Promotions and raises: how to ask for them (and get them)

On top of love for one's job, devotion to one's company, professional conscience or growth opportunities, salary remains the main motivation for more than half of Europeans. However, negotiating a raise or a bonus is still experienced as a particularly perilous and stressful exercise: according to the ALTERNEGO consulting firm, 48% of French people do not even dare raise the topic, and this figure rises to 54% for 20-35 year olds. How can we explain this self-censorship?

Asking for a financial benefit is not an easy thing to do! It can be intimidating for several reasons: modesty, fear of conflict or of being confronted with our market value, lack of confidence, taboo relationship with money... Although all these reasons are well founded, salary negotiation remains without a doubt one of the most delicate negotiations for the simple reason that, contrary to a hiring or exit negotiation, you will stay in your company and will remain connected to your manager once the discussion is over. It is therefore important to prepare well for the meeting with your manager in order to put all the chances on your side and keep a good relationship with your company.

How to approach this negotiation to reach your objective? How to anticipate potential roadblocks and follow up conversations? What should you avoid?

Prepare your salary negotiation using facts

According to a 2019 Indeed study, 75% of French people are more apprehensive about asking for a raise than they are about asking their spouse to marry them. Only 7% of respondents express high confidence in their value to the company when negotiating their future salary. So how can you feel more confident in front of your manager during this particular talk?

To approach the subject calmly, it is important to do your "homework". Just as a job interview is prepared in advance, a salary negotiation requires a minimum of work: you must master the subject and what you are asking your employer.

a) First, take the time to evaluate yourself.

List what you have accomplished and achieved in the last year that would have contributed to the company's performance and make sure you are in a strong position to negotiate. A word of advice: stick to the objective facts and keep feelings at bay. To support your argument, give proof of your investment and your good results: figures, data, documentation... anything that could help you measure your performance.

👉 For example, if you have a sales position: how many new clients have you signed and what are they worth today? What revenue did you generate?

👉 If you are a project manager, what new projects have you initiated and what is their financial impact?

👉 If you are an administrative or financial manager, what processes or procedures have you implemented or streamlined that have saved the company money?


"I cut 10 hours off the closing process", "I gained 500 newsletter subscribers, each

new newsletter, each extra subscriber is bringing us x€ / month", "I have 3 new projects under my responsibility in addition to my main mission", "I helped sign a big contract this year by doing this and that"...

Don't hesitate to highlight your soft skills and what they bring to the daily life of the company: for example, how your creativity allowed you to find a solution to a long-standing problem, how your oral fluency helped you land a new client, how your empathy and your listening skills prevented someone from having a burn-out during a particularly stressful period of the year... etc.

Finally, don't forget that doing a good job is not enough to ask for a promotion or a raise. You must demonstrate how you went above and beyond what was expected of you. Show that you are doing better than good. To do this, simply go back to your job description to refresh your memory: first check that you are performing all the duties and then identify which assignments you went above and beyond the duties in your job description. You can also use the goals and achievements modules of tools such as Popwork to get an overview of the progress made throughout the year.

Popwork's objectives dashboard
Objectives board in Popwork

Objectives board in Popwork

b) Learn about your company's salary policy and about the market

Once you have listed your personal strengths, you must find out about the company's context. This will allow you to formulate a realistic request and avoid a big gap between your aspirations and reality. For example, if your employer is used to increasing its employees by 5%, don't ask for 20%. If your company is in the middle of a PSE or in a difficult economic situation, it may be better to wait a little.

Then, beyond your company, what is the trend in terms of salaries in your sector and in your profession? Ask around for advice, survey the market, consult salary barometers and sites such as APEC to find out the salaries for the position you hold, depending on your region or the size of your company. This small benchmark will allow you to know if your current compensation is correct or not.

Based on the information gathered, and keeping in mind what you actually bring to the company, it will be easier to have an idea of the percentage of increase you can ask for. In general, you can ask for an increase of between 2% and 10% for the same position, but it is up to you to choose the increase you deserve. According to a recent study by software company Altays and Opinion Way, nearly half (47%) of employees surveyed are asking for a raise of 5% or less of their salary. One in five employees is seeking an increase of more than 10% of their current salary, and a very small proportion (5%) is seeking an increase of more than 20% of their salary.

How and when to go for it?

Thanks to this homework, you now know what you are worth professionally and you are comfortable with your argumentation. Then, the golden rule to get a raise is "simply" to ask for it! But be careful, it is important to do it at the right time and in the right way.

a) When to ask and who to ask for a raise?

