How to ask for a pay rise – and other tough questions

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If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Often getting what you want in life can be be simply down to just asking for it. But when it comes to your career, it isn’t always that easy. A pay increase, a promotion, extended leave, flexible working hours – these are all things we may want from our job, but are afraid or reluctant to ask for.

However, at some point in your career it is likely that you find yourself in a position that you have to ask a tough question of your boss. So, how do you do it in a way that will most likely lead to an answer you want?


It’s important you prepare how you’ll present the question and also think of how you’ll respond to the questions you will receive in return. If you have more than one question, or important points to back up your question, write them down. This will be a valuable reference if you get flustered.

Make sure you’re completely open and honest about what you want and why. Present facts, not more questions.

If you’re asking for a raise or a promotion, have a list of compelling and valid reasons why. “I want more money” is not a good reason, but “I have taken on a huge amount of responsibility and leadership, and I’m worth a great deal more to you than last year” is.

Don’t forget, you and your boss are both human, but also that both of you are bound by employment laws. If you have a pressing personal matter that requires you to take extended leave, such as a close relative who is ill, then lay those facts out there.

The objective is to find a mutually agreeable solution, not for either party to be forced into a corner.

Timing is everything

Bursting into your boss’ office at 9.01am before they’ve had a coffee, or during your lunch break when they’re eating a sandwich at their desk will not grant you a great reception.

Strike when your boss is at their best and not under pressure. It might be best to make an appointment and find somewhere private to talk so you get their undivided attention. Maybe at the end of the day, when you know that they have no further meetings to rush off to.

Be direct and be patient

Don’t preface your question with a lengthy background story about what’s to come – only few have time, or patience, for that. Instead:

State your question first and then provide background explanatory information if it is asked of you.

Silence is golden.

Ask your question, be patient and allow space in the conversation for the other person to think and respond in their own time.

Don’t be emotional.

Even if you are addressing a personal life matter, such as flexible work hours to care for a family, it is a business conversation, so stay professional.

Don’t get defensive

If your question is met with a resounding no, a maybe or no answer at all, then the natural response is to ask why. There’s nothing wrong with that, but try to shape your “why” in a more productive way. For instance:

How can we work together to solve this problem?

Is there a halfway point or similar solution to what you’re asking for?

Suggest a follow up meeting to give your manager time to come up with a solution.


Need more help? Give me a ring!

Maarten Jonckers