How to ask for - and get - a pay rise (even if your boss is tricky AF)

two women sat at a desk and talking in the office
How to ask for - and get - a pay rise kate_sept2004 - Getty Images

Knowing how to ask for a pay rise can feel like an awkward thing to navigate, we get it. Talking about money isn't something everyone feels comfortable doing, but when it comes to your career, knowing how to approach your boss to ask for a raise is a skill you can and should develop.

Put simply: you get paid for the work that you do, and if you feel as though you've outgrown your salary through consistently working above and beyond your role, you have the right to ask to be compensated for it. So, how to ask for a raise in salary? We've got the answers.

Pip Jamieson, founder of The Dots says: "No one ever got fired asking for a pay rise! The worst thing that can happen is you just don't get what you ask for."

Of course, in difficult economic times (e.g. right now), companies aren't always in the best position to offer a raise, but you shouldn't let that stop you from asking altogether. Rather, it's about assessing the situation of your employer and taking it from there.

"Be mindful of where your company stands. For example, have they laid off staff recently, or are they starting to hire again? Read the situation, and know that it’s okay to wait if the timing doesn’t feel right," says Charlotte Davies, Careers Expert at LinkedIn.

So, let's get to it. How do you negotiate salary during appraisal meetings? Here are some tips from experts in the know...

1. Know your worth

Pip advises that before anything else, you should work out how your salary relates to the wider market. "There's a myriad of salary surveys out there that can help you benchmark what you should be paid," she says. "Simply do a bit of Googling".

"It’s certainly a good idea to do your homework before you put in a request – it will help you know your worth and make you feel more confident in your ask. Conversations with colleagues about pay can be difficult, so start by looking at job adverts for similar roles to your level and compare what these pay," says Charlotte.

"LinkedIn Salary is a great way of doing this discreetly, as it breaks down salaries by job title, companies and location, to ensure what you’re asking is in line with industry standards," Charlotte adds.

2. Do it in person (or via video call)

No matter how tempting, "don't ask for a pay rise over email", Jo Coombs, COO, Publicis Groupe says. "I know it can be difficult to talk about money and your own worth, but I always respect someone who is prepared to talk to me face to face rather than hide behind email."

an office manager talking to a colleague while sitting at her desk
Tom Werner

3. Pre-warn your manager

Sally Bibb, author of The Strengths Book: Discover How to Be Fulfilled in Your Work agrees. "If you surprise them he/she might give a knee-jerk reaction and say 'no'", she says. "Email them summarising your request and rationale, and ask for a meeting with them to discuss."

4. Timing is everything

Choosing the time you talk to your boss about your salary could be key. Think about the bigger picture. For example, when do budgets for the year get laid out?

"Timing is everything," Jo agrees. "Find out when raises are granted as this will indicate the time when the most money will be in the pot, but also be opportunistic - if a peer has suddenly left your bosses may be nervous about losing someone else - it's always worth asking then."

5. Don't wait too long

Jo says, "A lot of people ask for a raise during their annual review – this is most likely to be too late."

Again, it's important to know about how your employer runs things, to help you with your plan of action.

"It really depends on your company as all businesses approach this slightly differently, and it depends whether yours has a very fixed structure for pay rises and promotions, or if it’s a little more fluid. Either way, it’s a good idea to make sure your manager and leadership team are aware of the part you played [in success] at the time, and remind them again when your review comes around, to make sure it is top of mind in their the decision-making," Charlotte says.

6. Be strategic with your asks

Sinead Bunting, VP of Marketing Europe at Monster expresses that it's important not to "ask more than once a year as you'll come across as unrealistic, if not unreasonable in your boss' eyes."

The number you ask for also has an impact, says James Lloyd-Townshend, Chairman & CEO at Tenth Revolution Group, who advises asking for more than you'd actually like. "This way, your boss can negotiate you down to something closer to the figure you’re actually hoping for," he says. "Some bosses always need to feel like they’ve conducted a successful negotiation so they’ll want to go through that process with you. And, best case scenario, some bosses may grant you that initial request."

7. Think about your boss' schedule

Pip also advises to "try and find a time when your boss is stress-free and not under any time pressure. People are much more amenable to requests when they're in a good mood!".

