When your boss says no to a raise: 6 steps to take

You made your case for a higher salary and it fell flat. Maybe you need different data – or maybe it’s time to move on. Expert advice on next steps
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Negotiating a higher salary is almost always nerve-wracking. You may even see the worst possible outcome: After you gather up your gumption and evidence to make your case, your boss turns you down.

However, all is not necessarily lost. “No” is not always forever. Sometimes the refusal is simply a result of bad timing, poor presentation, or lack of data – all of which can be fixed.

[ You need data to negotiate what you deserve. Read also: 5 top IT salary surveys. ]

As an IT leader, you can take a number of actions to set yourself up for success the next time around – or you can decide to move on to the next role. Consider these actions recommended by IT career experts:

1. Pinpoint why the request failed

“If you have been told you are not eligible for a raise, then sit back and assess what might have gone wrong with the way in which you presented the request,” advises Carol Lynn Thistle, managing director with Heller Search Associates, an executive recruiting firm that specializes in IT leaders. “Understanding why the request wasn’t granted is important to other decisions you will make after the request was rejected.”

The reasons may not always be overt. But consider what feedback and clues your boss provided about why the raise was not going to happen, says Elaine Varelas, managing partner with Keystone Partners.

2. Examine if you can offer better metrics

“They didn’t have examples of how they increased productivity, decreased costs, eliminated obstacles and delays, and supported colleagues.”

Asking for raise based solely on your own needs is a recipe for failure. “Perhaps you said you needed more money, or had friends who made more elsewhere, or demanded a raise in an unreasonable timeframe. Getting an increase is all about value added and contribution, not personal circumstances,” Varelas points out.

Yet most employees who walk away disappointed simply didn’t take the time to document their successes and the contributions they made that surpassed the expected, Varelas says. “They didn’t have examples of how they increased productivity, decreased costs, eliminated obstacles and delays, and supported colleagues with the demands of their jobs.” 

A good place to begin next time is with your own job description, says Thistle. Look for areas where you went above and beyond in adding value and show up next time with metrics and results.

3. Ask for direct input

If it’s not clear what the issues were, ask what it would take to get an increase. “Find out where you are not meeting expectations, and make sure you understand what you need to demonstrate yourself,” Varelas suggests. “Maybe your boss wants to see more team play, more initiative, more responsiveness, or fewer mistakes.”

4. Reconsider timing

Simply asking for a pay bump at a time outside of the regular cadence of raises in an organization can be an issue, Thistle notes. “Make sure the company hasn’t just declared the worse financial results in years, is in the midst of organizational change, or has some other significant negative circumstance,” Varelas adds.

5. Find out if it’s you

If your boss tells you that you are simply maxed out from a salary perspective in your current role, that may be code. “Listen carefully to see if you need to develop to get a raise, or if you need to move on to increase your earnings,” Varelas says. “If they tell you they don’t think you are happy, most likely they aren’t happy with your work, attitude, and behavior, and unless you can make a drastic change, it is time to look elsewhere.”

6. Decide whether to walk

“If you feel that nothing you do will result in a raise because the company is just not interested in sharing the wealth, then it may be time to leave,” says Thistle. “If you make a move to a new company there will likely be a new and better compensation package.”

But, Thistle cautions, it’s never a good idea to look for a new job based on money alone.

“Look at the big picture and consider all of the benefits of the new role – the opportunity to take on greater responsibilities, a new industry, or transformative digital innovation, or to take a role that gets you closer to your end goal, such as the CIO position. All of these are viable reasons for making your next move.”

[ Want more advice on salaries and IT careers? Get our new eBook: IT job searching in 2019: A practical guide. ]

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.