It takes some mental gymnastics to think about how to ask for a raise while major companies are laying off workers by the thousands. And yet, despite the dire headlines, overall job market data has been looking good month after month, with unemployment at a more than 50-year low.1 Salaries are on the rise too. US employers plan to bump them up in 2023 by 4.6% on average—up from an average of 4.2% last year, according to a study from consulting company WTW.2 In fact, 64% of employers plan to give bigger annual raises this year, according to a Salary.com survey. That's a 23% increase over 2022, says CNBC, with inflation and retention as key motivators.
But none of that makes the actual asking for a raise part any easier. It's like slipping a "Do you like me?" note to your classmate with checkboxes for yes and no. Except the classmate is your manager, and checking no wouldn't just bruise your ego—it can bruise your budget. Plus, this isn't exactly a question you can put in a note anyway, and you may be worried about seeming ungrateful for having a job that pays anything at all these days.
While going for it can feel awkward, it can pay off. According to a report by compensation software provider Payscale, 70% of employees who have asked for a pay bump have received one.3 And asking for what you deserve is better than "quiet quitting." Here's how 5 real millennials got big raises—so you can borrow their tips and try to do the same.
1. Lay the groundwork
Nathan Kennedy, 26 Raise: 25%
Kennedy, from Ontario, Canada, was working in sales leadership development at a consumer packaged goods company when he decided to accelerate his timeline for a promotion—and the pay boost that would come with it.
As he figured out how to ask for a raise, he kept a detailed record of his accomplishments so he could define the precise ways he added value to his company. Next, he mentioned in 1-on-1s with his boss that he felt ready for a new challenge, saying he was progressing well in his current role and wanted to add more responsibilities.
After setting the stage, Kennedy set up a special meeting with his boss to explain that he felt his hard work, results, and ability to learn quickly primed him for a promotion to a leadership position. "People think you need to be super-slick in those conversations, but the biggest step is just asking," Kennedy says. Still, it's key to "be mindful of HR, pay bands, and all the other things that go into a manager's decision."
Kennedy's "pleasantly persistent but firm" efforts were rewarded with a salary bump of almost $1,500 a month. "It allowed me to build up my cash cushion for when I eventually left to pursue my own business full time," says Kennedy, who is now a financial literacy social media creator.
2. Establish yourself as a thought leader
Kimberly Barnes, 29 Raise: 61%
After 3 years at the same Bay Area cloud computing company, Barnes' annual salary had increased just $3,000. She wanted to gain leadership experience and more-challenging opportunities, but her company was "keen on keeping things as they were, so I had no opportunities to grow," she says. She researched similar roles with other employers on salary websites and found she was being paid far less than she could be at another company.
So she focused on building up her LinkedIn presence and contributing to industry discussions on social media. After talking with others in her field at networking events and brushing up on her area of expertise by reading a lot online, she started writing thought leadership articles on her personal website and amassed a portfolio of them. Barnes said this made her more competitive: "Others might have similar experience, but they didn't necessarily demonstrate their deep understanding and vision for their industry as I did."
Barnes also spent hours researching potential interview questions so she'd be prepared for anything an interviewer threw at her. "I finally gained the confidence I needed to look for a new job," she says. "I was stressed about money and feeling resentful of my employer, but shopping around at different companies remedied a lot of that. I should have done it sooner."
Then the interviews came. Barnes thinks linking to her website in her job applications helped her get to the next round. "The thought leadership articles gave a preview of my work style and an opportunity to showcase my work and personality," she says. Before interviewing with recruiters, she wrote down her wins in previous roles and rehearsed. "That helped when articulating how I brought value to my peers and created a lot of efficiency," she says. After a 6-month search, Barnes accepted an offer from a medical device company that paid $110,000 a year, a jump of more than $40,000 over her previous salary.
