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Engineering: Asking For a Raise is Easier Than You Think, Even In Bad Times

By: John Hoschette

As Originally Published in IEEE-USA Today's Engineer Online, July, 2010

Tel: (715) 222-7883
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Do you feel underpaid and deserving of a higher salary? Are you thinking about asking for a raise, but unsure how to go about it? Do you cringe at the thought of approaching your boss? In this article, adapted from Chapter 24 of my new Wiley-IEEE Press book, The Engineer's Career Guide, I provide guidelines for making the task less intimidating. Following these guidelines will be maximize your chances for success - and hopefully get you the raise you want and deserve.

Following are the five basic steps to follow when asking for a raise [1]:

  1. Do Your Research and Build Your Case
  2. Prepare and Plan Your Presentation
  3. Set the Meeting
  4. Ask for the Raise
  5. Be Prepared to Handle Rejection

Do Your Research and Build Your Case

Prior to asking for a raise, you need to conduct a lot of research. You need to build your case and clearly identify why you deserve one.

Bad Reasons - First of all, do you have the right reasons? If you are asking for a raise because you need the money and can't pay your bills, you are asking for the wrong reason [2, 3]. If paying your bills is the justification for your raise, your boss is more than likely to tell you that you have a personal financial problem, not a reason for them to give you a raise. Giving you a raise is not the answer. Look at the situation from your employer's prospective and base your case on why they would consider you for a raise and what you can do for them.

Another mistaken justification for an increase is that others in your group are being paid more and you feel you performance is as good as theirs. This is not a good reason because you do not know all the experience and extra skills they have for which the company is willing to pay more. Managers know that if they give a raise for this reason and word gets out, your entire group will be in the boss's office asking for a raise. This is a management nightmare, and for this reason, managers do not give raises just because an employee feels they are doing just as good a job as others.

Right Reasons - The only right reasons for deserving a raise is because your job performance is outstanding and that you are underpaid. You need both of these reasons to build a solid case.

Career Tip: Raises are justified on outstanding performance and establishing equal performance and being underpaid.

Underpaid - To build the case that you are underpaid, you will need to conduct some research. Here is research you should consider to establish the case that you are underpaid.

  1. If you feel you are underpaid because others in the industry are getting considerably more, then research the salaries of others in the industry and show how your salary is below these. Several websites can provide salary benchmark data based on your job description, including IEEE-USA's salary service, and You can use the data provided by these and other sources to show how much your salary is under the norm.
  2. If you feel you are underpaid on the basis of your company's internal salary ranges, then you can build your case based on this. By checking with your Human Resources department, you can determine if you being paid for your level and the rating you received. For instance, if you are rated an E3 and have been consistently receiving a performance rating of excellent, but are only being paid at the E3 level for average performers, then you definitely have a case to ask for a raise.
  3. Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) is another good indicator of being underpaid. If you have not been receiving annual COLA increases, your salary has actually decreased. Managers understand this since they are also subject to this. In addition, there are yearly salary range adjustments companies make based on market conditions alone. A company will increase the pay range to attract new hires and may not adjust the employee's salary. After several years of this happening, the employee is underpaid relative to new hires. Managers recognize this and consider it a reason for deserving a raise.

Outstanding Performance - To build the case for outstanding performance, you will need to seriously review your accomplishments and overall job performance [3, 4]. If you have been receiving an average rating, then this is going to be an extremely tough sell. However, if you have been receiving outstanding ratings and awards, your case is much stronger.

Make a list of your recent significant accomplishments for the company and how they contributed to the bottom line. Document costs savings, productivity improvement, important projects achieved, above-the-call customer service, and ways in which you have contributed more than your job required [4]. Some other reasons for giving a raise might include extra revenue you generated, tight deadlines you've met or beat, new initiatives you took above your normal job, and extra hours you put in.

Make a list of any additional responsibilities you have added to your job. An increase in responsibility, more employees supervised, or special projects are often grounds for an increase. Documented outstanding performance where you clearly went above the norm will definitely support your case for a pay increase.

