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Make the "Ask": How to Get the Raise You Want

by Bonnie Vengrow

Research may have found that money is the top contributor to our job satisfaction, but that doesn't mean we have an easy time asking for more of it. While both genders are reticent to approach the bargaining table — a 2015 survey conducted by Payscale found that only 43% of respondents said they asked for a salary increase — women are particularly loathe to make the ask. (This despite a persistent wage gap, where women earn 80 cents for every dollar a male counterpart earns.)

Yet studies have found that once employees can push past their nerves or discomfort and lobby for more pay, they're more likely to receive a salary increase. Payscale's survey concluded that three–fourths of people who asked for a raise got it, with nearly half (44%) receiving the amount they requested.

3 out of 4 people who asked for a raise got one. Payscale Survey

Considering that success rate, what's stopping more people from marching into their manager's office and asking for more money? Experts say some of the most common fears are having your request denied; being perceived as too aggressive, pushy, or greedy; or getting a salary increase but, in return, having to work longer hours with less time for personal or family commitments.

The role of gender and age

It's not just fear that's stopping employees; there are other factors, including gender, that could affect their decision to ask for a raise. The Payscale study found that women at all levels are more likely than men to say they're uncomfortable negotiating their salary (31% vs. 23%). Even female chief executives aren't immune — 26% say they're uncomfortable compared to just 14% of their male counterparts.

"Women are judged to a completely different standard than a man," explains Manisha Thakor, Director of Wealth Strategies for Women at Buckingham & the BAM Alliance and author of Get Financially Naked. "There are acceptable ways for men to ask for a raise, but women have to thread the needle. We have to ask in a way that's not too wishy–washy but not too aggressive. The way in which we ask, the tone, the body language, the messaging — everything about it has to be so much more nuanced and fine–tuned or it can go against you."

Women at all levels are more likely than men to say they're uncomfortable negotiating their salary. Payscale Survey

Generational differences could also impact your ask, says Tammy L. Colson, CEO and co–founder of TalentCrib. Millennials, for example, tend to be more confident in their abilities, do their research, believe in their worth, and are more likely to lobby for a raise. (They're also more likely to jump ship if they don't receive the money, she adds.)

Generation X, on the other hand, worked through a recession, downturn, and layoffs, which makes them more hesitant in their approach. "They also tend to consider company climate over 'worth' and are more likely to seek new employment than make an ask for an increase," she adds. "This generation has seen significant stagnation of wages over the last 10 years, and multiple cycles of 'be glad you have a job' make many reluctant to even consider the ask."

How to overcome concerns

Overcoming many of these issues often boils down to doing your research, creating a plan, and figuring out what added responsibilities you're willing to take on in exchange for more money, Colson says. Common concerns include:

Preparing your approach

It helps to tailor your approach and style to align with your manager's. Colson suggests thinking of how you approach her for other requests. If data helps influence the decision, bring it and be specific. If an emotional approach is more effective, appeal to those aspects of why a salary increase is important in a way that's professional and tied to a business reason. "'I deserve it' works occasionally, no doubt, but providing your manager with a concrete, data-driven business reason to increase your salary will give him internal permission to support your ask," she says.

In fact, conducting thorough research is the most important element, just ahead of presentation, she says. "What is your position worth? Find out what the market is bearing. Look at the data — not just how you feel," Colson explains. "Are there new elements to your job that required you to gain more skills? Have you taken on additional responsibilities or completed additional education that adds value to the company? Think through the ways you are helping the company to be successful."

What is your position worth? Find out what the market is bearing. Look at the data — not just how you feel. Tammy L. Colson

That's what Francis B. of Port Washington, NY, did before asking for a raise. He spoke with headhunters, other managers inside and outside the company, and even his own manager about his performance. "I have to know how I stack against my peers in terms of quality of work and compensation," he says. "And then I have to recognize that everyone is doing the same work and is feeling the same way. Everyone is thinking, 'I'm undercompensated. And I did a better job.' So you have to be certain that you're coming from a position of strength."

The sale doesn't start until your boss says no. Francis B.

When it came time to meet with his manager, he itemized what he did and explained the fair market value. "Prepare an opening statement. Support it with facts. Close it with an ask. And then stay silent and let the other person talk," he says. "The sale doesn't start until your boss says no."

Francis earned the raise.

Bonnie Vengrow
Bonnie Vengrow is a writer and editor based in NYC. She has written for Parents, The Bump, Rodale's Organic Life, Good Housekeeping, Today.com, and others.

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