Career advisor and ‘Betting on You’ author: How to ask for a raise in 2021


As you think about your goals for 2021, how do you know when it's the right time to ask for a raise or promotion? It can be a nerve-wracking effort even during normal circumstances.

But while the moment feels unprecedented, I can offer insights to help you stay on course and be as effective as possible. 

For the past 20 years, I have advised Fortune 100 companies, creative agencies, and technology start-ups, witnessing firsthand how leaders rethink their strategic roadmaps when faced with a crisis. I'm sharing what I've learned over the last two decades in my new book, "Betting on You: How to Put Yourself First and (Finally) Take Control of Your Career," a guide aimed at helping you to be your own best advocate at work and thrive in your career, especially during periods of uncertainty.

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Here are the steps to take as you prepare your ask so that the odds will be in your favor.

1. Seek out smart advice

A great first step is to connect with someone who has been where you are. Your best bet is to find a veteran employee in your organization who would be open to talking about their career journey with you. Make sure that person does not supervise you, and then ask for help in a brief email. 

The most effective networking emails have two components: brevity and sincerity.

Laurie Ruettimann is the author of "Betting on You" and the host of the podcast "Punk Rock HR."
Courtesy Laurie Ruettimann

Write an opening sentence about why you admire your colleague. Then ask for 20 minutes on the calendar to get some advice about your career. Keep this message under 200 words. If you don't know your colleague well enough to write that opening sentence, you don't have the correct person in mind. Keep looking.

Once you land the meeting, come prepared with questions. How has your co-worker managed uncertainty in the past? If they were in your shoes, how would they account for our current economic climate when asking for a raise? What kind of language would they use to help you frame your query, keeping the unique needs of your company in mind? 

Take that with you to the negotiating table, rather than a generic template sourced from the internet. Specificity is key.

2. Start with a story

Bring relevant data with you into a meeting with your supervisor. In the past, I've coached employees on how to create PowerPoint decks to help them make their case. But given that many meetings these days are virtual, remember that we are all experiencing screen fatigue, so leading with a stat-heavy slideshow of tiny text might not be the smartest move.

Instead, demonstrate your worth through a conversation-driven story. 

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As you prepare, ask yourself a few questions. What did you learn this year, and how have you applied that to your job? Did you fall in love with a client's mission and work to exceed her expectations? What did that look like? What mistakes have you made and how have you grown? What does the company culture mean to you?

It can help if you have stats nearby that show how your hard work had an impact on the organization's revenue and profitability, as well as the data to show how your contributions improved the team's productivity

But remember that nobody is an island, and people are just as important as numbers. Talk about the co-workers who also deserve recognition. Give credit where it's due and name the colleagues who helped you along the way. 

3. When in doubt, rethink your timing

Odds are, your supervisors know when you're due for a raise and a promotion. Perhaps you picked up new responsibilities this year, or volunteered to attend meetings with cross-functional teams on other continents, or mentored a brand-new colleague from another department.

It may be true that you deserve a raise and a promotion. It may also be true that other people do, too.

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The top conversation in boardrooms worldwide this year is how the workforce went above and beyond during the pandemic. Companies in various industries had concerns about what would happen to overall productivity with everyone working remotely. Instead, employees exceeded expectations. Now managers face the massive challenge of recognizing, motivating, and retaining all these wonderful, hardworking people who deserve more.

My best advice is to trust your gut. Hold off if you have any doubts about the timing of your request for a raise or promotion. The delay allows you to talk to those veteran employees who have seen it all, home in on how you contribute to your organization's success, and watch how relevant external factors affect your company's performance in the marketplace. 

Rest assured, promotions and merit increases are still happening. Your HR team is working on a formula to recognize your accomplishments even if the organization didn't meet its financial goals. But the bad news is that nobody will hand you a bump in title and compensation unless you ask for it. 

Workers who successfully "ask for more" are skillful at seeking perspective from more experienced colleagues, telling great stories, and nailing the timing of requests. So be bold and courageous all while maintaining a strategy for the way you set out to achieve your career goals in 2021 and beyond.

Laurie Ruettimann is a former human resources leader turned writer, entrepreneur, and speaker. CNN recognized her as one of the top five career advisors in the United States, and her work has been featured on NPR, The New Yorker, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and Vox. She frequently delivers keynote speeches at business and management events around the world and hosts the popular podcast Punk Rock HR. She lives with her husband and cats in Raleigh, North Carolina.  

The article "Career Advisor: How to Ask for a Raise in 2021" originally published on Grow+Acorns.

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