Research Company Policy - Find out your company's policy on salary increases. Read your employee handbook, look at company policies and check with your human resources department. Doing this should reveal the process whereby salary increases are granted. If a policy or a process exists, your best bet when asking for a pay raise is to follow the process exactly.

Other things to consider are raise cycles. Are all employees reviewed at the same time each year and are raises given only at that time? Does your boss have the budget to give you a raise? For the highest chance of successfully getting the raise you want, you have to know the company's policies regarding compensation, and if your boss alone has authority to grant the raises if other departments like human resources have to be involved. Once you have conducted and documented your research, you are ready to move on to preparing and planning your presentation.

Preparing and Planning Your Presentation

Here are some good actions to take when you start preparing and planning your presentation:

Network - Network with other employees or engineers in the industry who might have recently asked for a raise. Professional associations also do salary surveys and provide networking opportunities with people in similar jobs. Ask how they prepared and if they have any recommendations for you.

Have a Reasonable Figure in Mind - After you have done your research on salaries, you should have a good idea how much you are underpaid and what a fair and equitable raise would be. When it comes time to discuss how much of a raise you want, talk of how much you are underpaid in terms of dollars per month. Using dollars to describe the amount underpaid makes it look better for you. Then, when you discuss raises, put it in terms of percentage of increase. This number appears much smaller and easier for people to accept. This approach gives the appearance of being significantly underpaid and only a small percentage increase is requested.

Don't Employ Ultimatums - Some people feel the right thing to do is give their boss an ultimatum: Give me the raise or I quit. Many managers, when faced with this situation, will simply call your bluff. Considering the employment situation and job competition today this approach is not recommended. [5]

Practice - Practice and rehearse your pitch at least five times before you meet with the boss [6]. Practicing will help you appear confident and firm about your request. [6]

Timing - Timing is everything, including how your company stock is doing, how the project you are working on is going, time of year, day of the week and hour. The ideal case is to ask just after the company announces record sales and profits, or just as you successfully completed a very difficult assignment. Studies have shown that on Fridays, workers are in the best mood, and therefore more agreeable rather than the beginning of the week, and especially not on a Monday [7]. Try to pick a time during month that is not your boss' busiest time, a time when your boss is not distracted by deadlines and will have some extra time to work on your request.

Familiarize yourself with your employer's pay practices. If increases only occur once a year, you are unlikely to receive a raise at any other time. If your company offers more frequent increases, you'll have more luck asking for a raise outside of the designated period.

Asking during tough times - Your company might be losing money because of a downturn, but if you can prove that you're vital to getting the company through the recession, then a raise is assured [8]. Also, if your company recently downsized, and as a consequence you've taken on additional responsibility and subordinates, that warrants a higher salary or promotion.

Anticipate objections - Your boss is going to raise objections, and you should be prepared to have answers that overcome these objections. Here are some objections you might encounter and good answers:

  • Objection: "I can't give you a raise, I don't have the budget and I need upper management approval."
  • Response: Stay focused on two reasons: underpaid and excellent performance. Again, repeat your best reasons and then ask what is needed to get the budget and upper management approval. Point out how in your excellent performance you overcame barriers like these and you are sure you boss can overcome these too.
  • Objection: "It's not raise time, therefore I cannot do anything"
  • Response: Focus on what you can do. First, the objection indicates that your boss is not arguing with your reasons and must believe they are good. State this obvious fact to get agreement that this is the case. Next, set the stage for the next raise period by asking if you can expect the raise during the next salary adjustment period. If the answer is still no, then probe further and ask what is the reason.
  • Objection: "I don't know if I can."
  • Response: This is most common objection, because your boss may not really know if it possible to get you a raise. Your response is to ask what should we do to find out if you can. Who else should we be talking to?

Now that you are prepared, it's time to contact your supervisor and set up a time to talk.

Set the Meeting

Set up a meeting a couple of days in advance with your immediate supervisor to discuss your compensation. It is a good idea to explain the purpose of the meeting is your desire to discuss your pay in light of your recent accomplishments, and pay relative to your overall performance on the job. This will show your boss how serious you are about asking for a raise [9]. Don't discuss your raise by e-mail, in the hallway, between meetings or by telephone. Meet with your boss in person.

