How to Frame Your Request for a Raise

Author: Ellen Ryan       

Lisa Gates of She Negotiates presents at a session.

How should you negotiate for a raise? “My advice is don’t,” Margaret Ann Neale said. “Especially if you’re a woman.” What Neale, Adams Distinguished Professor of Management at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, means by that is don’t just baldly ask for more money. It’s a tough case to make — and easy for your boss to turn down.

Instead, Neale recommends a more strategic approach. Couch your request as a multi-issue package — and as solving a problem for both yourself and the boss. Lisa Gates, cofounder of the negotiation, coaching, and leadership firm She Negotiates, also recommends taking a collaborative approach to asking for an increase or new title. Here’s what they both had to say.

It’s all in the planning

To prepare to approach your boss for a raise or promotion, first list all your capabilities and accomplishments since your last assessment. Quantify your contributions to the organization, Gates said. For example: “I brought in two new clients worth $5 million,” or “I revised customer-service documentation, which led to 50 percent fewer complaints.”

Doing that will show some common themes. Mine these themes for strengths that you can express in your request.

Next, Gates said, draft your opening statement with your strengths, something along the lines of: “I use my strategic thinking and people strengths to lead people and deal with customers.” (Here’s an example of a strong opening statement that includes five different elements.) Use what you’re really good at as your lead-in to what you’re going to ask for.

Along the way, added Gates, set aside an anecdote or two as examples. If your boss asks you to elaborate, you’ll be prepared with statistics, a little bit of drama, and a happy ending.

It’s crucial to tie your strengths to the goals of the organization or to the person you’re appealing to, both Neale and Gates said. So think about what you’re asking for. Simply requesting a salary boost is about you, which doesn’t solve the boss’s problem. “Get out of your head ‘I want more; I want the easy, magic words that will get me more money,’” Neale said. Instead, frame your pitch as the answer to a problem your manager has.

Other asks

Do you need more resources to do your job better? Would more opportunities to work from home help you be more efficient? How about a part-time assistant or an office with a door for those frequent negotiating calls? Maybe you need other things, like comp time for weekend work travel, as part of a compensation package.

If you’ve been at the job a while, Gates said, it’s likely that your duties have grown while your compensation hasn’t. That’s called responsibility creep. Consider whether what you’re looking for is actually more money — or perhaps a title upgrade, additional resources to be able to meet the increasing demands of your position, or some combination of those.

On the other hand, if you’re coming into a new job and negotiating your initial salary, the manager and human resources team are expecting you to look at the whole package and negotiate. There may be a backlog of organizational problems they’re looking to you to solve, and now is your opportunity to get the best package possible.

Margaret Neale

When Neale arrived at Stanford, her dean said, “Let’s talk about your salary.” She replied, “Here’s the package I think would be useful in giving me the resources to accomplish the tasks that I need to do to help the organization.” In other words, she coupled her request with a communal concern for the organization and her dean: “What would make my boss look good? There were a couple of problems they were hiring me to mitigate, and I needed resources in order to do that. One was reasonable compensation.”

Either way, your boss or manager has to see satisfying your ask as the path to achieving his or her goals as well as yours. So, Gates said, use the information you’ve gathered about your performance and skills to pivot and reframe and solve their problem for them.

What’s the pain point the boss or team wants to solve — to make more money, be more efficient, be more productive? Frame your value in terms of solving the mutual problem, both now and in the coming year.

Gates provided this example: “We have a goal this year of increasing productivity by 30 percent. Here’s my part in how to do it and the package that will help me accomplish it.” Outline the plan and the package, and end with an open-ended diagnostic question like, “How can you help me make that so?”

Ellen Ryan is a freelance writer based in Rockville, Maryland.