How to Ask for a Raise From a Former HR Specialist

Lean in any direction you’d like, but consider these questions first

04.06.16
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“Let me know if you have any questions, thoughts or concerns!”

My email sign-off of choice during my time in Human Resources pretty much sums up the gig. I fielded questions, thoughts and concerns of every flavor under the sun, but, in terms of volume, those related to money were second only to those related to #feelings. Usually, raise requests involved both. And because any tiny change in compensation had to go through me, I developed a bit of a second nature around what worked and what didn’t.

While the litany of advice urging you to “Just ask!” is well-intentioned, I’m here to tell you this shit is equal parts art and science. I’d also argue the binary consideration of whether to ask or not is significantly less important than the far more intricate web of how.

And also: who, what, when and why. Here’s what to ask yourself about that raise before asking anyone else for it.

•••

Who are players in the game? Your personal feelings on the matter, while valid and fair, are only one side of the story. Examine your peers, your manager, the market and the company itself. Has the landscape shifted since your wage or salary was initially determined? Has the company grown, your value increased, the team changed? Taking on a 360-degree view of your situation and those involved will give your request a stable, informed foundation.

Don’t say: “I don’t feel adequately compensated for the work I’m doing.”

Do say: “Over the past year I’ve taken on more responsibility due to some departures on the team. Since then I’ve not only exceeded my goals but have begun mentoring more junior staff, helping the team become more efficient. I’d like my compensation to reflect that shift.”

What do you want? It can never hurt to be explicit about where you’d like to be. If you work for a medium-to-large sized company, the matter will likely leave your manager or HR representative’s hands in the form of an official request. Do some research about where your skills match up within your industry and don’t be afraid to do your part in shaping that narrative to a level of specificity you might otherwise shy away from.

Don’t say: “I feel underpaid and would like a raise.”

Do say: “I’ve researched starting salaries for someone with my skillset at similar companies and I’m about $10,000 under market.”

When will your request be best received? Every company approaches compensation in a different way. Does your company perform annual performance reviews or have a fiscal year-end? Consider discussing your pay a few months before one of those dates rolls around. If neither of those apply, pay attention to when your annual start date anniversaries come up and use those as opportunities to reflect on your growth and value. Slotting your ask within a specific context makes the case not only easier to frame up from a psychological perspective, but from a business one as well.

Don’t say: “When can I get a raise?”

Do say: “With my three-year anniversary coming up, I’d love to find some time to review my performance and compensation.”

Why are you asking? This is the biggy. Just because your bank account makes you cry a super poetic tear doesn’t necessarily mean you deserve a raise. If you’d like the number on your paycheck to be higher, consider why you think it should be outside of your personal context. As soul-crushing as it may feel, think of yourself as a stock. Why should anyone be investing more in you than they already are? What can you offer them that’s more tangible than your effort (which, although noble, doesn’t guarantee results)?

Don’t say: “I am working long hours and feel worn out. My salary is not high enough for this. I want a raise and, more than that, I deserve one.”

Do say: “I’ve not only taken the initiative to learn new skills that would benefit our mission, but I’ve shared them with my team in order to level-up our overall quality. I’ve also found opportunities to improve our processes and have been lucky to see these efforts put into action with great success. I’d like to discuss how we might revisit my compensation so that it’s in line with the value I’m bringing to the table.”

How can you be effectively heard? When it comes to putting your request into words, make sure to sure to sell yourself as an asset to the company. Steer clear of your personal financial situation and dig into why you have earned that raise (active!), rather than why you deserve it (passive!). And if the answer is no, don’t let that be the end of the conversation. Take it in stride and ask how you can get there in 3, 6, or 12 months.

Don’t say: “The cost of living here is crazy. I have a family. I can’t afford to live on this wage, it’s not fair.”

Do say: “After several successful projects I’ve found myself in a more senior position than what I was originally hired for. I’m excited to be contributing at a higher level but need my compensation to reflect that in order to feel you are as invested in me as I am in you.”

•••

There’s no reason to be nervous. Unless you’re literally depositing your paychecks into your private parts (not that I know your life), the topic of your pay need not be the slightest bit taboo, especially in your place of work. The people running that show are thinking about it more than you know.

I’d wish you luck, but you won’t need it if you answer the right questions before posing the big one.

Illustration/collage by Emily Zirimis featuring Erickson Beamon and Venessa Arizaga bracelets.

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