Negotiating your salary for the first time? It'll be less intimidating if you plan ahead by understanding when to ask, who you need to speak to, why you deserve a raise, and you have a backup plan in case your request is denied.

Asking for a pay raise can be intimidating, especially if you’re doing it for the first time. As someone who is freshly making their way in the career world, I can attest to this feeling.

Since graduating from university, I have asked for a raise twice, each time at a different job. But I didn’t do so without ample consideration (and anxiety) first.

I was overwhelmed by all the factors to consider as I prepared to ask for a raise. Not to mention the how of it all. But by breaking it down into basic questions I was able to go into these salary negotiations with confidence — and leave with a raise.

The 5 Ws (and 1 H) of negotiating your salary

Who, what, where, when, why, and how?

These are the most important questions to consider as a beginner in the salary negotiation scene. Approaching it through these simple questions will help you understand the scope of the conversation at-hand and go into it feeling prepared.

Being a young, working professional these days is tough enough as is. We’re all just trying to make our way and fumble towards our career goals — while also navigating all those other things that come with young adulthood, such as paying off student loans or buying your first home.

But asking for a raise doesn’t have to be as scary as it seems. This is an opportunity to move forward in your career. Don’t be shy about sharing what makes you valuable, and why you deserve to earn more because of it.

Who is negotiating?

Let’s start with the basics: who?

You: someone who is ready to ask for a raise for the first time. Whether at your first job out of college, a dream position, or even a role you unexpectedly ended up thriving at and loving. You’ve established your value as a member of the team and deserve to earn more money for your hard work.

Your employer: someone who is ready to have this discussion with you (of course, by scheduling a meeting in advance) — so long as the company is doing well, not experiencing known budget constraints, and doesn’t have any raise caps that you’ve already met.  

What are you asking for?

Knowing what to ask for in terms of a pay raise is dependent on your employment situation. Some factors to consider might be:

  • Wages for comparable jobs in your field.
  • Your level of experience, education, or certifications.
  • Length of time with the company.
  • Accomplishments within your role/the company thus far.

Researching salaries for your job title or those similar to yours in your geographic location is a good place to start, so you know what to ask for going in.

You want to have an idea of what others earn relative to you, which you can then couple with reflections on your individual accomplishments and qualifications. This research should give you a minimum to ask for based on your current earnings.

Read more: 7 of the best salary information websites for negotiation

Where will you have the conversation?

When you’re ready to set up a meeting, prioritize doing it in person if possible. Meeting face-to-face with someone is much more personal than an e-mail or phone call. As well, being able to pick up on your employer’s social cues and body language (and vice versa!) can really help the conversation flow more naturally.

If you work remotely and don’t have the option to meet in person, suggest a video call so you can at least see each other during the conversation.

The personal connection of talking face-to-face is so important during a salary negotiation. While you might feel nervous, it is ultimately for the best to let down your guard and show how important it is to you.

When will you ask?

When it comes to asking for a pay raise, there is no singular right time to ask. But there are some optimal moments in your career that could serve as a catalyst for negotiating your salary:

  • Six-month and one-year intervals of employment.
  • You’ve taken on more responsibilities.
  • You are changing roles within the same company.
  • You’ve recently completed a large project.
  • You get an offer from another company.
  • Your expenses are increasing due to cost of living.

All of these examples are great milestones to justify asking for a raise and to launch a conversation with your employer about your career.

Related: Can you get a cost of living raise? How and why you should ask your boss

Why do you deserve it?

“Why?” and “When?” go hand-in-hand. All of the employment milestones mentioned above come along with a reason why you deserve a raise. And laying out why you’re asking for a raise is an important part of the conversation.

Don’t speak expectantly, but rather with confidence, and assert your value with concrete examples of your work that back you up.

And keep in mind that beyond proving your success and work ethic, there are other reasons why asking for a raise can be the right thing to do:

  • It shows you’re committed to your work and to growing within the company.
  • It can lead to professional development.
  • It’s an opportunity to acknowledge your value and become a more confident employee.

How will you negotiate?

There are plenty of negotiation tactics you can use to your advantage when asking for a raise.

Begin by stating why you’re there. You want to get to the point but still have a chance to talk yourself up. Recall your recent accomplishments and why it’s important to you to grow within the role/company.

This way your employer knows right off the bat that you’re committed to your own growth and development, and that of the company.

  • Offer a range rather than a specific number to leave ample room for negotiation.
  • Be ready for follow-up questions from your employer.
  • Have your data/research on hand. This might be salary comparisons or quantitative proof of your work and its contribution to the company.
  • Have a backup plan. Should your employer not be able to offer you a raise at the time, be prepared to offer alternative forms of compensation such as more vacation time or work perks like flexibility or new equipment (i.e., a better laptop).

Related: 10 ways to negotiate salary as a new college grad

The bottom line

Just because you’re young or new to the working world doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have your chance to earn more and keep growing as a professional.

Asking for a raise can certainly be a daunting task, especially as a newbie. But breaking it down in this way has helped me approach my first salary negotiations with more confidence — and with success.

If you’re ready to take that leap and ask for more money, I think it could do the same for you, too.

Featured image: fizkes/

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About the author

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Emily (Em) Norton is a freelance writer & editor based in Toronto, Canada. Previously, they have written for Borrowell, Greedy Rates, and Money After Graduation. They are also a poet. You can read more of their work at