You just got your raise at work! The thrill of tearing into the envelope is short-lived, however, as you read through the letter. Your raise is less than stellar. You’re crushed. What do you do?

The first thing you need to do is take a deep breath. Relax. This is a situation you can tackle, but you’re going to need to approach it with a level head. Let’s break down some of the best steps you can take to getting an adjustment in your compensation that you want.


The biggest hurdle you’re going to encounter is “Why?”. You’re asking yourself “Why didn’t I get a better raise?” and your company is going to ask you “Why should you get more?” There are a few facets here that you can tackle.

What you do for the company.

Take a look at your job within the timeframe of your last raise. Has it changed? Do you do more? The best way to justify a raise is to take on more responsibility or increase your productivity. It may be that you’ve already done that; take some time and chart the evolution of your role since your last raise. Establish a timeline of your responsibilities or productivity, and make it visual! You’ll want to ensure that you make things clear and easy to understand.

What the company expects of you.

Next, take a look at your job description. Has it changed since you’ve started doing the job? Are you frequently asked to perform duties that are outside of your purview? Make a note of these activities, the frequency, and how much of your time it takes.

What are others who do your job paid in other companies?

Prepare by comparing your job to others in your market. There may not be a direct comparison available, if so it’s best to ensure that your figures are general and that this isn’t your key point.

Environmental factors.

What else can affect salary negotiation?

  • Location – do you live in a particularly expensive place? Is hard to buy a house where you live? How are food costs relative to surround areas?
  • Has your life situation changed? Have your recently divorced or married? Is there a new addition to your family? These factors can be brought up to illustrate your changing life circumstances.
  • Is the company doing well? Has your department or division delivered on projects?
  • How are you perceived by those around you?
  • Are you unique? (Be honest!) How hard would it be to replace you with someone who could do the same job for less?

Armed with this information you can now evaluate your options. Be honest with yourself: do you have a strong case?

If not, it might be time to sit down with your boss to establish a strategy for getting you to your next raise. Set SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) and track your performance. Sit down with your manager or leadership team and get a commitment to your development. It’s up to you to ensure that both you and they stick to your agreement.

If you think you do have a case, however, it’s time to take the next step.

Meeting with management

The most important thing about salary negotiation is to be delicate, patient, and calm. While this may be an emotionally charged issue, you’ll want to remove as much emotion as possible and stick to the facts.

Consider what your recourse is if you don’t get what you want; it may be that your manager returns to you with a plan to get you where you want to be–if not, there’s an opportunity there for you do come up with the plan.

The invitation to your discussion should be deliberately vague and non-confrontational. Ask to speak about “your development” or frame it as a personal issue. Mentioning salary up-front can raise roadblocks that you don’t want to deal with.

Ensure that you’re prepared, with your talking points written down. Attempt to deconstruct arguments against in advance, the more prepared you are, the more professional your approach, the better chance you’ll have of getting what you want.

Understand that this is a negotiation; you may have to give a little to get a little. This may include a firm commitment to some of the duties you’ve taken on, or an agreement to take on more responsibility. If you’re in doubt, ask for some time to think. Set a firm deadline, however, and make sure that you follow-up on time.

Do not lose your temper of give in to emotions at any time. If you’re upset, use words like disappointed. Reassure your manager that you’re seeking to understand. De-escalate any emotions that arise by returning to the facts in a non-confrontational manner. In short: chill out and don’t lose your cool.

So what if they say no?

As said above: if you don’t get what you want; it may be that your manager returns to you with a plan to get you where you want to be–if not, there’s an opportunity there for you do come up with the plan.

In the worst case scenario (you’re underpaid and there’s no flexibility to adjust your pay) it may be time to move on. Before you resign, find your new job first. Your bargaining power increases exponentially as soon as you’ve secured a new position. You may find that your request for a raise may be approved quite rapidly with the possibility of your departure. A company has to weigh the costs of moving you through their HR system, hiring another person to do your job, and finally (the most expensive aspect) training them. This can be especially powerful if you have unique skills.

Go for it.

The worst case scenario is that the answer is “no”. You have nothing to lose if you approach the situation in a calm, professional manner. Do your research, be prepared, and go get the raise you think you deserve. You can do it!