3. Consider a career change
Matt Shahzade, 28 Raise: 33% + commission
For 8 years, Shahzade worked for his uncle at his family's Cape Cod, Massachusetts, fish market. He was there every weekend, sometimes for a month straight without a day off, earning $15 an hour, or around $30,000 a year. Shahzade knew how to ask for a raise, and did so numerous times, but he never got a significant one.
Shahzade was expected to take over the business when his uncle was set to retire in a few years, but Shahzade wasn't sure he wanted to work lots of hours in a field he wasn't passionate about. So he put out feelers with friends from college. One helped him land a sales job at a consulting company, and Shahzade ultimately left the family business.
The new position paid $10,000 a year more than the fish market gig, plus uncapped commissions. He has weekends off too. Now in his fourth year at the company, Shahzade is on a director track and has continued to increase his earnings.
"This career change completely altered my life's trajectory," Shahzade says. He's been able to travel and buy a nicer car, an engagement ring, and his first home—"things I never thought I'd be able to do." His advice: "Do the hard things. The longer you put them off, the harder they become. It wasn't easy to leave my family's business, but it was necessary."
4. Negotiate for a raise with an outside offer
Kimberly Waller, 36 Raise: 14%
Waller had received minimal raises for 6 years despite working her way up to a director-level position at a health care consulting firm. Even though she was making 6 figures, she knew she was underpaid. She had taken over the responsibilities of multiple employees who had left the company. But Waller, of Providence, Rhode Island, felt loyal to her employer, so she wasn't actively job hunting.
A former colleague let her know about a position at a company in a higher cost-of-living area. Waller interviewed to see where it would lead and got the job. The starting pay? $40,000 above her current salary.
Waller didn't jump at the dollar signs, though. "I felt it was wrong to take the job without talking to my current boss," she says. Plus, she was pregnant with her third child at the time. "I told them what I was being offered, and that I was strongly considering taking the position."
Upper management met Waller halfway, offering a $20,000 raise. "You have to know your worth and be able to articulate it assertively," Waller recommends. "Don't assume people notice the great work you're doing. Self-advocacy is important, especially for women."
Although the boost fell short of the other offer, Waller opted to stay instead of relocating to the more expensive city.
5. Negotiate to make a good offer better
Jessica Tolar, 32 Raise: 40%
Texas-based Tolar felt restless after 5 years in the same tech marketing role. "I knew I should be moving jobs if I wanted pay increases," she says. So when another employer approached her via LinkedIn, she jumped at the chance to interview and got an offer.
It came with a big salary bump, from $75,000 to $92,000. But Tolar figured since they had approached her, she was in a good position to negotiate.
"I made a spreadsheet and listed every benefit I was currently receiving and would get with the new employer," she says. She compared each one—medical, vision, life insurance, phone reimbursement—and used the data to support her counteroffer, showing where she would lose out on benefits if she accepted the new position. She also included commuting costs and how much money she made for her current employer. "Have the courage to ask for more," Tolar says. "HR expects you to counteroffer. It's not weird for them even if it feels awkward for you." Her efforts paid off: The company agreed to boost their offer by $13,000, to $105,000 a year.
The increase was life-changing. Tolar used her extra income to buy an investment property she rents out. "That raise made it possible for me to lead a more relaxed lifestyle."
How to ask for a raise amid layoffs
Show how your role is worth more now. If your job responsibilities have been piling up or getting more senior as others have exited the company, show your manager 2 lists: 1 with your duties when you were first given your current salary, and 1 with what you're doing now, plus data quantifying your impact, such as money brought in or saved. Ask for a salary that better matches the level and number of your current duties.
Ask your coworkers for advice. Talk to colleagues who have gotten raises at your company, especially any that also report to your manager. Find out how they asked for a raise and just as importantly, when they asked. Certain times of year, such as around annual performance reviews, may lead to better results than others.
Get specific steps for trying again. If you ask for a raise and get turned down, ask your manager to help create an action plan and a timeline for when it might be more possible to get that raise. Getting a commitment for a salary review in the next cycle can be a win.