Give your supervisor time to prepare for the meeting. Your boss will want time to research company policies and consult with the Human Resources. It is best to pick a neutral meeting place like a conference room with a door instead of your boss's office or your office.

Asking for the Raise

Start the meeting on a pleasant note and begin with some small talk. After a few minutes, transition to the reason why you are there. Start by reviewing the performance reasons why you deserve a raise. State the reasons slowly and directly and make eye contact. It is okay to have a note sheet to talk from. Let the boss respond to your reasons and allow for a two-way conversation.

Then list the reasons why you consider your salary low and deserve a raise. Show the evidence you have illustrating how low you think your salary is, and propose the size of the adjustment you consider reasonable. Keep it strictly professional with no shouting or yelling. Discuss everything in a confident and firm voice.

Make it perfectly clear as you summarize that you want a xx percentage raise, and that you would like to know if the boss is going to work to help you get it. Then stop talking and let your boss respond. Listen closely to the responses offered. Is the boss saying no, maybe, or yes? If yes, then express how glad you are to hear it, and that you appreciate how your boss agrees with you and how you are looking forward to the raise. If the boss is saying anything other than yes, then you are on to the rejection scenario.

Be Prepared to Handle Rejection

Getting a "no" from the boss does not have to be the final word. If your boss is not able or willing to grant your request for a raise, have a Plan B. You can ask your boss for other perks in lieu of a raise, such as additional vacation days, more job flexibility or a change of office if this is acceptable to you. Another way to deal with rejection is to ask what you can do in the next six months to make this conversation successful the next time. Ask the boss to be as specific as possible.

Do not respond with anger or by threatening. You will need to continue to interface with your boss on daily assignments and putting up walls around you is never going to help your cause. Another natural reaction is to cut back on your work in retaliation for the rejection. Some people think if they are not going to pay me more then I am going to do less. Keep your performance up, continue to show them you deserve it and get ready for the next cycle of raises.


There are just two basic reasons a company will give you a raise. The first is your performance is outstanding and the second is that you are getting underpaid. The wrong reason for asking for a raise is because you need money to pay your bills.

If you follow these guidelines and present a compelling case, you are more than likely going to be successful. Set up a special one-on-one meeting with your boss and come prepared to present your case and handle objections. Look your boss directly in the eyes and speak with confidence about your desire for a raise. Do not have an emotional and bitter exchange with your boss, since it is only going to hurt your career. Be prepared for "no" and have a plan B just in case.

Have you identified any career actions you want to take as a result of reading this chapter? If so, please make sure to capture these ideas before you forget by recording them in the notes section at the back of the book.


  1. Storm, Alison, "How to Ask for a Raise," Website WWW.BARGAINST.COM 07/21/2008, HTTP://WWW.BARGAINIST.COM/DEALS/2008/07/HOW-TO-ASK-FOR-A-RAISE/
  2. Website, "How To Get a Pay Raise,"
  3. Heathfield, Susan M., "How to Ask for a Pay Raise, Steps in Asking for a Pay Raise", Website Human Resources,
  4. Niznik, John Steven, "Asking For a Pay Raise,"
  5. "How To Ask For (And Get) A Raise Like a Man,"
  6. Johnson, Tory, "How to Ask for a Raise Women - Have to Be Confident When Making Their Case for More Money," 28 April 2006
  7. Santiago, Andrea, "Asking for a Raise - Quick Tips, Increase Your Salary with a Few Easy Steps,"
  8. Weiss, Tara "How To Ask For A Raise When Times Are Hard," 29 April 2008,
  9. McKay, Dawn Rosenberg "How to Ask for a Raise, Tips to Help You Ask for a Raise,"

John Hoschette, is an experienced Career Development Coach, Trainer, and Professional Key Note Speaker. Mr. Hoschette's past position at Lockheed Martin and current position as Technical Director at Rockwell Collins have allowed him an acute understanding of all aspects of an engineering career.

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