How to Ask for a Raise

Asking for a Raise
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We’ll spare you the long-winded introduction about how miserable the economy is, but the thousands of people protesting in the streets across the country and globe speak for themselves. Still, that shouldn’t be an excuse to get complacent in your career. “You’re not going to get a good raise unless you ask for it,” says Suzanne Woolley, senior editor at Bloomberg Businessweek and head of Personal Finance at She spoke to Men’s Fitness about what you need to do to land that well-deserved raise.

Follow these rules to boost your chances of adding some more zeros to your paycheck, or, at the very least, keeping your dignity intact in case you get shot down.

When do you ask?

Woolley says that a year is the standard time to be at a job before you approach your boss for a raise. As for specific timing, she recommends the fall. “The fall, maybe even October, is a good time to ask for a raise because this is a time when a lot of companies are setting their budgets, and you [should] get your request in before the budget has been set. Once the budget has been set, you’re out of luck,” she says.

How do you approach your boss?

Woolley always suggests setting up a formal meeting. “Some people get inspired and try to do it in a hallway, but you don’t want to put someone on the spot like that; you want them to be better prepared.” She also recommends not tipping your boss off to anything being out of the ordinary. “You should totally dress normally. You don’t want to set this off as something that’s unusual or something that will put your boss on edge.” Once the meeting has been set, she says to lead with how much you like working there and highlight some of your accomplishments.

How much do you ask for?

There’s no such thing as the “right” amount to request because it’s so specific from industry to industry and company to company. Woolley says online salary resources aren’t very reliable, but recruiters are indispensible when determining how much you’re worth. “One of the most valuable things is to work with a friendly recruiter in your industry,” she says. “You want to try and build good relationships with recruiters because they know everything about salaries.”

As for numbers, Woolley says asking for a 10% increase isn’t absurd, but, “it’s rare if you get an increase of 20% or more.” If you’re looking for a 5% boost, Woolley suggests asking for 7%. “Aim high, but be reasonable.”

How do you negotiate?

Preparation is key. Woolley says, “People should determine their game plan and think about what they’ll do if their boss says they can’t or offers something lower than they expected.” She says to consider things beyond money as bargaining chips. “Maybe you could negotiate your bonus, extra vacation days, or a training course that you want. Try and think of other things that you value,” she suggests. “If your company is in really tough times and they value you a lot, you can ask for more vacation days in the meantime.”

As for leveraging outside offers, Woolley says to proceed with caution. “On the one hand, it’s good that your boss knows that you’re in demand, but you don’t want to be threatening,” she says. She recommends weighing the options and making absolutely sure the pay boost is worth it. “If you’re going to tell your boss that so-and-so offered me this much, you have to be willing to leave.”

You got shot down. Now what?

Woolley says that getting shot down isn’t necessarily a bust. “If you have the conversation and they say, ‘Times are tough,’ you can ask, ‘What would I need to do to be able to have this conversation in six months?’ If you bring it up in a non-confrontational way, you tell your boss what sort of value you’re bringing.” So, even if you don’t get what you want this time around, you’ve set the groundwork.

However, Woolley says to be aware of when it’s time to cut your losses and run. “If you’ve asked and nothing’s happened in three years, you can infer that it’s time to leave.”

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