How to ask for a raise is, for many of us, the ultimate corporate mystery—why else are there over 25 million Google results trying to answer that seemingly simple question?—but learning how to ask for a raise over Zoom or Teams or whatever virtual
void platform you’ve been vacantly staring into this year is a new frontier that requires its own very specific set of skills.
Almost every well-meaning bit of career advice will emphasize the importance of the physical energy that comes with being in the same room as a decision maker, and how you can shift it in your favor with a firm handshake, eye contact, body language, even the right footwear when asking for a salary raise, a promotion, or perks—like a flexible in-office schedule. But when you’re self-advocating from the confines of your home, presumably hunched over a laptop in a makeshift office, traditional tips become laughable, fast.
To get some advice that feels relevant to those of us still working remotely, I set up a Zoom (ha, irony) with Washington Post personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary, who offered some insights into the new rules of asking for more.
Your physical background is crucial.
In the before times, some might say what you wear is the most vital part of successfully meeting with a superior, but if you’re both remote, it’s all about what’s behind you. “Create a power location in your home,” says Singletary, who suggests putting together a designated corner to serve as a meeting space if you don’t have an actual home office. An organized bookcase—maybe with some art or a nice photo perched on a shelf—a fireplace, or an attractive wall, if you have one, are all good places to start. Put away loose papers and use a laptop stand so you’re always at eye level. If your bedroom is your office, always make sure the space is neat, personal items are out of view, and—most obviously—your bed is always made.
Singletary also notes the importance of good lighting. “As soon as you come on, you need to be well lit,” she says. Natural light is great, but not every work nook or home office has direct access to a window. Box lights, ring lights, and lights that clip onto your laptop are all great options, in addition to your desk lamp or overhead lighting. She also stresses the importance of having your workspace fully set up well before your meeting time—lights, cords, home accents. The last thing you need before asking for a raise is the stress that comes with scrambling to get your space in order.
I always create a test Zoom for myself before important meetings so I can assess and rearrange as necessary, and Singletary does the same. Turn on the camera and see how your background looks—is there too much headroom? Does it look like something’s coming out of your head? You don’t want anything distracting your supervisor when trying to ask for a raise or promotion.
Create a system with your housemates before key calls.
Obviously, virtual meetings can sometimes be difficult with small kids—we’ve all seen the viral proof—or any type of housemate, but Singletary suggests putting a system into place to use during important remote events. “Create a rule to use before you have a power conversation tell the other people in the house, ‘Listen, I’m going to be on this conversation for X amount of time. I need you guys to be quiet [and] not knock on the door.’” By sorting that out ahead of time, you remove a potential distraction and can talk to your supervisor from a position of power.
Look the part…from the waist up.
By now we all know the rules of dressing for Zoom, and they usually include sweatpants on the bottom, professional shirt on top. If you want to put on real pants, wonderful. But no matter how casual your company’s vibe, take some extra care in dressing for a big conversation. You still have all those work shirts hanging up in your closet right? Grab one. Singletary suggests paying close attention to your hair and makeup as well, so you present yourself in the most professional light.
Seek out your mentors.
“If you’re going to be asking for a raise or a new position, I’d suggest talking it out,” Singletary says. “I think everybody, no matter where they are in their career, needs a workplace mentor—or a couple different mentors.” In her case, Singletary says, she’s been fortunate to have people at work she can bounce ideas off of and ask for advice on the best way to approach getting what you deserve. Singletary recalls an instance during which she went to one of her own mentors—a man—after she thought she’d had a particularly good year and asked him, straight up, how to get more money.
He told her, simply, that men come in and ask for whatever they want with no guilt and she should do the same. “He said, ‘Don’t ever feel like you shouldn’t ask for what you want.’ And ever since that conversation, that’s what I do.” And if she’s not positive she’ll get it? “I still ask.”
Although you can’t pop into a mentor’s office or ask them to coffee, it’s worth setting up a separate chat with a colleague you know is in your corner before you approach your boss. It’ll not only boost your confidence, but they can serve as a sounding board if you need to practice your pitch.
Let your boss know the agenda.
Learning how to ask for a raise over Zoom includes some additional meeting prep work. Planning your talking points is a given, but a method Singletary relies on is sharing at the top of the meeting that you do have talking points, and your boss can expect to hear them. “I create a little agenda for myself with what I want to go over. And at the beginning of the meeting, I pull out my little agenda and I say, ‘These are the things I’d like to discuss.’ I'm telling you, 99% of the time, [managers] are like, ‘Whoa. She means business.’”
Realize the equalizing power of remote work.
One thing that comes up in my chat with Singletary is how, even if it doesn’t feel this way, remote work can be an asset when asking for a raise. In person, your manager’s presence alone can be intimidating, but with a barrier, like a computer, we’re all on the same level. “They’re not sitting behind their big desk or in a big conference room,” she says. “They’re looking at a camera, you’re looking at a camera. So to me, I actually think it equalizes things.”
Even if the answer is no, end on a strong note.
When an in-person meeting wraps up, there’s usually a physical indication from which to take cues—someone stands up, a handshake is offered, an assistant pops in to remind your boss another meeting is starting. Over Zoom, ending a meeting can be awkward—hitting a button can feel abrupt, especially if your pitch for more money is respectfully rejected. How can you leave the call without seeming angry and with your dignity still intact?
Singletary suggests two things. The first is clearly telling your manager that you understand where they’re coming from if they say you still have work to do before getting that raise. The second is requesting a clear plan of action about what you need to do in a specific time frame in order to get what you want. “Ask for specifics, take copious notes, then email those notes to your supervisor.” From there, regularly check in with your boss on your progress—don’t wait until the six months to a year is up.
Another good rule of thumb—document all praise. “I collect emails. I collect congratulations, anything that goes towards my accomplishments,” Singletary says, adding that she notes when her columns perform particularly well and when they end up on a site’s homepage—all proof that her work is resonating, which makes a strong case when advocating for herself.
Shop yourself around.
If you’re feeling as though you’ve hit a wall on the promotion front, see what else is out there. “Quite frankly, sometimes people don’t want you until somebody else wants you,” says Singletary. But if you use another offer as leverage, you have to be prepared to accept it. “Don’t play chicken,” she says. “If you don’t really want to [accept the] other job, don’t use it, because your boss may call your bluff. I would not play that game unless I’m willing to actually walk. And sometimes you do have to walk.”
Michelle Singletary is a nationally syndicated finance columnist for The Washington Post and the author of several books including The 21 Day Financial Fast and What to Do with Your Money When Crisis Hits: A Survival Guide, which is available for preorder now.
Originally Appeared on Glamour