How do I ask for a raise without getting laughed at?

My line manager is quite supportive of our team, but I think decisions like this are out of his hands and know that the company have been making lots of cut backs.

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'I've been in my current role for just over a year now and love my job. I have lots of opportunities to challenge myself and develop. The problem is that, although it's an entry-level role, I know that I have more experience than most grads. My company don't have annual reviews or appraisals, but I'd like to ask for a raise. My line manager is quite supportive of our team, but I think decisions like this are out of his hands and know that the company have been making lots of cut backs. How do I ask for a raise without getting laughed at? How much more is reasonable to ask for and should I prepare anything in advance? Emma.'

Hi Emma

Congratulations on having a job you love – that’s a real treat and takes a lot of hard work to achieve. It’s also really great that you recognise just how much you know. We all need to talk about how good we are. It does no good to pretend otherwise.

I’m interested to hear that your company doesn’t do appraisals. If it is just that they get forgotten, I would encourage you to ask for one and do the work to make it happen. It’s a good way to review how well you’re doing and to get feedback on where you might improve further. Having a record of your achievements over time is also very helpful when it comes to possible promotion or pay rises.

Since you don’t have that option right now, start by sitting down with pen and paper and recording all you’ve done in your time at the company. Itemise every opportunity you’ve taken for growth and development and all the times you’ve challenged yourself. Include the outcomes – good and bad. Make a list of your strengths and your weaknesses. If you don’t know what these are, you can go onto Google and look up ‘strengthsfinder’. There are a number of options for taking a free test that will give show your top three and bottom three strengths. Alternatively, buy a copy of the book Now Discover Your Strengths This will explain the concept and also provide you with a code so you can take a short version of the original Gallup Strengths Finder test.

Now think about the business and any improvements you believe can be made. Focus on the top two or three and write out a business case to demonstrate how your ideas would make a difference. Outline the present way of working; the impact it has on the business with any hard evidence; your idea for improvement; evidence of the difference it would make to the bottom line or to the people involved.

All this will give you a clear sense of why you are worth more than you are presently paid. Put it altogether into a presentation that you can share with your manager. It doesn’t need to be powerpoint unless you like using that. Just have a clear format in your mind about how you can present it in a coherent way.

I then suggest you sit down with your manager to talk through your options. I understand that he doesn’t have the ability to give you what you want directly, but we can assume that he has knowledge of the business that could be helpful. He can clarify who holds the purse strings and the best way to approach them. Talk him through the case for giving you more money – how you are contributing to the business right now, the difference you have made in the past, the ideas you have for business related improvements etc. Get his feedback and incorporate it into your pitch.

It is also worth asking him if the company has a talent management programme and, if so, whether you included in it. If you are, find out who you need to speak to understand how to maximize the opportunity. This will help you, as well as demonstrate that you are proactive and keen to move forward. If there is a programme and you are not included, then find out what you need to do to get on the list.

If no such programme exists, then ask your manager if any appropriate promotions are coming up in the near future. Since the company are cutting back, you may not be able to get a raise in your present role, but you could go for a bigger job since you have more experience than others at your level. In that case you would get more money, as well as taking the next step in your career.

If you don’t feel able to talk to your manager in that way or you don’t believe he would support you, then organise a conversation with someone in the HR Department. They will know the process for requesting more money. They will also know if any promotion opportunities are on the horizon.

Then you just need to go for it. Practice your pitch – talk to the mirror so you get an idea of how you come across. Go through it a number of times until you feel comfortable delivering it with confidence. Treat it as a presentation of yourself – you need to show why they should invest in you further at this difficult time. Think carefully about the dress code – usually it works best to ‘match for rapport’, so present yourself in a way that matches the style of the person you are talking to eg if you are speaking to a manager who always wears a suit, wear a suit; if they wear casual clothes, do the same as long as you look smart and professional.

Given the business situation, it may well be that you don’t get what you want immediately so prepare yourself for that. If the answer is ‘no’, then persist and ask what you would need to do to get a raise in the future or how you could progress to the next level. If this is a great company, they will be pleased to see you taking initiative so will get on board to nurture your talent. In which case, ask for a mentor and work out a development plan.

If all else fails, think about the bigger picture for your career. Think about where you would like to be in five years time and the sort of work you want to be doing. Then plan out the steps to get there. You may feel this workplace, with the experience you can glean, is worth some more time. Define what this time looks like and decide what you need to learn in order to be ready for your next job. Then begin to look around. Even if you are happy for one more year, it’s worth knowing what the market looks like and getting to know something of the companies that are out there. Then you’ll be ready to go for the right job when it comes up.

Good luck – and let me know how you get on


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Judith Leary Joyce

Great Companies Consulting

In 1996 I made the shift into business, taking my knowledge of Gestalt Psychology into the realm of Executive Coaching, Facilitation and Leadership/ Management Development. In 2001 I worked on the 100 Best Companies to Work For list, then went on to write my first book Becoming an Employer of Choice which was followed by Inspirational Manager and The Psychology of Success. Since then I have worked with organisations across the sectors from large corporates through to young start ups, public sector and charities. Now it’s time to help you have a love affair with your work and get exactly what you want from your career. To find out more about my work and coaching go to