Deciding when to ask your boss for a raise is stressful. It involves a certain level of risk—what happens if they say no?—not to mention, money is a difficult subject to talk about in any situation, let alone with a superior at work. So you need to be sure you’ve got a solid case before you make the request.
It’s especially tricky because asking for more money depends on factors within your control, like performance, but also outside factors, like how well the company is doing.
Regardless, if you’re ready to make more money and think it’s time you got what you deserve, it never hurts to ask. But to avoid embarrassing yourself or immediately getting rejected, here’s your guide to figuring out if it’s a good time to bring it up—or if you should wait it out a bit longer.
Yes if: The Company Is Doing Well
Assessing the health of your company is one of the first things you should do before asking for a salary increase. If money is flowing, it’s more likely that management will be receptive to your ask. Plus, if you can take some credit for helping to get the company to a good place, that will help boost your case!
No if: Your Organization Has Been Cutting Budgets or Is Struggling to Hit Revenue Goals
If the company is in belt-tightening mode, it won’t matter how great your performance is—they may not have the means to give you a raise (or as big of a raise as you’d like). That said, many companies care about retaining top talent, so they may make exceptions or rearrange budgets to give certain employees salary bumps even when overall growth is shaky. Still, feel things out first.
Yes if: You Have an Advocate
Is your boss on your side? Have they consistently praised you? If you know that your manager thinks you’re doing great work (because they say so, to you or others), that’s a huge plus. If they’re in charge of raises, then you’re golden, and if they’re not, they’ll advocate for you to the person who is.
No if: Your Relationship With the Decision-Maker Is Strained
Asking for a raise from someone you don’t get along with or who doesn’t see your value is a losing proposition. It’s probably smarter to hold off until you can figure out how to make them an ally. (If that seems impossible, it might be worth starting to look for another job.)
Yes if: There’s No Performance Review Coming Up Anytime Soon and No Set Schedule for Raises
If your annual review is many months away or your company doesn’t do any kind of official performance review—and it’s been at least a year since you’ve gotten a raise—then go ahead and schedule a meeting to talk about your performance and compensation. And if there’s no official schedule for salary increases, that probably means that your boss has complete decision-making power over your raise.
Pick your time wisely (a low-stress time of year or just after a big project has finished, for example) before making your move—your boss will most likely be swayed in your favor when they’re in a good mood, not feeling any outside pressure, and can immediately recall the value you’ve added.
No if: Your Company Has a Specific Raise Schedule (and It’s Close) Or You’ve Just Received a Raise
If there’s a date on which raises get decided, it’s probably unusual for management to grant one at another time. Maybe it’s the anniversary of the day you started, the first of January, just before the budget is set for the next year, or along with employee evaluations. Figure out when that date will be, put it on your calendar, and start prepping your materials.
If your company gives out raises during performance reviews, though, initiate the ask beforehand so you can make sure you’re getting what you know you’re worth. That’s because once they’ve decided on your raise, the ship has likely sailed until next year (or until your next big assignment). Asking for a bump after they’ve just given you one—unless there’s been a big change in your responsibility level—can make you seem greedy or out-of-touch.
Yes if: Your Salary Research Is Solid
You know how much others in your job and at your level are making, both inside the company and outside of it (because you’ve done tons of research). You can point to market rates for the kind of work you’re doing, and you can demonstrate how your contributions put you at that pay scale.
No if: You’re Just Guessing at the Numbers
You can’t just go with your gut on this. If you don’t know distinct numbers for what you should be paid, do some online research, ask around about what your colleagues are making and others in your field are netting, and compare salaries. If you know any recruiters, they can be a good resource for information about the going rate, too. If you can prove that you’re clearly being underpaid relative to others, that’s useful information that helps build your case for a raise.
(Once you’ve got everything prepped, the next question to ask yourself is: How much should you ask for? This article on using a salary calculator and this one on figuring out what you’re worth can help.)
Yes if: You’ve Taken on Much More Work and Responsibility (and Have Shown You’re Capable)
Have you been given demanding new assignments, filled in as a temporary manager, taken on the responsibilities of a parting colleague, or otherwise been working on projects that are typically higher than your pay grade? Congratulations—you’re in a great position to ask for a raise.
This applies even if it’s not review or raise season at your company. When you contribute more than your job description allows or achieve results at a greater scale than anticipated, there’s flexibility in when you’re allowed to ask for a raise—typically right after a project’s completion is the perfect time.
No if: You Haven’t Been Tasked With Any New Work
If you’ve been cruising along with the same kinds of projects for a long time—even if you’ve been crushing it on those assignments—it’s hard to make a case that you deserve a big salary bump. In this case, instead of asking for money, ask for more responsibility. If you have been given new tasks but it’s only been a month or two since you’ve started working on them, hold back until you’re at around the six-month mark. Once you’ve truly proven yourself, you’re in a much better position to ask for a concomitant salary.
Yes if: You’ve Done Your Homework, and It’s Good
You’ve prepped all the reasons why you should get a raise, and you’ve got the documentation to prove it—past reviews, positive feedback emails, data reports, the works. (Even better, you filled out this raise worksheet to track everything.) Numbers, initiatives, results, anything that shows all that you’ve accomplished in the last review period that’s not just in your job description but goes above and beyond—if they’re all ready to roll out, you’re in a good place to make the ask.
No if: You Can’t Give a Compelling Answer to the Question, “Why Do You Deserve a Raise?”
Simply put, if you haven’t lined up a fat file full of achievements, results, and ways you’ve helped the company grow and be successful, do that first. The idea isn’t to ask for munificence—it’s to demonstrate your value and that you should be compensated accordingly. And no, “I’ve been here a while” isn’t a good enough answer, either.
The most important thing to consider when deciding whether or not to ask for a raise is what you’ll do if you don’t get it. Whether you’ll plan to take on more responsibilities at work, write down a list of your accomplishments to bring to future salary discussions, or even look for a new job, think through these potential outcomes before you begin the conversation. Having a plan B in place means that no matter what happens in the meeting, you’ll know what to do next.
TopicsDecide This for Me by Nell Wulfhart , Raise , Syndication , Getting Ahead , Career Advice , Negotiation & Money
Photo of employee talking to boss courtesy of Thomas Barwick/Getty Images.