5 Steps to Take After You Get Turned Down for a Raise

It’s time for your annual review, and you’re gunning for a raise. You enter the meeting with your boss armed with a list of reasons why you deserve a salary bump—including the extra responsibilities you’ve taken on since a more senior colleague left the company, the major project you spearheaded last month, and the consistent positive feedback you’ve received from your clients, peers, managers, and direct reports over the past year.

With the supporting points you’ve gathered, you’re confident that you’ve got this in the bag.

But after you deliver your points, you’re crushed to hear your supervisor say, “I’m sorry, but we’re not able to adjust your salary at this point in time. Check back in six months, and keep up the good work.”

Rejection stings—hard.

Asking for a raise, promotion, or other added perk (like an extra week of paid vacation or remote working privileges) can take a lot of courage, so when your request is denied, it can feel like a punch in the gut.

While you’re evaluating your next step—whether that’s to start looking for a new position, make a plan to develop a new skill you need, or just wait it out for a while—it’s important to maintain your motivation and press forward as eagerly as, if not more than, you did before.

But let’s face it: No matter how hard you try to put on a good face, staying motivated can be really tough. So, here are five steps to follow to keep up the momentum after getting “no” for an answer.

Step 1: Empathize and Get the Details

First, try to understand the external factors and pressures your supervisor is facing. If you didn’t get a clear reason for the “no” at the initial meeting, be sure to follow up and find out. Ask open-ended questions such as, “What’s contributing to your decision?” during the conversation—you’ll learn much more about the situation that way than you would by asking strictly yes or no questions.

Perhaps, for example, you’ll find out that your boss wants to replace your colleague who left the company and isn’t interested in having you take on the extra responsibility. And even though you thought you were doing a good thing by volunteering for that extra work, it wasn’t what your boss wanted—or needed.

Understanding how the decision makers view the situation will give you a clearer idea of what went into their decision and can ultimately help you get what you want faster.

Step 2: Proactively Follow Up and Brainstorm Creative Alternatives

The second part of empathizing is seeing the situation through your manager’s point of view and coming up with alternatives that he or she may be more agreeable to.

To effectively do this, start by communicating your awareness of the situation to your boss—either during the initial meeting or in a follow-up note—so that your manager knows you understand where he or she is coming from. For example, say, “Thanks for taking the time to clarify the company’s roadmap this morning. It’s been a challenging year, but it sounds like we have a solid plan heading into next year. I already have some ideas for how I can provide value to Project X in Q1. I’ll put an outline together that we can review in two weeks when we meet again.”

In this response, you’ve not only expressed appreciation for your boss’ openness, but you’ve taken proactive steps to solve her problems—which shows commitment, resolve, and resilience in the face of a challenge.

Next, brainstorm and share creative alternatives to your initial request that may be more feasible or achievable (and more likely to get a “yes”). For example, maybe the company had a bad quarter and it’s not within the budget to give any raises—but your manager would be open to allowing you to work remotely a few days each week to cut down on your long commute. It would be no cost to your employer but would give you a better quality of life—a true win-win.

If you think about your request in wider terms, there are many ways to come out on top.

Step 3: Be Unforgettable

Moving forward, armed with knowledge about why your request was denied and having shown that you understand and empathize with your manager’s reasoning, channel your actions toward being an indispensable, unforgettable team member. Try your best to anticipate your boss’ needs before he or she asks you to address them, or go the extra mile to deliver top results that will make the entire team look good.

If you’re doing valuable work that wouldn’t be possible without you, your management team will be much more likely to grant your future requests.

Step 4: Seek Out Support

Now is the best time to enlist the support of a mentor. Not only can a mentor help encourage and inspire you, but he or she also may be able to offer you a different perspective about the reason your request was denied—because at some point or another, he or she has likely been in the same position.

It may be simple, but another perspective can go a long way in terms of helping you stay energized, focused, and positive after hearing “no.”

Step 5: Set Goals

Approach your next steps like individual projects. It can be much easier to stay motivated if you’re working toward a small goal, such as signing a new client within the next month, rather than a large one, like increasing sales by 20% over the next quarter. Setting attainable yet challenging goals will help you focus on one activity at a time—and, more importantly, will fuel your fire to achieve success.

Each time you hit a milestone, recognize your progress with a small reward, like dinner from your favorite sushi place. Building on and celebrating each small goal will help you maintain steam as you progress.

By following these steps, you can stay motivated so that a “no” answer becomes less painful and represents an opportunity, rather than an ending. Although it can seem tough at first, keeping the momentum going can open doors—either in your current role or a new one—that go beyond your expectations.

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Hi, I'm Melody

I help smart, sensitive high-achievers break free from imposter syndrome and overthinking so they can find the confidence to lead effectively.


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