"If content is king, context is God". This quote is an observation by serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, a consultant for Uber, Birchbox, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr... While this thought is initially directed at digital marketing, it works just as well for a request for a pay raise. Why?

Because while it's obviously essential to prepare good arguments to develop during your future exchange with your N+1, the timing is even more important.

We advise you to ask for an increase :

  • during an annual meeting
  • during an evaluation
  • when you accept new responsibilities
  • after a professional training
  • when you are in a strong position: you have doubled an objective, succeeded in several sales or exploits... (but don't forget that a negotiation is based on continuous work and not on "one shot")
  • when you feel it and think you deserve it! No need to wait for the annual interview, do it according to your arrival in the company. In general, we wait one year before asking for a raise, the time to prove ourselves.

You must therefore take the context into account, but you should know that even during a pandemic, you can make your request, unless of course your company is in a difficult economic situation. Otherwise, on the contrary, the health crisis may have pushed you to work harder, to meet bigger goals, to work overtime, to make special efforts. If you've stayed invested and effective in a turbulent environment, you deserve to be rewarded. A recent Robert Half study indicates that now is as good a time as any to ask for a raise: 88% of executives surveyed said they are concerned about retaining their top performers. 86% of all managers surveyed said they were as willing or more willing to negotiate new hires' salaries than they were a year ago. So even in an unpredictable environment, you can ask for a raise!

But don't bring it up in between meetings, in a hallway, or without thinking too much about the timing: after a poor performance, after only 6 months of seniority, if you've already been given a raise within the year, or if your manager is underwater. Schedule a meeting with your manager when you feel it is the right time. Avoid bypassing your manager by going directly to HR, as this could be perceived in a negative light. Instead, try to prepare your manager for your request a few weeks or even months beforehand, tell him or her verbally or by e-mail that you would like to talk about your compensation at your next meeting.  The objective is not to put your manager against the wall, but for example to talk to your team member about it before the annual closing, in order to prepare him/her.

b) How to formulate your request

Your expectations must then be explicitly formulated. Remain professional and avoid expressions such as "I have the impression", "I think that possibly", "I believe", "I feel", "can be",... The key? To be assertive, i.e. to express your point of view effectively while respecting your interlocutor. This posture, which is neither passive nor aggressive, allows you to assert yourself without offending, to set limits in a calm manner, to argue with conviction... you must be the most convinced person in the room! However, make sure that your confidence does not come across as arrogance.

Start your interview in a positive way, explaining why you like working for the company. Think ahead and introduce your remarks with a simple phrase: "Thank you for taking the time to see me today. I am very excited about working with such strategic goals and expanding my scope of responsibility. With that in mind, I would like to discuss my salary." Then, advance your arguments one at a time.

Then, it's up to you to say what you expect. Recruiters want candidates to have an idea of how much they are worth.

You have the option of offering:

  • a range, which leaves more room for negotiation. If you give a range, the low salary must be what you want, and you must be able to justify why you are asking for more, otherwise you lose credibility.
  • A specific figure, which shows that you know what you want, but this can be a bit rigid. Try in these cases to be specific but show that you are open to negotiation, don't be uncompromising.

A few points to keep in mind:

  1. If you talk about salary, don't think in net but in gross. This way, you will speak the same language as your employer.
  2. Avoid talking about your private life. You ask for a raise because you deserve it, not because you have to have one (to pay your mortgage or go on vacation).
  3. To conclude, don't hesitate to question your interviewer, ask him/her about his/her vision of your expertise and skills: "What do you think?" "Do you agree with me on the objectives achieved?"

If, despite all your preparation, the raise is denied, find out why and see how you can work out an action plan with your manager to tip the scales. Don't get defensive. Don't hesitate to ask questions and keep the discussion open. "Are there particular skills you want from me or goals you want to see achieved? What specific actions would be necessary to earn a raise?  Is there a better time to discuss this in the near future?". Make an appointment for a future meeting, stay active in your request and look for other benefits or compromises: a bonus, a phone, a company car, professional training or shares in the company?

Finally, if you are a manager yourself and have to refuse a raise, make sure you do not demotivate your employee. Identify, with them, the reasons for the refusal so that they can better understand your unfavorable response, but also propose concrete avenues for improvement. Remaining vague, avoiding dialogue or treating the subject without any diplomacy can hinder the relationship between the company and the employee. In this recent article, you will find all our tips on how to break difficult news to an employee.