Responses to 3 Classic Pay Negotiation NOs

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Very few women enjoy the idea of beginning a pay raise discussion.  Especially when you realize that you should expect to hear at least one NO on your way to earning more money. I can’t promise that you will look forward to the negotiation after you read this post but knowing how to counter a few of the classic responses will make the salary negotiation much less nerve-racking.

Here are three various ways management will say NO when you are looking to earn more and responses that will get you quickly past these objections.

We Can’t Afford to Pay You More

It must be in the manager handbook because this is typically the first response one receives when negotiating a raise, salary adjustment, or starting salary.  This might be true but more often it is not.

Be prepared for this by researching the company’s finances before you begin the salary negotiation dance.  Public companies and non-profit organizations are the easiest to research.  Both need to file financial reports annually that become public.  Governmental offices in theory should be easy since a town, city, state, or the federal government approves their funding.  Yet in the past few years we have seen how ill functioning government and budgets can be.  Start by searching the web site of the organization and then move upstream until you discover the financial information you need.   Private companies are the toughest since the financial information is private.  There are many clues though.  The company’s web site may have an investor’s section and press releases about new products, clients, and contracts.   Periodic company meetings probably include statements from the VP of Sales discussing the growth of the client base and the VP of Finance/Accounting discussing the solid financial footing of the company.  Take notes at such meetings.

When researching look for the trend of revenue, net profit, and liquid asset growth and a decrease in costs.  Have one or two bullet points at the ready such as “That seems odd since the company’s revenue has increase by more the $2 million the past 2 years” or “There must be some money since the company continues to decrease costs by 10% for the past 3 years.”  The fact that you are informed will shock your manager and make him/her realize that this employee will not accept canned excuses.

You Already Make the Most in the Department

This is another automatic response.  I estimate 80% of the people who I ask have been told this at least once in their life.  How can that be? The math doesn’t add up.  The beauty about this response is that you can’t confirm it if you have signed a salary confidentiality agreement and more than 62% of women who work in the private sector have.

A good response to such a comment is to jujitsu it as the red herring it is by saying something like “The ranking of my pay internally isn’t the issue.  The issue actually is that I am underpaid based on industry standards for the work that I am doing and the value the company is getting from it.”

All the money budgeted for raises have been allocated AND You will need to wait for the annual raises for a change.

Most likely you are looking for more than a 3% pay increase that was the median for 2012.  Say you are looking for a salary adjustment instead of a raise because it can open a new portion of the company’s money and enable off-cycle pay increases.  A salary adjustment can happen at any time of year. A salary adjustment is truly stating that your pay is no longer in the acceptable range for the job and needs to be adjusted upwards.   This may occur because you were hired during a bad economy and your annual raises have not grown as fast as the economy.  Many people who were hired in 2009 at the height of the housing/recession/unemployment crisis may be in this situation.  For example the median income for web designers in 2009 was $54,000 and in 2012 it was $61,417.  That’s a 13.7% increase over the three years.  Allowing for the typical 3% increase each of those three years would bring a web designer $2,400 short to just keep equal with the median salary.  That does not even represent any pay increases that you should have earned as a more senior and improved web designer.

Practice these responses so they will roll off your tongue confidently and you will be well on your way to that justly deserved raise.

Three Things to Know to Time the Request for a Raise

As the saying goes, “timing is everything.”  You know you deserve more money for your work and the only way to get it is to ask for a raise. It is best to understand as much about a few company processes before you do.  This will help time your conversations to maximize your results.


The budget development and approval process can start months ahead of a new fiscal year. If you know you normally get a 3% raise, then you will probably be budgeted for another 3% raise next year.  A good time to start the raise discussion with your boss is before the budget process starts.  This gives your manager a chance to put it in the budget from the beginning.  It will be an unforeseen cost when you ask to jump 25% if no previous discussions have occurred.   Asking after the fact can slow down the process.  It still is very doable but may take a few more steps to succeed.


It is a good time to discuss your salary the moment you start to hear about potential of new openings.

Become aware of any hiring plans for your company and department.  This in normally tied to the budget process yet can happen unexpectedly if sales are stronger than expected or change in management occurred.  The company may be growing and starting new employees at a higher rate.  This is especially true if you were hired at the height of the recession.  I know you felt lucky and were lucky to get a job.  As the economy changes (however slowly) and your company rebounds you want to see the correct adjustment to your salary as well.

Performance Reviews

It is important to know if your performance reviews scheduled based on the anniversary of employment or is there one period in which all employees are reviewed.  If the reviews are by anniversary and you were hired at or near the end of a fiscal year then you are forever in a poor bargaining spot. All the other employees have done their best and gotten raises by the time your manager gets to you.  So there is little if any room in the budget left for you to get a hefty raise of 25%.  It may be well deserved and it may just even your salary with the rest but everyone else has been to the well and the well is now dry.

Once again, in this situation you will want to start talking about salary with your boss long before your official review scheduled.  You may be able to get the raise earlier in the year and your future review dates can be tied to the raise anniversary date.

Hopefully, the above comments give you assistance to be ready for the conversation. So many people get frightened and imagine the worst so they never have the conversation.    So  I say Go For It whenever you are ready to discuss your salary with your boss.

@ Copyright 2011, Katie Donovan. All rights reserved. Reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited