How to ask for a raise

, 502 words

This article is part of a series of guides related to "So, you want to work in tech?".

Asking for a raise is easy; just ask for a raise in whatever 1:1 or catch-up time you have with your boss. Get the context right, though.

  • Read the "adding value" section above. Are you adding value, and was that recognised in your last appraisal? If you are, recap politely. If you're not, then figure out how to add value and get a better appraisal.

  • Understand whether you need to be promoted. Some companies pay people in the same role the same amount, based on experience. And some only review pay once or twice a year. This might mean you need to be promoted to get a raise. How can you get promoted? (There's no harm in asking what the victory conditions are.)

  • Don't make any negotiation adversarial. Try to build on openness, trust and respect in each interaction, and don't detract from this pool.

  • Never threaten. Employers refer to the message of "if you don't pay me more I'll quit" as putting a gun to their head. If you are in a strong position you might get your way, but it will come at a cost of destroying your boss's trust, and marking you out as a poor negotiator and someone who could threaten their employer again. You will probably get side-lined or replaced, and that's if it works. If your position is weaker than you thought -- which is likely -- your boss will probably want to take the threat as your resignation, and get on with replacing you.

There is a further downside to putting a gun to your boss's head. Several times I've seen big companies acquiesce and give an enormous raise to key employees who have done this, effectively trapping them at the company. Why is that so bad?

  • The increase is so significant that the whole senior management team will be aware of it, and how the employee was prepared to play hardball.

  • They've damaged their relationship with their bosses, who will likely push them very hard.

  • Their colleagues likely know what they've done, and don't see them as a respected team player.

  • They can't move to a comparable role elsewhere in the industry without taking a massive pay cut, which they probably need to do to continue their professional development. They probably don't enjoy the role so much, suspecting that they should have moved on, but their family may strongly encourage them not to quit for fear of losing the wage.

  • When they do eventually move on, they can't be sure what sort of reference they'll get.

April 2016 update: This article and some others I've written appear in a short book, "So, you want to work in tech?". The book is available on iTunes (free) and Amazon (paid).