What to do when the boss says no

Good Monday morning, {firstname},

You asked for a raise.

Your boss said no.

Even though you’d prepared with my tips from last month, you found yourself on the short end of the negotiation, and that dream Caribbean cruise you’d been hoping to afford in February is fading like an old t-shirt in the summer.

What’s next?

Well, depending on the reasons your boss offered, here are your best responses:

Company policy

If it’s company policy, or the company’s financial position doesn’t allow for it right now, you’ll have to stick to the facts.

Show the market price for your role.  If your boss agrees that you deserve more, that’s half the battle.

Ask – politely – what circumstances might cause the company to be in a position to adapt and be able to pay you what you’re worth.  Ask how you might help get the company to that point.

Be practical and focus on solutions – if you help solve the company’s problem, can the company solve your pay gap in turn?

Your performance

If the boss says your performance needs to improve before she’ll consider a raise, take the feedback in stride and make a plan.

Keep a running document of your successes.  It can be tough for anyone to remember what you achieved back in January, so make it easy on your boss and yourself by keeping a list that summarizes your one or two biggest successes for each month.

Get your peers, or better, your boss’s peers, to let your boss know how well you’re doing.  The voices of others can be your most effective weapon in changing your boss’s perception of your output. 

Bring your successes to every 1-1 with your boss, and ask explicitly: “How do you feel my performance is improving?  What 1 thing more would you want to see from me in the next month to feel even better?” 

Keep the focus on your performance improvement to earn the pay improvement.

It’s not a good time

A common boss excuse is “It’s not a good time right now.”  It allows your manager to be vague without being insulting or committing to anything.

Your goal, of course, is to get them to commit.

As pleasantly as possible, inquire as to the circumstances causing the current time to be poor, and ask when the timing will be right.  It’s important to get specifics, as vague generalities will be ignored and forgotten.


Another avoidance trick is the ‘wait for a promotion’ response.  If your boss promises that your next raise is tied to your next promotion, focus your energies on that goal.

To the best of your ability, get in writing the requirements of the next level up. What specific duties, responsibilities, and prerequisites are involved?  This is often readily available from HR.

Perhaps the easiest way to earn a promotion to a new job is to simply start doing that job.  Usually, no one will stop you if you simply take the ‘just do it’ approach.

If you’re an individual contributor, start helping with team goals.  If you’re running a team, improve and optimize cross-team collaboration.  If you’re a manager of managers, chip in on strategic and company-wide communication tasks.

Just do the next job, and eventually the pay will come.  (You’ll still need to ask for it, though.)

Don’t sob, threaten, anger, beg or get mean

Your finances are obviously an important, stressful, emotional issue to you.  Not getting paid what you’re worth is emotionally challenging.

Nonetheless, don’t fall into the trap of letting these emotions dictate your raise negotiation strategy.  Being snippety, tearful, irate or obsequious aren’t business strategies. They won’t help you get to your goal and are more likely to set you back.

Make your own raise

There’s no squeezing blood from a stone, and if your boss and your company just aren’t paying up, you’ll need to “make your own raise” and find a different path to putting extra dough in your bank account.

It’s a very strong employment market right now and you can earn referral hiring bonuses, in some cases as large as $10,000, for referring an old friend or colleague to a role at your current employer. 

Or take advisory work or side consulting gigs, using your Ladders profile to advertise your capabilities.

And if nothing else works, it is a very strong employment market.  Unemployment among the college educated is 2.0% and companies are scrambling to hire professionals just like you.

Set up a new job search alert on your Ladders account, watch the $100K+ jobs pour in, and find a new destiny for the new year.

Have a great week, Readers!