Salary negotiation

How to Ask for a Raise (And Get It) in 7 Steps

Getting promoted can be much easier if you have a plan (advice for non-FAANG).

As a software developer, asking for a raise is all about leverage, tact, and timing. If you’re wondering how to ask for a raise, chances are you’re not making enough.

Before you broach the conversation with a manager, you need hard data that proves you’re an asset, or a competing job offer to leverage your case. (Even better if you have both).

But you also need to read the room. If your performance helped your team complete a big project, it’s probably a good time to ask. If your company is announcing layoffs, though, it’s probably not.

Here are the seven steps to take so you can negotiate your salary (and win):

  1. Conduct your own salary research
  2. Gather your performance data
  3. Get the timing right
  4. Schedule a meeting
  5. Ask for a raise
  6. Prepare for follow-up questions
  7. Prepare for what’s next

1. Conduct Your Own Salary Research

If you want a raise as an engineer or other technical employee, conduct your own salary research to determine if (or how much) you’re being underpaid.

Benchmark your role

Start with salary benchmarking. It’s a process HR teams use to determine salary ranges and pay bands for different roles within a company, and it can help you understand the market rate for your position.

Evaluating benchmark jobs — i.e., jobs with similar responsibilities or job titles to your own — will give you a snapshot of what other professionals in your field are making.

Where to look

Avoid sites like Glassdoor or Payscale altogether. Their salary averages aren’t truly representative of what engineers in the workforce are making.

Instead, search for engineering jobs on sites like Stack Exchange, Angel List, Triplebyte You can filter tech jobs by compensation, experience level, perks, and industry.

What to look for

As an engineer, there are three things to look for:

  • General expectations and responsibilities for engineers with your level and years of experience (YOE)
  • The rates companies are offering engineers with your experience
  • Job location

For example, let’s say you’re a mid-level backend software engineer at a small company with a base salary of $120k working in Silicon Valley. You should look for comparable jobs in your area, like this example:

X Company: Software Engineer - Backend
$150k-$180k, Equity
San Mateo, CA

Based on this job description, you can get a high-level understanding of the responsibilities and expectations of someone at your career level.

You can also see that you’re underpaid. The lower end of the typical salary range for your level is 25% more than what you currently make.

Determine a reasonable salary range

In Silicon Valley or any booming tech area, a 20%-50% pay increase isn’t out of the question if you move jobs, but could prove impossible to get with your current employer. Location and your career level are both factors you can leverage for a raise.

If you’re underpaid based on your salary research, find a salary range that you think is commensurate with your level and YOE. That might be 10% or 30% more than you’re making, so be sure you have overwhelming proof that the market rate is higher for your position.

Aside from finding comparable jobs online, look into the cost of living and your location. A salary of $120k will get you further in a state like NC than it will in CA. Sometimes location arbitrage (moving and working remotely) might even be better than a raise - but why not have both if you can?

2. Gather Your Performance Data

Track your performance and company wins

A 2018 Stripe study found that engineering efficiency is the biggest challenge for enterprises, even more so than access to capital.

Teams can increase efficiency by communicating software metrics as goals. Here are some examples of software metrics you can track to highlight your performance:

  • Reducing lines of code (not always relevant so tread carefully if you choose this as an argument)
  • Reducing the number of reported bugs
  • Increasing number of software iterations
  • Speeding up completion of tasks

If you have a hand in improving upon one of these metrics, track your process and how it exceeds company goals over time. These are the kinds of big-picture items and company wins that software development managers look for in their team members.

Create a vision doc

If you’ve been tracking your performance, you can create a vision doc that highlights how you plan to improve processes over time. Here’s a brief outline of how that might look:

  • Discuss the company’s career ladder and where you currently stand
  • Document all of your achievements over the last year
  • Develop a vision for next year, highlighting what processes need improvement and how you plan to enhance them
  • Define your new role with new responsibilities, strategic thinking, innovation, thought leadership, and delivery goals

Your vision doc is a way to concisely show your total YOE, your accomplishments, and what you can bring to the table.

At the very least, it looks ambitious and shows you’re willing to put in the work for a raise.

Use Stack Ranking to Your Advantage

Some tech companies manage performance with a practice called stack ranking. This method rates employees along a bell curve. Top performers (top of the curve) in a team get better bonuses and are considered for promotions over bottom-level performers.

Stack ranking is controversial in that it can ruin your work culture, which is why some employers aren’t transparent about how they rank employees.

