Planning to Ask for a Pay Raise? Prepare First

Before talking with your boss, make sure you're presenting the best case as to why you deserve a salary increase.

Now that there's an uptick in the economy and job market, organizations are once again finding themselves profitable and making new hires. For employees who continued to go above and beyond without just compensation during the tougher times, a bump up in pay is long overdue.

USE OUR TOOL: Do You Deserve a Pay Raise?

If you're a worker in this situation, but your company has been slow to acknowledge your efforts and give you a well-deserved raise, you're well within your rights to present your case to your manager and ask for one. Here's how you can prepare:

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Create a List of Accomplishments

The last discussion you want to have on the fly with your boss is one where you're asking for more money. Think of this conversation as a personal sales pitch that requires plenty of forethought and strategizing. Before approaching your manager, you’ll want to prepare by creating a list of your chief accomplishments.

Be sure to tie each one as closely as possible to a tangible benefit for your employer. For example, you've gotten a faster turnaround time on client orders or secured a major new account for the company. The good news here is that if your contributions are in the line of sight to profits, customer retention or some other corporate goal, you’re already positioned well for a raise.

Make Sure You've Contributed to the Bottom Line

It's nice to be able to say, "I launched a customer newsletter and switched out our marketing-research survey vendor," but that's not sufficient ammunition for your plan of attack. You should also be able to explain how your work has helped the organization grow its revenues or shrink its costs.

A great question to ask yourself is, "What is the major business problem I helped solved this year?" The problem could've been a dated phone system that didn’t support the organization's burgeoning operations, or slow recruitment of entry-level staff from top-tier colleges and universities. In addition to describing how you resolved the issue, be prepared to reflect on several work scenarios from the past year that highlight your contributions.

Conduct Market Research

You'll want to do some research on what others in your industry are being paid to do the same type of work. Three sites to use are, and Site users can search salary amounts based on job type and location. Keep in mind, however, that if your request for a pay increase is based largely on an inequity between your pay level and the market, rather than an increase in job responsibilities or your stellar performance, don't rely on Internet data alone. Contact your major industry or function-specific trade magazine and ask if you can purchase their most recent salary-survey issue.

Knowing exactly how much other professionals in similar roles are taking home annually is a valuable bargaining chip that can help you land a pay increase that’s well above average for your market.

Compose Your Pitch

In addition to having a conversation in person with your boss, you should come to that meeting with a one-page pitch memo that includes: what you do, your accomplishments and you're desired salary amount. The memo gives your boss a way to pass along your written assessment to the powers that be.

Define what you do. Remind your boss -- even if you think it’s obvious -- of the scope of your role and your chief areas of focus. You'd be amazed at how many time-pressed managers forget what their direct subordinates are responsible for day-to-day. If your boss doesn't know what you’ve been working on, he's not likely to acknowledge your efforts to the team or higher-ups.

Remind your boss right away of your hire date, job title and salary upon hiring, as well as what your job title and salary are now. Many times, actually telling your boss, "I was hired three years ago to do sales outreach at $X salary, and now I'm doing sales outreach, marketing and in charge of vendor services at $Y salary, which is not that much higher," makes your point even more powerful.

Address how you've personally helped the company reach goals. Provide a rundown of your agreed-upon goals for the past year, followed by your achievements. At this juncture, be prepared to talk about the common denominators between those action items and: 1) your manager's stated priorities for the department, and 2) your company's sales, customer retention, employee retention, defect rate, inventory turns or some other high priority.

Discuss what you need. Tell your manager your target salary increase. This point can be nerve-racking, but now's not the time to back down. After all, the data you're providing is coming from either reliable salary Web sites or trusted industry publications. Disclose your desired raise amount, and if the data you've found supports your bid, share those figures and their sources in your pitch.

Use Discretion With Your Boss

If you're planning to have the discussion with your manager in conjunction with your annual review, let him know well in advance if you expect him to handle your salary request differently than he’s done in the past. For example, if you’ve already heard that there won’t be any increases for the new fiscal year but you plan to ask for one anyway, give your boss plenty of warning that the pitch is coming.

If your request happens to be an isolated event at a random time of year, let your boss know that you’ve had the subject of salary on your mind and that you plan to address it with him soon. It’s always best to do this in person, but over the phone is fine if necessary. You definitely should not broach this topic via e-mail.

Liz Ryan
Contributing Columnist,