are prepared to take on more responsibility as you grow with the company. For example, you could mention that you hope to move into a supervisory position within the next two years or that you’re aiming for a senior role within the next five.

Demonstrating that you’re goal-oriented and intentional about your career communicates that you’re a dedicated contributor—and that you’re serious about reaching new levels. In all likelihood, your boss will appreciate this initiative and want to recognize that.

Leverage Data

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By bringing real numbers to the conversation, you can confidently justify your desire for a raise. Instead of arbitrarily asking for a 2% or 4% raise, backup your request with concrete information. When you’re looking at how much to ask for, focus on the value you offer the company and the current market data.

Instead of choosing a percentage increase, aim to bring yourself up to a competitive market rate. If you’re being paid $35,000, but the market is saying you should be at $42,000, lead with that number. The data will speak for itself and show that you’ve done your research. You’re not just pulling out a random number, and have proof of what you’re asking for.

Avoid Ultimatums

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If you’re wondering how to ask your boss for a raise, remember that demands and threats rarely work in negotiation situations—and they definitely don’t build positive working relationships. So instead of saying, “I need to make $45,000 by the end of the year or I’m gone,” consider rephrasing it to: “Based on my research, I know my work is valued at $45,000. I really hope there’s something we can do to reach this number. I enjoy working here and would love to stay with the company.” This type of positive phrasing shows you’re committed to the company and you’re open to working with your boss on a solution. In other words, you’re not all about the money—you’re also interested in working for a company you believe in.

Prepare for Every Outcome

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Your attempt at a raise may be wildly successful or you may encounter some setbacks. Both are normal responses, especially at the first go-around. No matter what happens, be ready to respond professionally. If your boss doesn’t offer you a raise, ask how you can improve your work performance to achieve that next pay bump. Gather specific details on what you need to accomplish to be compensated higher.

You can also request to revisit the conversation with your supervisor in three or six months, or during your next performance review. Setting another date to discuss compensation shows you’re serious about your career and want to contribute to the company. If your boss states that there are budget constraints, consider negotiating another aspect of your comp and benefits package, such as additional time off or flexible working hours.

If you’re granted a raise, be sure to get the details. When will the pay raise go into effect? Will your job title change? Will there be additional responsibilities? If you’re unsure on these aspects, don’t be shy to ask for specifics. The answers to these questions vary depending on your job title and industry, so make sure to ask the tough questions to get all the information you need.

Establish Next Steps

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Whether you achieved your goal of a higher wage or not, make a plan for the future. When will you ask for a raise again? Which professional goals will you focus on? Take a step back and assess your situation. Identify gaps in your current skills and experience. Find ways to bridge those gaps to reach new levels in your career and compensation. Consider joining project teams, organizations and courses that can help you grow.

If you feel that you’re unable to move up in your own organization, consider looking for opportunities at other companies. If you like where you work, you can always rejoin after you’ve gained additional skills and experiences.

Asking for a raise isn’t easy, but it can fundamentally change your financial standing and how you feel about your work. When you’re getting paid what you’re worth, you’re more likely to be engaged in the work you’re doing. With your increased income, you’re able to live a more financially robust life. You can pay off credit card debt faster, save for a downpayment on a house, and have extra cash for vacations and nights out with friends.

To ensure your request for a raise is as successful as possible, put a few best practices into place. By following the expert suggestions above, you’ll have the tools to be a more accomplished negotiator. As you articulate your value and achieve the compensation level you deserve, you’ll continue thrive in your career and follow the path to financial wealth and personal success.

Sources: Business Insider | CNBC | CNBC | Forbes | Forbes | The Atlantic | The Balance | The Business Journals | The Cut | Business Insider

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Written on October 10, 2018

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