Did you deserve that raise? Here’s how to get it

Most of the advice out there on how to get a raise is focused on the wrong end of the process.

It focuses on steadying your nerves, making a big list of accomplishments, and preparing yourself for the big moment in the boss’ office.

And it’s entirely wrong.

It’s like telling people to buy insurance after the flood. It’s too late, and it’s not going to bring your broken dreams back to life.

The best time to buy insurance is long before the storm.

And the best time to earn your raise is now. You’ll receive it later, when the proof of your performance shines through. But the best time to earn it is right now.


Have a reality check with your boss.

What is the environment for raises at your company? Understanding the overall economic picture that your company, your CEO, and your boss face gives you a better sense of your ability to earn raises at your present employer.

Is the industry or company hamstrung by changes bigger than you? Is there a tiny pool each year? Or is it boon times and ready money for everyone to grab their share? Are the rewards going to keep flowing so long as the results keep improving?

And what kind of raise process does your company follow? Is the reward system opaque or open to everyone? Is the company pretty straightforward about what behavior they need to see for compensation increases to be justified? Or do they play it closer to the vest?

Who gets raises at your company? What’s been the actual experience in your team / group / division over the past 5 years? Did a lot of people get bumped up a lot of the time? Or is it cost-of-living only? Are high performers rewarded? Are high performers rewarded disproportionately?

And what does that mean for you? What are your boss’ expectations for next year? How would she/he suggest you manage your expectations?

These conversations tend to go better if you can come across as insistent and achievement-driven, rather than pushy and off-putting. But you do have to realize, it is going to be a *little* uncomfortable.

The above questions are meant to be as non-threatening as these conversations can be, especially if done a full year ahead of the next salary review. They exhibit a high level of interest in successful performance and understanding your company’s rewards. Couched in this light, they also make the raise conversation the least risky, and the lowest pressure, it can ever be.

Have a plan with your boss

When you understand the company’s raise environment, the next step is to have a plan for your own performance over the next year.

What are your boss’ performance expectations for you this year? Have you detailed what you need to do to be “a good performer”? To be a “high performer”? Do you have a written plan that both you and your boss have agreed on?

If not approach your boss during your 1-on-1 with this:

I’d like to have all the facts about the best way to succeed. What do I need to do to deliver to expectations this year? What do I need to do to exceed? What will get me an average raise? What will get me a big raise? What is an average raise around here? What’s a big raise?

The answers here are illuminating. If you manager, through no fault of their own, has to be circumspect and cagey in his answers, that tells you something about how easy it is to get ahead at your current employer of choice.


Look, there’s nothing that is ever going to earn you a raise better than out-performing. You can have the best conversations, best plan, and best allocation of your own time and resources.

But if you don’t perform… if you don’t over-perform — you won’t be getting compensation increases, and you especially won’t be getting increases in excess of the ‘average’.

Armed with the information from your boss, figure out your plan to outperform. Determine how you are going to make the most of your hours each week. Focus your time and attention and your capabilities on the things that are most important to your boss and your company.

Importantly, figure out what you don’t need to do, and shouldn’t do. This time can be better spent on more productive activities.

Performance — excellent performance — is the only way to truly get ahead and stay ahead.

And that is all up to you.