Your company hands out raises once a year, like clockwork. But this year, just like last year, and the one before that, it’s merely a cost-of-living increase—just enough of a raise to keep up with inflation—which barely shows up on your paycheck after taxes and other expenses are withheld.
To get more than a cost-of-living adjustment, you need to stand out and demonstrate that the work you’re doing now is more valuable than the work you’ve done in previous years.
But that’s not all—you need to think and plan ahead. Seeking a big bump at the time of year the organization’s doling out pre-determined amounts isn’t impossible, but it is unlikely since budgets are typically set weeks, if not months, ahead.
As a talent development consultant and former hiring manager, I can tell you that following the four tactics below is the best approach if you think you truly deserve a bigger raise.
1. Plan Ahead—Timing Is Everything
Because cost-of-living adjustments are typically budgeted in a straightforward way (e.g., given to every employee who’s been at the organization for at least a year), it’s difficult to shake out more money. If the company’s decided it can afford a 3% increase for each person, that’s what’s available at that point in time.
Which is why timing—ahem, the “off-cycle” raise—is your best friend.
By planning ahead and asking for a raise when you’re not competing with all of your colleagues for a small piece of a fixed budget, you have leverage.
The ideal time to ask varies by company of course, but a good rule of thumb is that you should plan to ask for it about 90 days after the annual performance reviews, though you may not receive it until six months after reviews when all is said and done.
2. Do the Work So They Don’t Have To
Now that you’ve got a timeline to work with, you’re ready to start preparing your case. It’s in your best interest to do as much of the legwork as possible to make it easy for your boss to want to give you the raise you deserve.
Here’s what you need to do:
Summarize Your Valuable Accomplishments: Make a list of the four or five most valuable things you’ve accomplished in your job over the past year. For each item, do your best to quantify the business value whenever possible. If you feel stuck when trying to quantify your value, that’s OK—just follow the advice in this article.
Summarize Your Best Accolades: Your manager is busy, so they may not have noticed all the great work you’ve done. To help them out, summarize the kudos you’ve gotten from colleagues, other leaders, or clients over the past year.
Set Your Target Salary: Estimate your market value by starting with a broad industry-wide estimate from a source such as Glassdoor, PayScale, or Salary.com. Adjust that estimate for what you know about salaries and the cost of living in your region. Next, fine-tune your target based on what you know about your own performance, your company’s performance, and any other pertinent data points you can gather .
To help you organize all of this, fill out this worksheet:
3. Ask With Confidence
Now that you've done all the legwork and decided on the best time to ask, you need to devote some thought to how you ask.
In person is ideal, but it’s also a good idea to give your boss a heads-up about it. Don’t just request a meeting and be all cryptic—mention in your email that you’d like to speak about compensation so you don’t catch them off guard.
Go in with as much confidence that you can muster. Project an attitude of, “I deserve this,” and then lead with your accomplishments. Remember, you’re here in this position because you exceeded expectations. Outline the value you’ve added to the organization, with concrete examples. A well-stated case of your achievements will make it easy for your manager to see the merits of your request and advocate for you. Which brings me to my next point…
4. Follow Up
Once you’ve asked for your raise—and hopefully gotten your boss’ blessing—the hard part is done. But you’re not finished yet!
After your meeting, follow up with an email summary of your request. This is another way you make your manager’s life easier—instead of leaving it to them to summarize your request for HR or the finance team, all they’ll have to do is forward your email summary along to the powers that be to see what’s available.
To speed up the process—or just ensure it doesn’t fall through the cracks—you can plan to reach out to your boss in a week or two and ask if there’s anything you can do to help. And if you have regular check-ins, you can take the opportunity to see if there’s an update on your request.
But, even if you don’t meet regularly, you can follow-up with email—just don’t be pushy or demanding. Unless your manager flatly refused your request, try to keep in mind that they’re on your side, and that the hold-up is probably coming from elsewhere.
But what if you go through all these steps and still get a no? Well then you have two choices. You can either ask what’ll make you eligible for a promotion in the next official rounds of reviews—and then work hard to nail everything on that list.
Or you can start to look at roles outside your company to see if you can find one that’ll make you happy and compensate you fairly. Neither of those are as exciting as getting a raise, but they’ll both put you on the path to making more money in the long run.