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'Should I ask for a raise right now?' A career expert on how to call the shots—and what to say to 'no'

Olha_Tsiplyar | Twenty20

As a career coach, one question I've been frequently asked is, "Should I ask for a raise right now?"

With so many companies struggling to stay financially afloat during Covid-19, asking for a higher salary might seem like a discussion best saved for later. But even if your organization is scaling back on hiring or trying to cut costs, it's in their best interest to keep their top-performing employees happy.

While these conversations are rarely comfortable, they are a necessary and important part of your professional growth.

Here's what to consider before making your case:

Call your shots wisely.

Depending on your industry, this is either a great time to ask for a raise, or a time to feel lucky that you still have a job.

So take a step back and think about your overall position: Is your company meeting its targets? Is your team performing well? Have you been taking on additional responsibilities or over-delivering on expectations?

If your workload is light at the moment or you aren't being given a clear opportunity to show your value to the organization, then it might be better to hold off until your moment in the spotlight finally arrives.

Know the ray raise 'rhythms' of your company.

If you just received a raise six months ago, you probably shouldn't engage in the conversation yet (unless you've somehow managed to quadruple your output or rescue the company from certain doom).

Talk to your peers and learn what the organization's expectations are when it comes to raises. Keep in mind, however, that these rhythms might be thrown off by the pandemic or by economic crisis.

Organize your data.

This may seem obvious, but many people rush into these conversations without having a clear justification for their ask.

You'll need to have hard data that proves how and why your work has added significant value to the company. This won't be a quick task; you'll likely need more than a few hours to organize things like numbers, graphs and emails to back up your worth.

Also, make sure the raise you're requesting is reasonable for someone in your role and industry, and with your experience.

Plan time for the conversation, in advance.

Make certain that you allot plenty of time for your meeting with your manager. Don't try to squeeze the conversation in at the end of a Zoom call, or spring a "do you have a few minutes to chat?" message mid-afternoon.

Ensure that there's enough time (a) to have a real, in-depth conversation about why you believe you're deserving, and (b) for your manager to gather the energy and focus to respond, rather than react.

Ask with humility.

While you want to be firm in your argument, there's nothing more off-putting than someone making a demand who doesn't understand the larger implications of that demand.

Your manager is balancing pressures from clients, their own manager, vendors, the rest of the team, and other forces that might be largely invisible to you.

Seek to understand your manager's position, while also making a case for why you should get paid more. A posture of confident humility goes a long way.

Take 'no' as a data point—and learn from it.

No matter how well-timed your ask is and how deserving you are, there are any number of reasons your manager might reject your request for a raise — and some of them might have nothing to do with you or your performance.

The best response to being turned down is: "What will it take for me to earn a pay raise?" Ask for specifics. Know what the expectations are, so that the next time you ask, you are backed by data that aligns with your manager's threshold for a raise.

Todd Henry speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work. He is the author of several books, including "The Motivation Code: Discover the Hidden Forces That Drive Your Best Work" and "The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment's Notice." Todd's work has been featured by Fast Company, Fortune, Forbes, and HBR.

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