Year-end is a great time to ask for more money.
Results are in for most of the year, and if it has been a good year for you or for the company, you can point to tangible numbers. If your company plans by the calendar year, these latter months are when budgets are finalized for next year, so you can get your request in before all the new money is spent. Finally, don’t underestimate the good will sparked by the upcoming holiday season. Here is a five-step process to ask for more:
Decide between a bonus or a raise
You might be able to get both a larger than normal raise and a year-end bonus (or larger bonus, if your company already gives something). However, the preparation and negotiation is different for each so I would pick one to focus on. If your role has substantively changed (your responsibilities have increased, your clients are more high-profile) you may want to target a raise since your ongoing contribution will be greater. If you had a breakout year (you proposed a new idea that was implemented, you finished a project that met with unexpectedly high success) you may want to target a bonus to reflect the special circumstances. A bonus is typically more palatable for a company because it’s a one-time hit, rather than something baked into all future costs. You also want to see if the company has more history giving one or the other—bumps in pay along with increased responsibilities or one-time spot bonuses—and select based on what the company is more likely to agree to.
Pick your main argument
In the above examples, the main argument is around the business results you specifically contribute. You always need to be able to point to results you contribute. However, your main argument may be less about you specifically and more about the market—you might have salary data that shows your company is below market, or you might have anecdotal evidence showing multiple competitors routinely paying bonuses. The company may give you (and even your colleagues) more money to stay competitive. Another line of argument focuses on the company—perhaps it’s been a particularly challenging year or an unusually profitable year. You can build your case around having to navigate the company’s circumstances and how it calls for more compensation. Keep in mind that if more than one type of argument supports your case, you should prepare to bring up all arguments as needed. Start with the one you think will be most compelling to your boss, not your personal favorite.
Plan for objections
Once you’ve picked your main argument or arguments, brainstorm why your boss will still say no. If s/he disputes your results, do you have customer or colleague testimonials or hard revenue or cost numbers to back up what you say? If s/he disputes your market data, can you point to published sources or share more details in the anecdotal examples to give more heft to your argument? If s/he blames the company and insists s/he would say yes, can you provide a plan to continue moving the process forward? You can ask for more detail on the constraints and then develop the plan along with your boss on how to proceed. You can work with your boss to draft a counter-argument for whomever might say no. You can make an alternative request that is just as valuable (e.g., if you targeted a raise, see if you can get a bonus instead, if you targeted more money, see if you can get a benefit you would have spent money on anyway such as tuition reimbursement).
Schedule the ideal time
It’s already November so you have to get on the calendar quickly, but pick the right time of day if you have a choice. Schedule for when you are at your best and for when your boss is least likely to get interrupted or cancel your meeting. You want to block off at least a half hour because you will be making a business case for your request, and you want to save time for some back and forth. If you have a standing meeting already on the calendar and it’s otherwise difficult to get additional time, then you can put your request on that weekly agenda. However, a separate meeting is better because you don’t want your request to get pushed off.
You will probably not get a definitive answer after one request. Your goal for the first meeting is to get your boss to verbally agree or to advocate for you in future discussions. You want to define a specific next step—e.g., your boss will contact HR to process the raise effective X pay period, your boss will include your raise in the next year’s budget. You also want to set a specific deadline—for when your boss will notify HR, for when the budget meeting will be held. You need to know the timing because you will keep asking—you will check in to make sure next steps are actually followed and not forgotten in the busyness of year-end.
This five-step systematic process takes the guesswork out of how to ask for more money. Of course, another option altogether is to leave for another job that pays more. If your request for more money isn’t approved, keep asking. Assume No just means Not Now. Repeat the process at a different time. Try a different argument. Try different counter-arguments. If your later requests for more money still fall short, you still have the option to look elsewhere!