How to ask for a raise in 2021: 5 tips

How can you make a case for a raise now, even amid the pandemic? Consider this expert advice to get the salary increase you deserve in 2021
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how to ask for a raise in 2021: 5 tips

"Challenging" doesn’t begin to describe 2020 – and you worked hard. You were dedicated during the most difficult of days, logging long hours and consistently performing above expectations. You know you’re deserving of a raise, but now – in the midst of a pandemic – probably isn’t the best time to ask for one. Right?

Not necessarily, says Corey Adams, regional vice president at global staffing firm Robert Half.

"Retention is a major concern for many organizations, and raises are not out of the question if budgets allow for it."

“While it might seem like a difficult time to discuss a raise, companies that are hiring and in need of talent are apt to listen," he says. “Retention is a major concern for many organizations, and raises are not out of the question if budgets allow for it.”

In fact, 88 percent of managers are worried about losing top talent, according to a recent Robert Half survey of senior managers, and nearly 40 percent attribute their concern to salary reductions or planned salary freezes in the near future. Because retention is on most managers’ minds, more than a third (36 percent) are more likely to negotiate compensation with candidates now versus a year ago.

[ What skills are hottest right now? Read also: IT careers: 10 critical skills to master in 2021. ]

How to ask for a raise: 5 tips from career experts

Before meeting with your manager to discuss a raise, however, consider these five tips to strengthen your position and increase your odds of landing that salary increase. Here’s what you need to know.

1. Build your case with care

It’s been a long nine months of working tirelessly to support the company’s transition to a virtual environment, and for many IT professionals, it’s taken a toll. “Many workers feel overworked,” Adams says. “They’ve taken on more responsibilities during this time.”

Those additional responsibilities are details you want to include when you make your case. Compile your achievements, the goals you’ve met or exceeded, results you’ve delivered, and use data wherever possible to support your argument, says Matt Walden, managing partner at recruiting company Infinity Consulting Solutions.

“Have you excelled and done your job well? Has your workload increased, stayed the same, or abated?” he says. “Those are the things you want to make sure you note."

As Simona Rollinson, ISACA’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) recently shared, “you must understand and be able to explain clearly how you make and/or save money for your company or how you avoid risk.” She advises you skip the multi-slide presentation and keep your case simple: “Highlight the value of your contributions and projects and build a theoretical ROI.”

[ Want more detail? Read Rollinson's recent article: How to ask for a raise during COVID-19. ]

2. Research salary trends

Explore salaries for roles similar in responsibilities, skills, location, and experience levels.

To know what to ask for, you need to know where you stand. Search employment websites and industry salary reports to understand how your compensation compares to roles similar in responsibilities, skills, location, and experience levels, Adam says. If your compensation is below average, use this information as leverage to request an increase.

“You need to be realistic about what you’re asking for,” Walden adds. “Don’t expect a 10 [percent] to 20 percent raise when today the average you can expect is 1.5 [percent] to 2 percent.”

Here are some data points and resources to use:

3. Be realistic about the organization's financials

One of the most important factors in receiving a raise is your company’s recent financial performance, Walden says. If your organization has enacted hiring freezes, budget cuts, or layoffs, for example, a raise might not be on the table right now.

It’s also important to consider the state of your industry. “If you work in the hospitality or travel industry, you might have to be careful about asking for a raise because those industries are struggling," he says. “But if you work for a technology company, you could be well within your rights because market demand is up.”

[ Read also: IT careers: How to job hunt during a pandemic. ]

4. Rehearse your pitch

Asking your manager for a raise is never an easy conversation. To prepare for your meeting, practice making your case and speak confidently, Adams says. Consider potential objections or questions your manager might raise and formulate how you’ll respond to them.

“The thing that most often works against workers when asking or negotiating a raise is not coming prepared and being over-confident,” he says. While you may be deserving of a raise, you’re not entitled to one.

Rollinson advises: “Avoid presumptive and confrontational language such as “I deserve this” or “You are underpaying me.”

5. Remember: Perks matter, too

Reminder: If a pay raise isn’t in the cards right now, there are other things you can negotiate, Adams says. “Many organizations are concerned about retention, so even if it isn’t a monetary return, there are other benefits and perks that could be had in place of a raise,” he says.

These might include additional benefits such as more paid time off, the continuation of flexible work schedules beyond the end of the pandemic, and employee stock options.

It’s also important to remember that if your manager is unable to award you a raise right now, it’s worth having the conversation again in the future, Adams says. “Be prepared to ask about the possibility of revisiting pay discussions when the business is on firmer ground," he suggests.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Kristin Burnham is a reporter and editor covering IT leadership, business technology, and online privacy and security.