Every step you need to take to get a raise

A gallery assistant poses for photographs on the new spiral staircase at Tate Britain in central London November 18, 2013. The 45 million pounds ($72.4…
A gallery assistant poses for photographs on the new spiral staircase at Tate Britain in central London November 18, 2013. The 45 million pounds ($72.4…
Image: Reuters/Olivia Harris
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One way to ask for a raise is to stomp into your boss’s office, knock over a vase, toss a handful of Skittles in the air, and yell, “I need more smackeroos!”

True, no reasonable person would advise this course of action. But it is helpful to have some sort of plan when it comes to asking for a raise—an experience so nerve-wracking the “Skittle surprise” can start to seem like a good idea. (It is not.)

For a more logical and cool-headed approach, Quartz asked Karen Coffey, a career advisor who’s worked with employees at companies like Bank of America and Walt Disney and is the co-founder and CEO of Karen Coffey Coaching, about what to do month before asking for a raise, what to say when the big moment comes, and the best way to follow up.

At least one month before you ask for a raise:

Ask yourself, “Do I deserve a raise?” 

The deciding factor for your boss will be how you’re contributing to the company’s bottom line, Coffey says. Review whatever data is available on your performance. If you realize upon reflection that your productivity has taken a dive or that you’re making fewer sales than your teammates, you may want to take some more time to build a strong case before putting in a request.

Find out what your company needs.

A lot of people think about the value they bring to a job in terms of the specific responsibilities they were hired to perform. But this mindset can be limiting—both for your own growth, and because you’re less likely to get a raise if you’re focusing your efforts on an area that isn’t a big priority for your boss at the moment.

“Go to your boss and say, ‘How can I contribute, what do you need, what’s going to make this company more successful?’” says Coffey. Then, “find a way to fulfill it.”

A few weeks before you ask for a raise:

Track your weekly contributions.

“That could be an increase in revenue or client retention,” Coffee says. Then, start emailing a bullet-pointed list to your boss at the end of each week noting what you did to advance the goals you discussed together. (One variation of this approach is known as the 5-15—a report that takes you 15 minutes to write, and your boss takes 5 minutes to read.)

A few days before you ask for a raise:

Set up a meeting with your manager.

Coffey advises against letting your boss know that a raise request is on the agenda.

“You’ve been sending reports, they know what you’re up to,” she says. But it’s better not to state it explicitly, lest your manager use the heads-up to come up with more reasons in advance to turn you down.

How to ask for a raise:

Keep the request data-driven.

“Don’t let emotions get into it,” Coffey advises. Spreadsheets and bullet-pointed lists are your friend.

Chunk up, chunk down.

This is the term Coffey uses to describe the strategy of showing how much more you could be asking for, then revealing your actual request—which will presumably seem quite modest by comparison. “Say, I’m not looking for a position change, I’m not looking for a place in the C-suite, all I’m looking for is this,” she says by way of example.

Use the word “continue” to emphasize that this isn’t an ultimatum.

Coffey suggests opening the negotiation with a line like this: “I wanted to talk to you one on one about how I can continue contributing to the bottom line of the company and help it grow.”

Don’t shy away from compliments. 

Say, “I believe in this company, I believe in what we do,” she suggests.

Offer a range.

If you’re hoping for a 15% raise, say that you’re looking for a 15% to 20% raise. As with the “chunk up” strategy, this may help your employer feel like they’re getting a better deal.

The day after the meeting:

Send a thank you note.

This will help make sure that your manager doesn’t forget about the conversation. “It’s on their mind that day, the next day it’s gone,” Coffey says. She suggests keeping it simple: “It was great talking with you, I’m very excited about the future, looking forward to hearing from you.”

A week after the meeting: 

Follow up.

If you haven’t heard back from your boss within five business days, it’s fine to give them a little nudge. “Just say, ‘I wondered if you had thought about it, looking forward to continuing my work,’” Coffey says.

If you don’t get a raise: 

Ask for feedback about what you’ll need to do to get what you want.

Get your boss to clarify what specific steps you need to take to get to your desired salary. That way, in a few months, you can say, “I’ve done everything you’ve outlined.”

Set a time to check back in.             

“Revisit” is a good word to use here, whether the reason you’ve been turned down has to do with company finances or performance.

Consider your options.

Even if you don’t get the raise you wanted, the process of asking for one is usually enlightening. You may get useful feedback that helps you identify an area where you need to improve. You may realize you’re being undervalued, and decide to start looking for a new job that will pay you what you’re worth.

No matter what, you’ll have learned something, Coffey says. “Don’t be fearful of these conversations.”