Every 20-Something Needs This Work Advice

Photographed by Nina Westervelt.
Know your number. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. Get in there and remind them just how lucky they are to have you. If asking for a raise were as simple as following the same old strategies we’ve heard hundreds of times, then we’d all have plenty of money and none of the sweaty-palmed stress that goes into asking the big boss to bump up your salary.

The fact is, asking for a raise requires a little savvy, a lot of legwork, and the ability to navigate the specific culture of your company and HR departments. That said, here are 11 “get more money" strategies that worked for real men and women. Try them yourself and enjoy the (literal!) payoff.

This story was originally published on December 13, 2015.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Kelly, 32, a freelance writer, enjoyed the regular assignments she filed for a major website, but felt the fee was a little lower than she liked. “Before I asked my editor if she could increase the fee, I emailed another writer whose work I admired who also wrote for the site. I asked her if she thought the amount I was receiving was fair. She said that it did sound on the low end, which gave me the ammo I needed to ask for more the next time the editor contacted me.”

To be clear, Kelly didn’t name names during the conversation, it was simply knowing there was wiggle room that made her confident in the ask. And for full-time employees: Talking about salaries is allowed by law under the National Labor Relations Board. But, according to people who’ve done it, it’s best to ask general guidelines from people who’ve moved on from the position or who perform the same type of job at a different company; asking if a range seems reasonable is far less invasive than asking someone to pinpoint their specific salary.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Every office is different, but in general, the budget is approved a few months before raises occur. Knowing your company’s timeline will help you know when to ask. In general, you should bring up the raise discussion four to six months before your annual review. Instead of asking for a raise, schedule a meeting to ask your boss what you can do to get to the next level. Jamie, 39, a marketing manager, knew she wanted a promotion — and the major raise that came with it — and was disappointed when she was passed over during an annual review.

“Instead of getting upset, I rallied and scheduled a coffee meeting with my boss for the next week. She pinpointed what I needed to do, and I asked her if we could have monthly check-ins to make sure I was on track for the promotion this time around. She agreed, and not only did I get the promotion a few months early, I also really grew in my job and felt so ready for the position in a way I wouldn’t have a year earlier.”
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
“My very first boss told me to make this, and I am so glad,” says Dan, 32, an attorney. “Every time I get an email saying ‘good job,’ or telling me how good a project was, I save it. When it comes to review time, I have a tangible stack of reasons why I’m invaluable to the firm. I don’t print out or read everything, but I have the information to back up any claims I make when I explain what I’ve done for the past year.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Some companies have a set bar for raises, says Hannah Morgan, creator of CareerSherpa.net and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success. This is where going to HR can be helpful, since they can provide general parameters of what type of merit raises are generally doled out — this number can be your “settle.”

But you can ask for more: You just have to provide the data for why it makes good business sense. “I got a job where I made $60K, because I’d just shifted industries and had to start on a lower rung,” says Jen, 27, an ad sales representative. “When raise time came, I realized that my legwork had directly contributed to nearly half-a-million dollars in new client revenue. When I was able to share that information with my boss, it was easy to ask for — and receive — a $15K salary bump.”
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
No raises on the horizon? See if there may be any wiggle room in terms of contract work for your company. Depending on your title and position, it is possible. For example, Talia, 31, a copywriter, learned that there was a company-wide budget freeze. Despite that, she talk to her boss about billing a “consultant fee” on certain assignments as a workaround until the budget could be renewed. “My boss made it clear that those projects couldn’t infringe on my day-to-day work, and while I could do them at my desk if I had downtime, I would also need to devote nights and weekends to them if necessary. I didn’t mind, and I definitely made a lot more money.”
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Most people are terrified of asking for a raise, simply because they don't have enough practice asking. Learning to ask for what you want in low-pressure situations ("These bananas are bruised. Can you take a $1 off the price?”) will make you breeze through negotiations when they count.

“I was so timid talking about money,” recalls Jeff, an event planner. “But then, I realized it was totally holding me back. I made it a New Year’s resolution to be better about talking money. I started by negotiating down my phone bill and then I negotiated my credit card to a lower interest rate. The more comfortable I got with asking what I wanted, the more it helped me be up front and talk to my boss frankly about money.”
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Your boss doesn’t care that your rent increased by $200 or your sick cat has $5,000 in vet bills. Instead of focusing on why you need the money, keep the focus on your value — and write down all the ways you give value to the company. Providing your boss with a one-sheet can keep the focus on work. That’s what Lindsey, 35, an editor, did when she asked for a bump in salary.

“I provided numerical data proving my worth, including how I’d improved various processes,” she explains. “It also helped me from feeling so nervous and forgetting important details when we sat down to talk about the raise. I had all my hard work in front of me, so I wouldn’t forget anything if I got nervous talking to my boss.”
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
If you're happy at your job, you probably aren’t actively looking for a new one. But if someone scouts you out, it's worth your time to meet them and hear their offer. Knowing what others are offering keeps you sharp and expands your network, especially if you're up front about letting the recruiter know you're pretty happy at your current gig, but would love an informational, getting-to-know-you meeting.

“I love my job, but I always love to hear what other companies who are interested in me have to say,” says Carrie, 29, an executive recruiter. “Not only do I get to hear what other companies are offering, but knowing I have options gives me confidence in my value.”
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
“Before a major meeting with my boss, I always get a blowout and wear a Rag & Bone blazer. At this point, it’s tradition. But it’s an outfit that makes me feel amazing and professional, and so far, it’s worked,” says Jen, 30, a creative director. You don’t need a pricey treatment or a whole new outfit, but wearing something that makes you feel awesome gives you an “I’ve got this” vibe your boss can’t help but notice.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Hearing you didn’t make the cut for a raise hurts — especially if your less-than-qualified cube-mate came out of your boss’s office beaming. If you do well up or find it hard to talk, excuse yourself ASAP, get out of the office, and cry to your roommate, your mom, or even the barista at the corner coffee shop. But don’t let your emotions get the best of you when you’re talking money.

“I’ve always been super emotional, which I knew wasn’t helping my career. If my direct boss raised his voice at me, I’d find myself on the verge of tears, even though that was the last thing I wanted,” says Ashley, 32, an attorney. “I ended up seeing a career coach. I only went for a few sessions, but working with her really helped me learn how to separate how I felt from how I presented myself. She taught me how to catch myself right before I started going over the edge and redirect my energy so I looked competent and in control. It totally changed the way my boss interacted with me, and it’s definitely something I recommend for others who may have a similar issue.”
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Figure out why and when you can revisit the conversation. If the “no” came to you during review time and it seems your boss is slammed or brushes you off, wait a few weeks and schedule a touch-base when she’s not as busy. If she still seems non-committal, or won’t pin down a reason, consider talking to HR and getting their thoughts.

“HR was a lot more honest with me than my boss, maybe because they could see the full picture,” says Vivian, 28, a market research associate. “They said that they didn’t see me moving up in that department and suggested I interview for a spot on another team. I got that, along with a raise. I don’t think I would have been able to have done that transition without them.”