When should you ask for a raise?

We all at some point felt that we bloody well deserved a raise. Maybe because we'd been within a role long enough, because we felt we had out done ourselves, or because we saw our salary as the reflection of our market value. For having been asked as a manager, and for have asked myself successfully and not, I thought I would combine my learnings gathered over my years in business with other tips from some great sources.

The question I often hear from more junior peers is: how should I ask? I have answered consistantly that it wasn't so much about how but rather about when. When is it appropriate, relevant and deserved to ask. If someone came to me asking for a raise and if it wasn’t completely obvious to me as to why this person deserved it (when I should be the most informed party as the person responsable for their growth), then not only would I dismiss it, but this would also inform negatively the opinion I have of them as professionals. In essence, not only are timings crucial for legitimacy, but timings could either hurt or help your reputation at work.


So when is it right to ask for a raise?

#1 when you can prove your case

A raise isn’t a gift supposed to reflect what you will be doing in the job to come. You can’t just say, if given that raise then I will happily take on more and feel happier. A raise should come when you have proved yourself capable in the job. It’s only in creating more value for that you can demonstrate a winning case. Think of it as an elevator presentation. If given 45seconds, can you clearly bullet point valid arguments with a backup of examples, and industry benchmark as to why you should be getting a raise? If you feel you aren’t there quite yet, it might just be a matter of months. Start by talking to your manager about your aspiration and define together a roadmap for promotion. What skills should you be strenghtening, what projects should you be undertaking and how often should you both be checking on progress. Once you have got that in da’ bag, keep a monthly list of the soft and hard skills you are developing through the months. I personally did that for my first round of promotion. I had a clear roadmap of what I needed to achieve in terms of manageurial skills but also in terms of leadership skills. Some skills included patience, empathy, decisiveness that I had to demonstrate and sustain in order to climb the ladder. When my final meeting came, I had a clear log of projects, meetings, examples and relationships to back-up my ask. This is not only important for your manager but also for upper management to inform their decision as they might not know you personally. So start logging-in examples of growth so when your review does come up, you are able to present a constructed case that won’t feel awkward or out of the blue.

#2 when there is a clear mistmatch between your work and your job title

There are times where it is actually right to ask, and you should feel like you can approach your manager or HR about it. I always say that Businesses do not run charities. It is very unlikely that someone within your organisation will ever approach you saying : ‘you know what, you haven’t asked for it but I think it’s only natural you should be paid more.’ Wouldnt that be great? If there is a clear mismatch between your role and your job title, if you have been managing or coaching junior staff, if you have taken on budgeting projects, if you have successfully delivered global projects and have kept your Junior or Assistant title for the last 2 years, then maybe you are being taken advantage of, or maybe your silence has implicitly enabled your situation to stagnate. Now you may ask what does a valid argument include? Well, for starters, I’d suggest researching what the salary benchmark is wihtin your industry, within your city and within your company at similar job title. Then, look at the qualifications and skills other companies might be hiring for, for an entry at the next grade (ie. Manager vs Senior manager). Finally map your projects, required skills and qualifications, and see where there are overlaps and gaps. For a solid case of raise, you should see more overlaps than gaps and they should be very specific.

#3 when the context of your organisation aligns

Finally if your case is strong, if your benchmark case seems solid, there is one last criteria you need to bear in mind for a succesful ask. You need to consider the way your company is structured and the timing of your request.  Obvious scenarios where raises would be foolish to ask would be during a reorganisation where you have been allocated a different job, yet haven't proved yourself in that new setting. The second one is upon joining an organisation. If you have just joined and agreed on a salary with your employer, and suddenly feel that you are covering more than what your job description details, this isn't ground for a raise either. Depending on your environment: Startup, NGO, Academia, Corporate, certain organisations might be more flexible than others and some will only follow the usual anual review calendar (from the end of summer for request and approval to January for changes to become effective.) If your company is going through a round of funding, or through a merger  or if budgets are being cut, think about your ask twice. Raises and promotions have to be budgeted for. The CFO generally is given an idea of how many people will be promoted and how much cash flow buffer should be allocated to increases in salaries. This generally happens during the yearly budget setting at the end of Q4 (last quarter of the previous year). If your case in strong, don’t chance ruining it because of poor timings. To be succesfful you might want to wait for the economic context to settle down in order to get the full attention of your managers and funds approval from Finance.

So what is your experience with raise and promotions? We’re always keen to read your real life advices. Hit us in the comments section, the more the merrier!

Evodie F.