in Career

How do I ask for a raise to help pay the rent?
Get free updates of new posts here

When to ask for a raise is as important as how to ask for a raise. Here’s how to make a compelling case for your next raise at the right time.

The question

How should I negotiate a salary without a competing offer?

I have a salary of 115k in SF and am worried about the rent. Would be really great if I can get it to 120k. How exactly should I go about negotiating?

My answer

It seems that you’re asking how to get a raise at your current company, so that’s what I’m going to talk about here. If I misread that and you’re actually asking about how to negotiate a salary at a new company, let me know and I’ll happily update my answer.

The third part of my book Fearless Salary Negotiation is specifically about how to maximize your pay at your current company, so I’ve written a lot on this topic. In fact, this answer is heavily influenced by another Quora answer I’ve already written: Josh Doody’s answer to How do you ask your boss for a raise?

That just goes to show that many people are unsure how to approach this topic because it can be uncomfortable. But it doesn’t need to be uncomfortable if you know when it’s appropriate to ask for a raise and how to ask in a compelling way.

Before I share my answer for how to ask your boss for a raise, I’ll talk about when you should ask your boss for a raise. This answer is pretty long, but it’s very thorough. I’m summarizing “How to get your next raise”—a chapter from my book, Fearless Salary Negotiation. You can get that chapter for free here: How to get your next raise

When should you ask your boss for a raise?

The trouble with shooting for a big raise or promotion during merit increase time

Most companies have an annual merit cycle, sometimes based on the calendar year, and sometimes based on the company’s fiscal year. The merit cycle often ends with performance reviews, a small merit increase, and maybe even a bonus. Most employees assume the best (or only) time to get a raise or promotion is during that short period at the end of the merit cycle.

In fact, this is often a bad time to hope for a big pay increase because the merit increases (including promotions) are often budgeted ahead of time, and that budget is shared by a team, department, or even the entire company. Since the budget is shared, that means many people are vying for a piece of a single budget. If you get a big raise, it means someone else will likely get a small raise, or no raise at all. This puts a lot of pressure on managers to try to distribute their piece of that pie evenly across their team members so that everyone gets something and is at least somewhat happy.

The result is that it’s often extremely difficult to get a big raise or paid promotion during the regular merit increase time.

Shoot for an off-cycle raise or promotion

So what can you do? Your best option may be an “off-cycle” raise or promotion. These are often handled as one-off events, which means they’re not necessarily pulled from a fixed pool of money, and they’re evaluated individually from a finance perspective.

A well-timed request for an off-cycle raise or promotion can often give you the best shot at a nice pay increase because you’re not competing with everyone else in the company for a fixed amount of money. Instead, you can make your case as an individual who has earned greater pay or a better title.

Off-cycle raises and promotions carry the added benefit that they usually don’t affect your on-cycle raise potential. So, you’ll usually still be eligible for whatever merit increase you would have already been eligible for during the regular merit increase period.

So there are some things to consider when determining the timing of your request. Now I’ll dive into your original question of how to ask for a raise.

How do you ask your boss for a raise?

I’m specifically writing about getting a “big” raise of 8% or more—often described as a “market adjustment”—rather than a standard merit increase or a small “cost of living” increase. In your case, a $5k raise is less than 5% and you might get that raise as part of the normal merit increase process at your company.

Hiring people is expensive and risky. Each new hire costs thousands of dollars. This is why companies are often open to “market adjustments”—by paying employees something close to market value, they keep experienced, proven employees at the company, save the expense of hiring a replacement, and avoid the risk of hiring a new person who is unproven.

The real question is: What should you be paid for your skillset and experience? It’s possible you’re paid appropriately and shouldn’t pursue a raise, and it’s also possible you’re significantly underpaid and that you would be leaving money on the table by asking for only $5k more. To know where you stand, you need to determine your market value.

Justifying your raise request

Your primary justification for requesting a raise is that your value to the company has changed since your current salary was set, and that is good reason to reevaluate and adjust your salary to reflect your increased value to the company.

To say that differently: “I could use another $5k to help with rent” isn’t a particularly compelling reason for a manager to give you a raise. Companies pay people because those people help the companies make more money. The question is: How are you adding additional value to the company today relative to when your salary was last set?

Here are some examples of changes that might justify a salary increase:

  • Your qualifications have changed. For example, you may have earned a certification, or a degree, or taken some training, or learned a new skill.
  • You have taken on more responsibility. For example, you are managing people or projects that you weren’t when your current salary was set. Or maybe you’re managing some part of the business that you weren’t before.
  • The job market has changed. For example, there’s been a shift in the market so that your skillset is in higher demand now than it was when you initially took your job.

