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Overworked and underpaid? How to ask for a raise and get it

Money, money, moneyMost of us don’t like to talk about money. And even fewer of us like to ask other people for money.

However, if you work for a company your increases in income depend directly on your ability to convince your boss to raise your salary. And in most cases that only happens when you ask.

Are you scared already? You don’t have to be! Here comes the step by step guide to get the pay raise that you deserve:

1. Understand the rules of the game

Most people think that they just have to work hard and in the end their efforts will be rewarded by their boss and they will get a promotion and/or pay raise when its due and earned.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

Working hard is really not what gets your pay raised. What gets you a higher salary is this:

  1. Working smart and achieving measurable progress for your boss and company
  2. Selling yourself and making sure that others know what you are achieving
  3. Negotiating a better salary when reviewing the performance with your boss

So only when you play by the rules of this game will you have a high chance of getting paid what you deserve. Otherwise, luck and circumstances will decide your income level.

2. Be a great employee and project it

I’ve written about this before. Basically, it comes down to two things:

Follow these instructions and you are way ahead of the competition. (By the way: Yes, there is competition! You and your coworkers are competing for the same budget when it comes to salary increases.)

But as I said before, you not only have to be good, you also have to sell yourself. Some advice and questions to ask yourself on making this happen if you don’t consider yourself good at selling:

  • Know yourself: the better your know yourself, your strengths and your values, the better you can market yourself. Try out some tests like the Briggs Myers personality test or the Fascination Advantage Assessment to get a better grasp of what it is that makes you special in the workplace.
  • Project confidence: ask yourself whether the way you present yourself projects what you want to project. Do you appear confident, appropriately dressed, ready for bigger challenges? What can you do to foster that appearance?
  • Network and build quality relationships: are you a loner, or do you have a different lunch date every day? Do people confide in you, ask you for help or your opinion? How can you build better relationships at work?
  • Be a unicorn: do you blend in with all the others or are you unique and memorable in any way?
  • Take initiative: do you usually take the initiative when it comes to volunteering at work, taking responsibilities or speaking up? Are you proactive and think about how you can do things beyond your job description?

3. Assess your situation

First of all, you need to know what you are worth. Use salary comparison websites like or to find out what your peers are earning and where you fall in that range. This will tell you approximately how much upside there is to your situation.

Second, understand how salaries work at your company and in your department. What is the pay range for your job level? How is the company doing overall? Which performance indicators matter for pay decisions?

Third, collect your accomplishments. Write down everything that you have achieved in the last year. Quantitative indicators like new customers, increased company revenue or saved costs work best. Other than that, think of projects that you did, work that you picked up from colleagues, and responsibilities that you took.

Depending on this assessment you should have a much better idea of what your target salary should be.

4. Get the right mindset

It is important to have the right mindset in order to successfully ask for a raise. Key components of the right mindset are:

  • Overcome your fear of asking for a raise: asking for money is only fun for very few people. Same for approaching girls at a bar. But the situation is not that different. If you don’t ask you already got your rejection. Only if you dare to ask you can gain something. And think of it this way: the worst case is that you end up exactly where you already are right now.
  • Know that you deserve a raise: One of the most powerful negotiation strategies is to believe in your deepest heart that you are right. Nothing beats negotiating from a position of total conviction. If you have done the exercise of assessing your situation and collecting your accomplishments you probably know that you deserve to be paid more. Try to engrain this belief deeply!

5. Prepare and set up the performance review

It’s time to become more concrete!

The first task is to find a good time for the meeting.

  • Which time of the year is best to ask for a raise (depending on the budgeting processes at your company)? Don’t forget that budgets (including those for pay raises) are usually decided weeks before budget announcements or formal performance reviews, so you may want to anticipate these and be early.
  • Find a time where your boss will probably be in a good mood in terms of the hour of the day as well as the overall situation, i.e. when times are not particularly stressful.
  • Schedule it so that you have a concrete accomplishment that recently happened which provides you with an opportunity to discuss your ‘perspectives’ at the company.

In order to prepare your discussion further, think of the following things:

  • Prepare possible objections of your boss and your answers to them.
  • Think of amenities other than your salary which could be part of your bargaining, such as paid time off, a sabbatical, paid further education, a one time bonus, etc.
  • Role-play the discussion with someone else

6. Do it

It’s time to have the discussion. Don’t be afraid as you are well prepared at this point. Remember to keep the discussion on a positive note. Start with your accomplishments and turn the discussion towards your perspective at the company.

When it comes to your salary demand, be specific. It is essential to be assertive and diplomatic at the same time. Don’t be aggressive, don’t corner your boss, don’t make threats that you are not prepared to execute, such as leaving the company. Your objective is to get a raise and walk out of this discussion on better terms with your boss than you were before.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!


PS: Hey, I know this was really short. I’m considering writing more about this topic so please help me out by filling out this short survey! Thanks!

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