In the US, salary growth notoriously lags behind the rising cost of living – resulting in a pay squeeze for many white-collar workers. However, the good news is you can do something about it, by making a confident proposal for a pay rise.
Asking for a pay rise is totally normal, and you may have more chance of hiking your salary than you think. In fact, despite lots of workers fearing rejection, three-quarters of US companies plan on raising salaries in 2024, as employers become more desperate than ever to hold onto top talent.
You have nothing to lose, either. In the worst possible case, your employer will reject your proposal, giving you the freedom to pursue other options. Asking for a pay increase demands a convincing case, though. So, to avoid coming across as underprepared, or insulting your boss with an indecent proposal, follow the steps below when asking for a raise.
How to Ask for a Pay Rise, and Get It
Think you deserve a pay rise? Don't go in blind. Follow these steps to maximize your chances of increasing your wage.
1. Make Sure You're Eligible
Prematurely asking for a pay bump could reflect badly on you and even hinder your chances of receiving one in the future. Therefore, we'd recommend against asking for a pay increase if you've worked at your company for less than a year, as performance reviews are normally conducted in 12-month intervals.
Don't expect to get a pay increase if your performance isn't up to scratch, either. Raises are designed to reward hard work and valuable contributions, so if you're not hitting targets or going above and beyond, your request is unlikely to be successful.
2. Wait For the Right Time
While it may feel like there's no perfect time to ask for a pay rise, some moments are definitely better than others.
As a general rule of thumb, you should revisit your salary no shorter than a year after your last pay increase. Making salary negotiations sooner could backfire by making you come across as overly demanding or impatient.
If your company has a salary review cycle, you should learn when it takes place and schedule a meeting for one or two months before the process begins. This way, your boss will have time to implement the changes before the annual deadline, if the request is successful.
You're also more likely to receive a raise if your company is performing well financially, and if your progress has been strong. So it's also worth considering these factors before deciding when to make your case.
3. Calculate Your Value
Deciding how much to ask for can be a thorny task. Requesting too much could come across as insulting while asking for little could result in a missed opportunity.
To start, we'd recommend conducting salary benchmarking by researching what workers are getting paid for similar roles in different companies. Once you've established the market average for your role, adjust for factors like your professional experience, education, and your company's location, before you arrive at your sum.
Bear in mind that the average salary increase is around 4-5% in the US, so if your calculated figure wildly exceeds your current paycheck, we'd advise scaling it back to make your request more realistic. Bumping up your salary request by a couple of percentage points could be a tactical strategy though, as it's likely that the process will involve some negotiation.
4. Build Your Case
After you've decided how much to ask for, it's time to substantiate why you're eligible for this pay rise.
While blowing your own trumpet may feel uncomfortable, this isn't the time to be humble. Therefore, before you meet with your employer, we'd recommend compiling a record of your main achievements in your company. These could include a time you've exceeded targets, successfully implemented new processes, trained or onboarded new staff, or learned a new skill and craft that adds value to your team.
Don't forget about times when you've demonstrated soft skills too like critical thinking, teamwork, timekeeping, and leadership, as mentioning these will help portray you as an all-rounder. However, while it's appropriate to cite factors like rising inflation rates, avoid mentioning why you need the money, as this is irrelevant to your case and may come across as unprofessional.
5. Draft a Proposal Ahead of Time
Even if you feel confident about your proposal, planning what you're going to say ahead of time will make you come across as more polished and prepared.
You don't have to plan your case out word-for-word, but your script should contain your intention for the meeting, the body of your case, and some concluding words.
Not sure where to start? Feel free to take inspiration from the following example.
1. Open with your intention
“Hello [insert boss's name], thanks so much for meeting with me today. I've scheduled this meeting to discuss my salary and a potential raise in my compensation.”
2. Outline your main case
“I've enjoyed working with [insert name of company] for [insert amount of time you've been working at company]. I plan to continue working hard at the company into the future, but in order for me to do so I want to make sure my remuneration reflects my current performance.
Since I joined the company/had my last salary review, I've made a number of significant achievements, including [list achievements]. As a result of these efforts, [insert metric] have increased by [insert percentage], which has benefited the company in the following ways [list benefits].
I've also [develop your case further, include evidence of soft skills, technical skills, or courses], which has added value to the company by [list benefits].”
3. Make your proposal
“Based on my salary benchmarking research, a typical worker in my role, industry, and location, gets paid [insert salary range]. Considering this benchmark, my current salary, my experience in the field, and the value I bring to the company, a salary increase of [insert percentage here] seems fair.”
This figure also accounts for rising inflation and cost of living increases, which have increased by [insert percentage] since my current salary was established.
4. Make concluding remarks
I really value being a member of this company, and I appreciate the time you've taken today to listen to my request. Please let me know if there's anything I can do to help facilitate this process, and don't hesitate if you have any questions.”
6. It's Show Time!
After you've locked down your script, and the day of the meeting is upon you, it's time to put your hard work into action.
If possible, try and meet with your employer face to face. Not only does this show that you're serious about the request, but it also makes it easier for you to pick up non-verbal queues and adjust your pitch accordingly. We also recommend dressing smart and maintaining good eye contact to ensure you come across as confident and eligible as possible.
If you didn't come out of the meeting with an answer, don't stress. Most companies have fairly rigid processes for reviewing salaries so you could be waiting up to eight weeks before you get a response. Feel free to politely follow up with an instant message or email, but avoid trying to rush the process along as this will only hinder your case.
6. What to Expect If You Get a Pay Rise
If your request was successful, well done! Your employer has clearly recognized your contribution to the company and decided to compensate you more fairly.
While this is undisputedly the time to celebrate your efforts with a bottle of something fizzy, the hard work isn't over just yet. While pay raises and promotions are two different adjustments, it's likely that your responsibilities may slightly increase in line with your inflated paycheck.
Instead of becoming complacent with your victory, keep working hard to prove that your employer made the right decision. Doing so will also put you in good stead for similar requests going forward.
7. What to Do if Your Boss Says No
Didn't get the answer you were hoping for? This is likely to come as a blow, especially if you thought your chances of achieving a pay rise would be high.
However, try not to stay dejected for too long. As the macroeconomic climate continues to challenge businesses, many employers' hands are tied when it comes to issuing pay increases. The rejection is most likely not a reflection of your performance and standing at the company, so instead of dwelling on the response, now is a great time to formulate your next steps.
If you're not ready to jump ship, enquiring about promotions or other well-paid opportunities within your company is a good place to start. If this isn't possible, or if you're ready to move on anyway, now might be a good time to consider development opportunities, or well-paying roles in other companies.
If it's not just a bigger paycheck you're after, considering companies that establish healthier work-life boundaries – like those that offer a 4-day workweek – is another way to achieve greater satisfaction with your nine-to-five. Scaling back your workweek doesn't mean a smaller pay packet either. Here's a list of well-paying 4-day workweek vacancies that pay workers 100% of their salary.