Sincerely, Sara: I Need The Confidence To Ask For A Raise

Dear Sara,

I’ve been at my current job for over a year. I work hard, meet deadlines, and get along with co-workers. Rarely have management or clients been unsatisfied with my work. My boss consistently adds higher profile accounts to my workload as my track record builds. I am reliable and self-managing for the most part. But, since I quietly do my work and am too busy to socialize much with others in the office, the “bigger” personalities drown me out in recognition from higher ups.  My annual review is coming, and since my workload has increased, I feel a raise and/or promotion is due.  I came in at a starting salary but the work I do now is above my pay grade. The problem is I’m not comfortable negotiating on my own behalf and I feel awkward discussing salary. How do I feel comfortable asking for what I feel I deserve? 


Needs Confidence

Dear Needs Confidence,

For those of us with introverted personalities, less than average dose of self-confidence, or who have been brought up to believe humility is a virtue and self-promotion is tacky, it can feel unnatural to negotiate on our own behalf. But if you don’t champion your own cause, then who will? Certainly, not those co-workers competing for the same promotion you want. If, by your own admission, you are too busy chasing deadlines to interact much with your office mates, it is doubtful they know enough about you to recommend your work. The bottom line: it’s your responsibility to be your own career advocate.

Of course, you don’t want to be the eye-roll inducing Dwight Shrute of your office, that person who you’re sure must have carpel tunnel from patting himself on the back every 5 minutes, but if you don’t claim your victories every now and then how will others in the company know about them? Sure, they may see your profile in the company newsletter under “Employee Spotlight”, but when was the last time you read through the internal company newsletter? Exactly. While tooting your own horn may not be an innate talent, it is a skill that can be learned, improved, and eventually, perfected.

A few guidelines to turning your performance review into a raise:

1. Do your research so you are prepared and armed with the facts.

Frame the discussion in terms of industry standards in salary compensation. Your research will serve to highlight your diligence and as a shield against taking the negotiations too personally. Treat it as you would a meeting with a client. Stick to the specifics, know your goal and have a strategy in place. Research the industry standards for the job you are currently doing, not the job you were hired to do.

2. Have a list of your accomplishments and calculate your overall value to the company.

Quantify clients you have brought in, new business that has resulted directly from your labors, money you have saved the company during your tenure, new innovations or solutions you’ve created, and other tangible results. Know what you bring to the table in solid terms that show your value to the bottom line of the company. When you demonstrate your value add instead of just talking about what you would like to receive, you will keep the discussion performance related—and you will feel less anxious because you will be speaking in objective terms.

3. If you are told that there is a salary freeze, or that your contribution is noted and appreciated but a raise is not in the budget at this time, counter by asking for a specific timeline as to when the request can be reevaluated and on what criteria the raise would be assessed.

This way you can develop a plan of action and will be in great shape when the discussion comes around again. Also, it backs your boss into a corner; he now knows that he’s not indefinitely shelving the question, only rescheduling it for a time when the company resources allow him to compensate you more fairly.

Here are my tips to getting noticed around the office (in the right way):

1. Be generous with your praise of others.

When you advocate on behalf of the accomplishments of your co-workers, they will be more likely to point out your positive contributions in return. Reciprocity is a powerful tool, and by paying it forward, you don’t have to bring yourself up first, which will be more comfortable for you. As an added bonus, when other’s talk about your achievements it comes across more strongly and positively than when you promote yourself.  

2. Share your struggles as well as your successes.

When sharing your accomplishments along with your set-backs, it is more of a conversation and less of a plug for your value to the company. Also, it can give you a chance to highlight how you overcome those challenges, showing your ultimate resourcefulness, problem-solving abilities and business superpowers. 

3. Pursue opportunities to collaborate or help others.

Showing is always more powerful than telling. When others experience your strengths first hand, they will come to associate you with those talents and skills. 

4. Bond over happy hour, the company softball team, or a charity cause.

If you are too swamped to leave your desk much during office hours, try becoming closer to your colleagues outside of work. When bonding over a beer, a common interest, or shared cause, people are more relaxed and open; it will be an ideal situation for you to make connections in a way that won’t push you so far outside your comfort zone.

5. Learn how to take a compliment.

You may naturally tend to deflect attention from yourself when your boss gives you a verbal fist bump for a project well done or when she offers an accolade for a favorable email from a client singing your praises, but resist your temptation to say, “It was nothing”. Instead, say, “Thank you. I worked hard on that. It feels great to be recognized”. You earned it; claim it!


Good Luck on making your corporate climb! I would also suggest expanding your focus beyond the destination may relieve some of your anxiety.  Make an effort to establish valuable connections, pursue opportunities to hone your skills and learn new ones, and empower yourself to become a leader in industry associations where you can share your expertise and collaborate with other influential people in your business.  These are all under your control and will boost your confidence and portfolio.