Aurelia Flores: How to Ask for a Raise

So it’s review time, huh?  And one of the things you’d really like is to ask for is an increase in your paycheck.  Seems reasonable, but how do you get the request out of your mouth?  Where do you start, and how do you make the (reasonable) case for your request?

First of all, you need to know precisely where you are – locate yourself on the map, so to speak.

Salary Survey -- Industry

Do your homework.  Start with the big picture.  Do others in your industry, at your experience level, in a position that is comparable to yours, make more, less or about the same as you do?  You need to know how you stack up next to others in your field, so you can accurately judge where you are on the scale.

Don’t stop there.  Just because you make less than others doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get a raise; nor does it mean that if you’re paid top dollar you won’t.

You need to understand what this means for you so you can use the data to your advantage.  Maybe you’re underpaid, but you work at a small and growing company and have perks you wouldn’t have at a company that would pay you more.  For example, maybe you get a broader range of experiences, more responsibility despite your junior status, and more autonomy and flexibility.

If this is the case (you are paid less than the norm, but you are receiving other career benefits), realize your company also knows these perks, and knows they can’t compete within the field on salary alone, so using that argument won’t work.  You’ll have to find another.

On the other hand, just because you’ve “topped out” in your field, ask yourself if you’re doing more than one person’s job.  Are you actually taking on tasks that are “above” your grade level?  What other reasons do you have for deserving a larger salary?

Salary Survey -- Your Company

Next, to the extent you can, find out what your colleagues are making.  It’s important to know what others in your department are making, and what those who oversee the budget that YOUR salary comes out of are prepared to pay.  This doesn’t mean you need hard numbers; but rather the knowledge of if you are making about the same, more or less than your colleagues?  (You can ask human resources or your manager to give you a general overview.)

This first part is simply gathering “evidence” for you to know where you are in relation to where you want to go from a monetary standpoint.

After considering the cash factor, you need to consider the work quality and VALUE factor.

What Value Do YOU Offer? (In Exchange for Your Salary)

How do you stack up next to others?  Are you clearly at the top of the heap?  Do you work harder, get more done, and are your accomplishments well known?  Or do you work hard, but no one really understands or appreciates what you do?  In short, what do you offer your company?

Remember the cardinal rule in business, “What’s in it for me.”  But think about it from the other person’s standpoint.  What is in it for your company?  What do they get from you?  Why does it behoove them to make you happy, and why should they pay you more?

Consider this seriously and come up with at least 3 reasons (don’t kid yourself) why you should be paid more.  Practice having these reasons come out of your mouth with a friend or family member you trust.  Are you believable?

Is Your Company Getting a Good Deal in You?  Can They Afford to Pay More?

After you’ve completed your analysis of these two items, you need to balance these two factors against each other.  Compare what you – and others in your field – receive next to what you, as an individual, offer.

This gives you a good sense of what you should be asking for.  Then go higher – 10-20%.  If you can reasonably ask for a $5,000 raise, ask for $5,500-6,000.  (Negotiating is a topic for another essay, but use this rule as a starting point.)

Next you need to consider the nitty gritty.  Is the amount you’d like to make in the budget?  Is it something that the person who oversees salary is able to offer you, and are the right people in the right places willing to give this to you – even if they wanted to?

Do you have a boss or superior who is willing to go to bat for you?  Is the person above you in the management chain – whether or not she is the one directly making the decision regarding your salary – a solid supporter of yours?  And if so, does he or she have the political cache to be able to make a request on your behalf, should they choose to do so?  Or are all their political “cards” played out for the time being?

Ask Away!

Even if what you want is not “realistic” right now, make the request anyway.  Let them know that you understand the financial situation – this economy has been tough on everyone.  But also let them know that you know where you stand, and expect the situation to be remedied once they can pay you the amount.

But don’t assume your company can’t afford it!  Companies make business decisions every day based on their needs, and a company must invest to get a good return.  (And some companies have done exceedingly well over the past 3 years.)  So make sure you ask.


In summary, you need to know the lay of the land, figure out what you’re offering, and then make sure you’re clear about why you should get what you want while being reasonable.

If all this sounds like a lot of work, it is!  Deciding you want a raise should not be something you’re working on at the last minute.  This is part of your career and something you should be working on all year long.

And eventually, if your current workplace can’t – or is unwilling – to meet your salary demands, you’ll have to find someplace else.  That can be scary, in this economy, but eventually things will shift, and you’ll want to be ready when the tide turns.

So prepare now for what you need to know.  And go ask for what you deserve!

Aurelia Flores is Senior Counsel at a Fortune 500 company and former Fulbright Fellow who graduated from Stanford Law School. Her website,, offers stories of success, along with resources and programs focused on Latino empowerment.

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