There are four phases to the raise process:

  1. Define your goal
  2. Document your accomplishments and accolades
  3. Prepare your case
  4. Present your case

1. Define your goal

Determine the market value for your skill set and experience

Once you have a clear justification for your raise request, you should spend some time estimating the current market value for your skill set and experience. Use Google , Glassdoor – Get Hired. Love Your Job. , Welcome to Welcome to!!, and similar sites to see if you can determine the typical salary range for the job you’re pursuing in your geographic region.

Spend some time talking with friends and trusted colleagues in your industry to see if you can determine approximately what their companies pay for someone with your skill set and experience to do your job. (NOTE: It may be considered rude to outright ask someone what salary they are making, but there’s a pretty easy workaround—ask them what salary they think someone with your skill set and experience might make in the job you’re pursuing. Asking them a hypothetical will usually make them more comfortable talking about salary since they’re not necessarily divulging their salary.)

With those there sources—online search, friends in the industry, trusted colleagues—you should be able to get a sense of the value of your skill set and experience for your company. That’s your goal.

2. Document accomplishments and accolades

Before you can request a raise, you need to build your case to justify your request. Start building your case by recording your accomplishments and accolades in a summary format that you can reuse later.

Accomplishments are things you’ve done to demonstrate that you’re ready for this promotion. Here’s an example:

  • Documented teammate onboarding process to make it reusable and to help decrease the time to productivity when new people join our team.

Accolades are praise and awards you’ve received over the past several months. Here’s an example:

  • ACME Corp—”Shannon really nailed this project. She kept us on track and informed the whole time, and did a great job of identifying risks well ahead of time. She made this project easy for us.” —Tom Thompson, VP of HR

I recommend keeping an email folder dedicated to documenting your accomplishments and accolades so you can easily find them later.

3. Prepare your case

The best way to prepare your case is to write it down. As it turns out, you’ll also want to have a written summary of why you deserve your raise later on (see the “4. Present your case” section below), so we’re going to kill two birds with one stone in this section by building an email that summarizes your case.

Here’s what your case for a raise will look like once you’ve written it down. This is written as an email template you can modify for your specific situation. You can modify the pieces that are [bracketed in bold font]. Note that you’re just drafting this email now—you’ll send it later on.

To: [Your manager’s email address]

Subject: [Your name] salary adjustment discussion—follow­up

Hi [Your manager’s name]

Thanks for your time the other day. As we discussed, it has been [amount of time] since [“my last significant salary adjustment” OR “since I was hired”], and I would like to revisit my salary now that I’m contributing much more to the company. I’ve been researching salaries for [job title] in [industry] industry, and it looks like the mid­point is around [mid­point from your research]. So I would like to request a raise to [target salary].

I’ve been working very hard to find ways to contribute value to our company. Here are some of my accomplishments over the past several months:

  • [Accomplishment]
  • [Accomplishment]
  • [Accomplishment]
  • [Accomplishment]

And here is some feedback I’ve received from clients and coworkers over the past several months—their feedback speaks louder than anything I could say:

  • [Accolade]
  • [Accolade]
  • [Accolade]
  • [Accolade]

I believe these accomplishments and feedback show that my work merits a higher salary, and [target salary] seems well aligned to the current market. I look forward to hearing what I can do to help make this happen.

Thanks again for your time and consideration!

All the best

[Your name]

4. Present your case

Now that you have that email written (but not sent), you have your case summarized very nicely in an email. This will make it very easy to present your case to your manager before you send the email.

Schedule a meeting to ask your manager for your raise

If you have regular 1-on-1s with your manager, then you should bring this topic up in your next 1-on-1. If you don’t have regular 1-on-1s scheduled, or if your 1-on-1 is frequently cancelled, you should reach out to your manager and let her know that you would like to meet soon to talk through some questions you have.

Once you’re having this conversation, you can say something like, “I’ve been doing some research, and I think I might be pretty far below the midpoint for my job in the current market,” or “I’ve been here for three years now and have gotten pretty small raises along the way. I’ve looked into the market value for my current job and it seems like my pay is a bit below the midpoint. I wonder if we can talk about what it would take for me to get a raise to bring me closer to the market pay for my job.”

Hopefully you’ll have a productive conversation with your manager about your readiness for and the company’s ability to accommodate the raise your requesting. Then let your manager know you’ll follow up with a short, written summary of your request after your meeting.

Send your email after you’ve spoken to your manager

Once you’ve spoken to your manager, review the email you drafted in the “Prepare your case” section above, and make any changes that seem necessary after your conversation. You don’t want to send outdated information in the email. Once you’ve made any updates, go ahead and send it along to your manager for review and consideration.

You’re sending the email as a follow-up so your manager has a document to circulate as she works with HR and Finance to determine the feasibility of granting your request. Once you’ve sent the email, the process is largely out of your hands.

This is a summary of “How to get your next raise”, a chapter from my book Fearless Salary Negotiation—a #1 Best Seller on Amazon. You can get the chapter for free here: How to get your next raise And you can get the full book here: Fearless Salary Negotiation: Get it here