How to Negotiate a Raise

Hopefully, you’ve read my last two posts (see here and here) about negotiating your starting salary. But if you are an avid GovLoop reader, there’s a decent chance you already have a government job. Don’t let that hold you back, though. There’s still plenty of room to negotiate your compensation.

If you work in the federal government, you may be able to bargain for a better location assignment or even a new position within your agency. On the state or local level, your department likely has more flexibility to negotiate a monetary raise.

So how do you get that promotion or raise? In some ways, negotiating within your current role is similar to negotiating for a better initial salary. The basics still apply: know your market value, your accomplishments, and what could supplement monetary compensation.

However, there are some specific considerations to keep in mind when negotiating for better compensation in your current role. Here are five rules to help guide your conversation:

1. Don’t wait until your performance review. When you receive a job offer, the salary is just a starting point to your negotiation. That’s not the case for an internal promotion or raise. By the time your manager or HR representative sits down to talk about your yearly review, compensation details and promotions have most likely already been decided.

If you want to negotiate for a better package, have a conversation with your boss well before the review cycle begins. Explain what you’re hoping to receive, and why you think you deserve it. Even if you think you’ll only receive a baseline raise, you need to make your expectations clear before your manager ever begins an official performance review. Suzanne Lucas of recommends starting the conversation three or four months in advance. Otherwise, you’re likely to end up disappointed with your salary enhancements and you’ll have missed the opportunity to negotiate a better deal.

2. Be cognizant of your boss’s workload and schedule. Timing really is everything. Thankfully, you know the pace of your office and agency, so you can knowledgeably pick the best time to have a compensation discussion with your manager.

According to a Psychology Today report, the best day to ask for a raise is on Thursday because people tend to be more accommodating and relaxed as the workweek progresses. However, that might not be the case in your office. Your weeks may always start off slow, with significantly more work piling up near the end of the week. If that’s the case, you’ll want to rethink the Thursday rule.

When you plan your discussion, make sure it’s during a time when your boss can afford to give your request full attention and consideration. That means pick a time when workload is light and you have at least an hour for discussion. If that seems impossible due to your office workflow, ask you manager ahead of time when she could spare an hour to discuss your career.

3. Start with qualifications and contributions. Yes, at some point you’re going to have to say what compensation you’re expecting. But don’t start your discussion there. Instead, walk through how you’ve grown in job. What skills have you acquired since starting? What additional responsibilities have you taken on? How have you contributed to organizational goals? Those questions should guide the majority of your conversation with your manager.

As Alison Green of the Ask a Manager blog explains, “Be really thoughtful about it. At its essence, a raise is recognition that you are now more valuable than you were—that your skill level has improved, that you’ve accomplished more.” Be ready to talk about those accomplishments before you ask for the raise. Whenever possible, point out contributions of which your employer might not be aware.

4. Ask the important question. Remember, you’re asking for a raise months before you expect it to come to fruition. That means you still have plenty of time to take steps toward advancement, even after you have this initial discussion with your manager. Before you finish, ask, “What can I do to really earn this raise/promotion/new benefit?”

This is especially important if your manager seems hesitant to confirm a promotion or raise, and crucial if you get a “no”. Just because your immediate negotiation doesn’t get what you wanted, doesn’t mean this has to be the end of the promotion conversation. If nothing else, this question will give you valuable information to use in your next career ask.

5. Talk about future performance. Similar to asking how you can earn this promotion in your future actions, don’t forget to talk about what you can do with your new benefits. No, you don’t need to detail how you’re going to spend your extra PTO on a fabulous mini-vacation. But if you are getting extra vacation days, you can talk about how this will help you better balance your workload with personal needs and therefore be doubly focused when you are at work.

Whatever compensation you’re looking for, be sure to tie it to organizational goals. If it’s a promotion, talk about how your new position will give you greater authority to accomplish priority tasks. If it’s a raise you’re looking for, explain how that monetary compensation will motivate you to contribute even more to your organization because you know your efforts are being recognized and appreciated.


One final tip: Asking your boss for a raise can be even scarier than asking a hiring manager for a better initial salary, because the conversation will inevitably be more personal. However, that personal connection can truly be an advantage. Use your knowledge of your office culture, organizational priorities, and manager expectations to guide when, how, and why you ask for your next career step.

Photo Credit: Flickr/Pictures of Money with blue filter applied

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David Carr

This is good advice for men too not just women. Asking for a raise and getting it can be scary. good luck to all who will be doing it.