The Right Way and the Wrong Way to Ask for a Raise

Yes, we all want to make a difference, and we go to work to help others and so on.  But we all need to make a living too!  We have bills to pay!  And we all want to be paid what we’re worth.  So let’s begin with the wrong way to ask for a raise.  It’s also the most common way:

The emotional appeal

This strategy sounds something like this:

“Boss, things in my life have changed.  I’ve bought an apartment/new car/had a second baby/want to get a boat and I need more money to make ends meet.  Any chance I could get  raise?”

You’re a great person, right?  Everyone likes you?  Shouldn’t that be worth more money?  Unfortunately the answer is no.  Being a great likable person is really important, but ultimately you’re paid for the value that you bring to the company.  And many companies are thinking of ways to work with less people.  Witness all the self checkouts at grocery stores.  These machines never have emotional meltdowns, They don’t develop or act on inappropriate crushes on the other self checkout machines, are happy to work every stat holiday for no extra pay, and are generally less hassle than real people.

No, you have to have better grounds to ask for more money than that you’re a nice person.

What the boss is thinking

Here’s what your boss is thinking when you give your emotional appeal (although they may not say it out loud):

“How is any of that my problem?”

This isn’t because they’re greedy jerks taking home wheelbarrows full of money.  In fact, the average company makes 5-6% profit on every dollar earned before paying taxes.  Think about that.  Your boss is thinking, “in order to spend $1 more in wages for this person, we need to bring in $20 in extra sales, just to break even.”  This is why bosses are reluctant to hire extra people and reluctant to pay more money.  Because money is tight for almost every company.

They’re also thinking of the precedent they’re setting in paying you more.  Because if you get a raise, probably everyone else will want one too!  So they have to be careful to be fair to you and to the company.  This takes some thought.

The right way to ask for a raise

Having said that, labour is a cost that every business must count on.  And giving raises is a part of holding on to great people. So here’s what you ask yourself:

What is fair market value for my services?

In other words, if you left and had to be replaced, what would the company have to pay?  There are a number of ways to find out your fair market value:

  • Look online: Bear in mind that job titles mean different things from company to company, and the region you live in has a huge bearing on what you’re paid too.  But you can find some useful info here
  • Ask industry associations: Sometimes your association will keep wage information that they’ll share with you.  Give that a try
  • Check with a headhunter: If you know of a recruiter in your industry, they may be able to give you some advice
  • Ask people in other companies in similar roles: Often they’ll be happy to tell you straight out.  Or you might ask, “What would a person such and such a job be paid in your company?”  Make sure it’s an apples to apples comparison, considering both responsibilities and region

What new value am I bringing to the company?

Are you trained in something new that will bring in more money or add more value?  Have you advanced in your role and taken on new significant responsibility?  If so you may be worth more money.  Detail exactly what you’re doing that’s new and valuable.

These are reasonable grounds to ask for a raise.

Finally, consider timing.  If your company goes through a budget process, talk to the boss before this is completed.

Knowing your value keeps you honest.  If you’re underpaid, that can be rectified.  However, you may find that you’re overpaid!  In which case, if I were your dad, I would counsel you to go back to your desk and get back to work and keep your mouth shut!

Learn what your value is, and learn how to increase it.  The more value you bring, the more you’re worth!

Trevor Throness head shot 2019

Trevor Throness is a speaker, consultant, and author of “The Power of People Skills.”  He is also co-founder and senior instructor at

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