You’ve surely read a lot of advice on how to negotiate a raise with your boss. Some articles will tell you to have an ideal range. Others will tell you to get all your chips in order before you go in for the meeting. But what happens when your boss says no? No matter how great your argument may be, sometimes your boss will stonewall your attempt to get a raise.
So what do you do in this situation? Too often, people give up immediately and go on with their days. But if you’re certain your value is much higher than what you’re paid and if you’re frustrated with the lack of earning opportunity at your job, you still have options.
Here’s what you can do when your boss says no to your ask for a raise:
Weaponize the job search
Even if you like your current employer, one of the only ways to get a salary bump might be to move on. You can use a job offer with a stronger salary as a negotiation tool with your boss. Weaponizing your job search in this way gives you options. More importantly, it puts your boss in a situation where they have to say yes or lose you as an employee, which is a far greater consideration and potential loss than just saying no to a raise.
It’s important that you keep your job search quiet. Don’t talk about it with anyone at work and be careful to stay on top of your work game as you’re looking. Find opportunities that are parallel to or a step up from your current role. Be sure they guarantee a salary that resembles or exceeds what you want out of your current job. Keep going until you land an offer or two that you’d actually be willing to take. It’s at that point that you’ll need to chat with your boss.
Bring the job offer to the table in a meeting about a raise. Explain that you enjoy your work but feel that your salary or responsibilities don’t match up with your actual value. Give hard facts and figures on how you’ve contributed. Then bring out the other offer and ask if they can match it. Pay attention to how they react.
You’ll get one of three answers. They might say yes outright. If so, then congratulations! They might say they need to think about it and look at the budget. In this case, tell them your deadline for accepting the other offer. Keep in mind that if the budget is tight, they might only be able to meet you halfway. Finally, they might get angry and say no. That gives you a strong sign that you were never going to get a raise in the first place. Luckily, you already have a good job offer on the table.
Throughout all of it, stay extremely polite -- what you don’t want to do is look like a vulture. Explain your case, your value, and argue for your position, but never accuse others of being too cheap or weak, as you’ll just anger them out of the negotiation.
Angle for an internal move
Another way to get a raise is to angle for a move within the company -- specifically if it’s large enough to have multiple divisions. Whether you have friends or a mentor in another department or you find an opportunity for another internal promotion, applying for opportunities from within is a great way to get a bump in pay and job title.
Keep an eye out for opportunities on your company’s internal job board. Reach out directly to folks who lead the teams where you feel like you’d be a great fit. Talk about their latest work, give them ideas, and help them brainstorm. Get enthusiastic about their work and mention that you’d love to be involved in any way. You’ll be the first name on their list if they ever need an extra set of hands.
Don’t try to play an internal move as a way to get your boss to give you a raise - that can damage your reputation throughout the company. This plan of action is all about actually moving to the new department or team within your organization so that you find yourself on a different path to potential promotion. If you aren’t actually enthused about such a switch, an internal move isn’t a strong negotiating tactic with your current boss, so don’t threaten it.
Increase company profit or productivity
This is the hardest but potentially most rewarding approach to take when trying to get a raise. You might think that, especially if you’re not in sales, increasing company revenue or profit isn’t something you can be individually responsible for. But don’t underestimate the value of your insider knowledge and understanding of your business and customers.
A florist at a plant and flower shop understands which flowers sell best and why. They can put together a plan to rearrange the showroom to emphasize the most attractive, highest sellers. A web designer has a strong grip on what user interface tweaks can make a site visitor more likely to convert into a paying customer. A civil engineer knows where money is being misspent in a project. They can offer ideas to save cash while getting the job done.
And if you can’t find a way you can directly help with cash flow, think about how else you can fundamentally reformat yourself to indirectly improve the company’s productivity. Maybe your team has never had a real manager and you can fill that role, thereby improving its output. Perhaps you’ve been doing something critical for other people in the company unofficially and you want to expand that role into a full-time job for yourself.
Find the area of expertise or the pain point you can relieve that will help your company save or make more money. Put together a plan based on your analysis and present it to your boss. If they approve, put your best foot forward and make it happen. Track how much increased performance your work resulted in. Alternatively, you can pitch the project as a new job title for yourself based on the types of challenges you’re tackling and let your boss know you won’t expect a raise unless you can hit the targets for your new project.
Bring all that information to your boss as a sign that you’re not only padding their budget, but that your efforts positively impact their bottom line. Ask for a raise again with your achieved goals as your ammunition. If you still hear no at this point, you’ve completed a project that will look amazing on your resume if you decide to move on to a new employer.
Hearing no from your boss when you first ask for a raise doesn’t have to be the end of your effort. You can take a more direct approach to getting a raise, whether by moving on to another opportunity or further proving your value to the team. If you hear no at first, don’t give up. If you’re truly as valuable as you believe you are when asking for a raise, someone important will notice.