8. Write a script

"Prepare a little script ahead of your chat highlighting the value that you bring to the business, how you love what you do, but feel that you're now worth more," says Pip. Jo also suggests to "prepare for every possible scenario your boss could use to not give you what you want."

"It’s important to set out your case clearly, with compelling evidence as to why this is the right moment for a pay rise, but don’t feel that you need to go in all-guns-blazing – it should be a conversation after all," says Charlotte.

two business women shaking hands
Oscar Wong

9. Summarise your past successes and future plans

While highlighting your successes is important, don't forget to look forward. Sally says: "This reminds them you are useful to them, can be relied upon and are proactive."

James also recommends reflecting back on your past achievements, "Preparing a success log before the conversation, with highlights of your achievements and the impact your work’s had on results, is a good move. You don’t even necessarily need to share it directly with your boss as a document, but even just the process of collating it will refresh your mind so you have touch-points to mention when your boss asks why you feel you deserve a pay rise."

10. Think about your delivery

"You'll probably be nervous," Sinead admits, "but make sure to sit up straight, make eye contact with your boss and don't fidget. Confidence is key, so speak slowly and deliberately, and use hand gestures to reinforce your points if this is your natural style." Don't giggle nervously or allow your gaze to wander round the room or cover your mouth while speaking – these are all suggestions that you are uncomfortable or insecure about what you’re asking.

She adds: "Don’t feel the need to fill in any silences or ramble, wait for a response to your questions and put the onus onto your manager to respond. The more certain you are of what you want to achieve and the more convincingly you can present your value, the better your chances of achieving the pay rise you're looking for."

11. Ask them if they need any more info to sell it on

Remember that it's probably not just your boss who can give the green light. If he/she has to present a business case to people above him/her explaining the situation, then you should provide everything they need to do so. Sally does add a caveat, however, "if your boss is the sort of person who likes to give the impression that they don’t have to consult their boss on decisions, then miss this step out."

12. Remove yourself from the situation

Jo adds: "Think about it from your employers perspective - you might feel like you deserve a raise, but put yourself in their shoes and think why they should give you one."

13. Practice with a friend

To stop you getting so nervous and veering off-script, practice what you want to say with a friend or partner. "It makes it easier to say it for real," Sally says.

"Talking about your accomplishments can feel awkward, but being able to speak to them effectively is essential to negotiating a higher salary. This is your time to shine! Get comfortable talking about yourself by practicing with friends, family, past colleagues, or other professional connections," says Charlotte.

14. Know what you want

"Be ambitious with what you want but also be reasonable, because you don’t want to lack credibility by asking for too much," Jo advises. "Make sure you have established the minimum you will accept and persevere if you get a no."

middle aged caucasian woman writing in a notepad at home
Ivan Pantic

15. Be prepared to add to your workload

Pip explains: "If you don’t get the pay rise, a good boss will explain how you need to develop in order to become eligible for one". Not all conversations regarding salary are as simple as 'yes' or 'no'. It could be that you're just falling short of qualifying for a pay rise, so be prepared to pick up more work to demonstrate your worth.

16. And if it's a no?

"Expect some resistance and be prepared to fight your corner, but don't overdo it," Sinead advises. "If the cash you want is not available, be prepared to ask for additional benefits such as a company car or an increased employer's contribution to your pension scheme or even an extra few days’ holiday can be an option." You could also use the opportunity to explore other avenues that you might benefit from, such as sabbaticals.

"You should always be open to negotiation with these types of conversations. While money may be top of mind, there are many ways you can negotiate, and it’s smart to be thinking of asks that may help you grow professionally or help you balance work with your personal life," says Charlotte.

"Ask yourself if there are other ways you might be able to improve upon your role. Could you arrange more flexible hours, or a shorter work week? Are there on-the-job-training opportunities available to help you up-level your skills? Could you transfer to another department where you can explore a new role with different opportunities. Perhaps you could work for a different boss? You’ll never know unless you ask!"

17. Avoid ultimatums

While it might be tempting to tell your line manager you feel you've got no choice to quit unless you get the pay rise you want, think carefully before doing this.

"This should really be considered as a last-resort option, as no one likes being backed into a corner and it can lead to bad blood between you and your employer. It’s much better to pre-empt this by having an open, adult conversation about your expectations and what you feel you are worth, rather than leaving it until one of you feels pushed," Charlotte says.

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