If you’re in a workplace that openly practices stack ranking (like Uber) in some way, shape, or form, you can use it to your advantage if you’re a mid- or top-level performer.

Your manager, for one, will already know where you sit along the bell curve. If they’re open with you about your performance, you’ll have an easier time creating a convincing argument for a raise.

3. Get the Timing Right

A big part of asking for a raise is timing. Here’s what to pay attention to so you stand a better chance of getting your salary increase:

Pay attention to your company's fiscal calendar year

Some months are better than others to ask for a raise. For example, some companies set budgets in January after the fiscal year has ended. That’s also when they typically create budgets and approve raises.

In this case, it wouldn’t make sense for them to give you a pay increase at another time of year. Fiscal years don’t always line up with calendar years, though, and some companies may offer raises year-round.

Find out what your employer’s policy is before asking for a raise to make sure your timing is appropriate.

Consider your company's financial health

Another crucial factor for determining how to ask for a raise is your company’s financial health, which may be impacted by external circumstances such as the economy.

For instance, if the economy is on the brink of a recession due to a pandemic like the coronavirus, it’s probably a bad time to ask for a raise. If your company is considering layoffs or is in gradual financial decline, it’s also not an ideal time.

However, if your company is constantly promoting from within and growing, then chances are it’s OK to ask for a raise as long as it’s warranted.

Wait for Annual or Quarterly Performance Reviews

If your company schedules annual or quarterly performance reviews, use that time to talk to your manager about a raise. It’s the perfect setting to discuss your performance, achievements, and future with the company.

If you can’t wait for an annual or quarterly review, take the initiative and schedule a meeting with your manager.

4. Schedule a Meeting

Whether you want to save your raise discussion for a performance review or schedule a meeting on your own, you still need to send a salary negotiation email to set a time.

We recommend keeping the meeting casual and not giving your manager too much of a heads up before you meet.

Here’s a sample template of an email you might use before the meeting:

Follow up on the meeting with an email confirming what you asked for and what next steps you and your manager agreed on:

As shown in the template, you want to:

  • Mention your time working at the company or your long term commitment to continue there
  • List your accomplishments that qualify you for a raise
  • Schedule a date and time for your meeting

5. Ask for a Raise

Once your manager agrees to meet with you, it’s time to prepare for the meeting. Hopefully, they’ll give you the floor. Be sure to keep your pitch brief and to the point

Thanks for taking the time to meet with me to discuss my performance today. I’m asking for a pay raise because I believe my performance over the last couple of months has exceeded expectations for this position and has helped the company meet its goals.

From there, lead into specific examples of your contributions, highlighting how they’ve benefited both your team and the company. The goal is to appear indispensable to the business. Otherwise, you lose your leverage.

Speaking of leverage, another way to get managers to approve a raise is to mention competing job offers. It’s not uncommon to get offers 20% or higher than your current salary.

If this is the case, be upfront about it and tell your manager the deal:

Thanks for taking the time to meet with me today. I’ve received an offer of [X salary] from another company. While the offer is tempting, I enjoy working here and wanted to see if you would either meet their pay or offer me X% more.

If your company matches or exceeds your job offer, and you’re feeling particularly ruthless, report back to the recruiter and tell them your current company met their offer. If they really want you, they’ll offer even more.

6. Prepare for Follow-Up Questions

Expect follow-up questions during or after your meeting. For example, your manager might challenge you on your salary research.

I think we’re paying you fairly. Why should we pay you more?
Based on my salary research, other companies in the area are paying engineers at my level, and with my YOE, an average of 15% more than my base pay here.

Your manager might also try to poke holes in your performance.

Other top-performers in your team have had similar results. Do you think your work is more deserving of a raise than theirs?
I think I’ve taken on a new level of responsibility and helped newer team members succeed. In addition, I’ve continued to deliver top results and consistently hit KPIs for this position.

However your meeting turns out, keep a professional tone and be prepared for the outcome.

7. Prepare for What’s Next

If your manager approves your raise, be sure to thank them and mention that you look forward to staying committed to your goals and continuing to excel.

If they don’t agree to your desired salary, be prepared to walk (assuming you have another offer lined up) or ask them what improvements they need to see so you can get a raise.

In the end, your raise request will be approved or denied. Either way, you’ve stepped up to champion your contributions and let management know that you know your worth.

You can stay with the company and continue to work toward reaching goals that merit a raise. Or, if you’re not happy with your compensation and know you can do better, this just might be the time to look for bigger and better opportunities elsewhere — without burning any bridges.

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