It’s the fourth quarter of the year and at many workplaces that means one thing: year-end reviews are coming up. This is a golden opportunity to leverage your hard work all year long into a pay raise for the coming calendar year, but that’s easier said than done.
Most larger employers will use this time to issue a static, across-the-board raise, or sometimes to even take benefits away, depending on how the company performed over the year. Meanwhile, smaller companies might not have any end-of-year review process in place at all.
Either way, a little preparation can go a long way to ensuring that you’re able to make the most of this year-end opportunity to make your case and land a raise.
1. Schedule a year-end review
The first step to getting a raise is to ask to ask. You obviously can’t just swing by your boss’s office and casually ask for a salary bump. You want to first ask for dedicated time devoted to discussing your performance and compensation.
I like to frame it as asking for a meeting “to discuss your future at the company.” It’s your way of signaling to your boss that you want to learn, grow, and advance. But it’s also a way of setting a serious tone. Most importantly, it gives your boss time to prepare herself.
You can do this in person or via email, and I recommend taking the initiative to suggest a few times, preferably at the end of the week. That way, however things go down, you’ll both have a whole weekend apart to do some individual reflection.
2. Prepare your case
Managers at larger organizations go to great lengths to formalize the review and raise conversation in part because it makes it more difficult for you to advocate for yourself. Don’t expect them to roll out the red carpet for you to make your case.
Come prepared with a list of your achievements and accomplishments from the past year. Did you save the company money? Did you increase retention and reduce turnover? Help maintain a happy, productive team? Raise funds? Reduce costs? Keep clients and customers happy?
Make sure to explain how you went above and beyond the call of duty. Real talk: just showing up and doing your job doesn’t warrant a raise. You need to demonstrate – with stories and metrics, whenever possible – why you’re deserving of something more than your base salary.
Don’t forget to know thy audience. Frame your achievements in terms of what matters most to your boss in particular. What are they most concerned with? Play into their hopes and fears about the team today and tomorrow. Because what you’re really talking about when discussing the future of your position, is the risk your employer faces if you are dissatisfied enough to leave.
3. Make a specific ask
During your review, expect to get feedback on your performance in addition to providing your own take on the matter. Assuming the majority of your employer’s feedback is positive, now’s the time to make your big move.
Even if they offer a standard across-the-board raise, be prepared with a specific ask of what you’re looking for moving forward. Higher pay? How much? Be specific. More vacation days? How many? A commission structure so your pay is more directly connected to your productivity?
Whatever it is, tailor your ask to what matters most to you and what might be easiest for your employer to give a little on. If the budget is super tight, flex time and the ability to work from home might easier things for your employer to give on. Have a few prioritized asks in mind to specifically present to your employer. If you’re top priority gets flatly rejected, don’t be discouraged. Pivot to your next priority.
4. Be pleasantly persistent
Women demonstrating assertiveness – like the assertiveness it takes to ask for a raise – are up against unfortunate double-standards. We’re more likely to be seen as selfish or pushy than our male counterparts who exhibit the same exact behaviors. Is this fair? No way. But knowing the bias we’re up against means you can take all the precautions possible to mitigate these unfair double-standards from costing you your raise.
So yes, it makes sense to be especially attuned to appearing as pleasant as possible when asking for more. Smile. Lead with your intent, which is to continue to be a proud team player. Use “we” and “us” often to point to the collective benefit of finding an acceptable way forward for everyone.
Be persistent and firm with your ask, but while keeping as calm and warm a demeanor as possible.
Should we have to do all this? Of course not. But when it matters most, you might as well play all the cards you can in our imperfect, biased world.
5. Follow up in writing
If your boss agrees to some of your requests, or if they defer and say they’ll get back to you, make sure to follow up in writing to document the conversation. Email them with a synopsis of the conversation you just had, as you perceived it. It’s amazing how the same exact conversation might be perceived differently by two different people. Wrap things up with a preview of next steps, including when you expect to talk about this next.
If you get consistent, solid “no’s” in response to your requests, the next best thing to ask for is a plan of action. Can you request that the issue be revisited in 3 to 6 months? Can you leave the conversation with a clear plan on the expectations you must meet in order for a raise conversation to be on the table again?
Whatever your employer can give, make sure to get it in writing by following up via email after the conversation.
Cut your losses
And if your employer truly isn’t giving you any sense of what your future at the company might look like, or what a path to promotion and advancement might entail, it might be time to cut your losses. Your path forward just might be into a new office next.
If you want even more details on mastering the art of negotiation, get my step-by-step negotiation course, complete with interactive exercises to prepare you to slay your next negotiation conversation here.