How to Ask for a Salary Increase

How to ask for a salary increase? Negotiation experts offer advice to help you determine whether it’s the right time to ask for a raise and, if so, how to set up your request for success.

By — on / Salary Negotiations

how to negotiate pay, discussing salary at work, How to Ask for a Salary Increase, Salary Negotiations

Asking for a raise can be a nerve-wracking proposition. But if you think you’re underpaid and due for a salary increase, a successful request can make a huge difference in your long-term earnings. Here’s advice from negotiation experts on how to ask for a salary increase

1. Do Your Research 

One of the most common mistakes employees make is to ask for a salary increase without doing sufficient research. You should do some fact-finding in several areas before making a request.

Begin by researching your organization’s financial health. Does it appear to have the resources available to provide raises at this time? You may be able to get a sense of this from public records, media reports, or informal conversations with others in your organization, write Terri R. Kurtzberg and Charles E. Naquin in their book The Essentials of Job Negotiations: Proven Strategies for Getting What You Want. Also examine the state of your industry and the broader economy. If your industry is in turmoil or if the world is in the midst of a recession, it’s probably not a good time to ask for a raise. 

What if you determine that a raise should be feasible? Do further research to support your request. Try to determine your market worth by asking around your network or researching salaries online for people with your experience and qualifications. Many organizations are moving toward pay transparency rather than keeping salaries a secret. If you conclude you are underpaid relative to similar others, you should be able to make a strong case for a raise.

What about the strategy of securing a job offer elsewhere and then asking your current employer to match the pay to get you to stay? Before doing so, assess whether this strategy is common and acceptable in your firm or industry, perhaps by consulting with trusted colleagues, suggest Kurtzberg and Naquin. If it is, threaten to take the other offer only if you are truly prepared to do so, they advise. If it isn’t, you risk antagonizing your employer with such a threat.

2. Look Beyond Salary

We often focus single-mindedly on salary expectations when assessing our value and future with the organization. Often, we can reap the same or better financial benefits with broader negotiation goals

“Don’t get fixated on money,” writes Harvard Business School professor Deepak Malhotra in his Harvard Business Review article “15 Rules for Negotiating a Job Offer.” “Focus on the value of the entire deal: responsibilities, location, travel, flexibility in work hours, opportunities for growth and promotion, perks, support for continued education, and so forth.” 

This advice is critical whether you’re a new hire or have been with the organization for years. In addition to considering how to ask for a salary increase, consider negotiating for new or different responsibilities (with a commensurate pay raise) or asking for financial support for training, education, and so on. 

This big-picture view pays off in the long run. “Our research and our work coaching executives suggest that negotiating your role (the scope of your authority and your developmental opportunities) is likely to benefit your career more than negotiating your pay and benefits does,” write Harvard Kennedy School professor Hannah Riley Bowles and Pepperdine Graziadio Business School professor Bobbi Thomason in their Harvard Business Review article “Negotiating Your Next Job.”

If your employer thinks you’re already sufficiently compensated or can’t afford to pay you more, it’s especially critical to broaden out from the question of how to ask for a salary increase. By launching a wide-ranging discussion a wide-ranging discussion of how you can contribute to the organization, you bring more issues to the table and increase the odds that both parties will be satisfied with the outcome. 

3. Frame Your Request for Success

Let’s say you’ve decided to ask for a raise. How can you increase the odds that your request will be met? 

When speaking with your boss, “highlight the value that you add to the company through your past accomplishments,” write Kurtzberg and Naquin. Describe your achievements, including how they’ve improved the organization’s bottom line or otherwise contributed to key organizational goals. 

How much should you ask for? Factors to consider include the rise in the cost of living in your area since your last raise, the amount of time that’s passed since your last raise, your contributions to the organization, and so on. 

In a 2015 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Columbia University professors Daniel R. Ames and Malia F. Mason found that expressing offers in a range can be a wise move. For example, if you think a 4% raise would be reasonable, you could anchor a bit higher using a range, such as “I was thinking in the range of 5% to 6%” (with a justification added). By conveying flexibility and accommodation, range offers may counterbalance the assertiveness associated with asking for more. 

What other advice would you offer on how to ask for a salary increase?

The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School
501 Pound Hall
1563 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
tel 1-800-391-8629
tel (if calling from outside the U.S.) +1-301-528-2676
fax 617-495-7818