Cost of Living

Want a raise? Now is the perfect time to ask for it, career experts say

It’s time to ask for a raise — the best time, in fact. Rising inflation and employee shortages are giving workers the edge for the first time in decades when it comes to asking for more pay, according to employment agencies and career coaches.

Rising inflation has combined with labour shortages to give workers an edge in negotiating

Canadian academic Leland Harper was able to negotiate a 10 per cent wage hike, despite salary freezes at his workplace, by doing his research and arguing for a bump based on his worth. (Leland Harper)

Leland Harper waited for the right moment to ask for a raise, a bold move considering that the small Michigan university where he works had frozen salaries before the pandemic.

But when Harper asked for a 10 per cent salary hike in 2021, he got it — and job market watchers say that a labour shortage has given workers a real edge in negotiations.

In fact, it's the perfect time to ask for a raise in many sectors, employment experts told CBC Radio, given the combination of rising inflation and a scarcity of workers. 

Inflation recently hit 5.7 per cent — its highest point in a generation — and is pushing up the cost of living at a time when employers have to compete for staff.

Over the past two years, inflation has jumped by close to seven per cent.

Inflation has just reached its highest point in a generation, pushing up the price of goods and labour as employers compete to attract staff during the pandemic. (Shutterstock)

Wages rose at the same time, but at nowhere near the same rate — even though there's less competition for jobs as immigration was stalled by COVID restrictions.

"Job seekers have a lot more power than they used to. Companies are trying really hard to get new employees and to keep the ones they have," Sarah Vermunt, founder of Careergasm, told CBC's Cost of Living.

"That's great for current employees if your employer is trying to keep the people they have [because] it means it's a really good time to actually ask for a raise."

Vermunt says people are often anxious or uncertain about how to ask for more pay.

"It's a really vulnerable thing to ask for more money," she said. "There's always the chance that someone will say no."

But a refusal is not always the end of negotiations, she said.

Toronto career coach Sarah Vermunt, founder of Careergasm, helps people learn how to ask for a pay raise by doing their research and pushing for what they are worth to their industry. (Careergasm)

She advises people to do the research before requesting a raise — and to be patient.

When making a case for better compensation, it's important to highlight performance rather than just years of service, she said.

Keep language positive and pick the right moment, like when accepting a new position, she said.

"That organization has probably gone through a lengthy, expensive process of trying to recruit people. That is literally the most powerful negotiation position you will ever be in your career," Vermunt said.

Do your research

When Harper decided to ask the university for a 10 per cent raise, he made sure to have done his research. 

The philosophy professor said he learned that other nearby universities were actively recruiting Black academics, particularly those researching race and racism. 

And Harper had a book about race issues set to be published. 

"Big universities were hiring 10, 15 or 20 Black academics at a time and throwing big money at them," Harper said. "I said [to my employer] 'If you want to compete you have got to do something."

A $100 bill and coins.
Career coaches and employment agencies say now is the time for Canadian employees to ask for a pay raise, as staffing shortages and high inflation give them real leverage. (Shutterstock)

His employer initially turned down his request. 

But Siena Heights University in Michigan eventually offered him a special contract to reflect his value. 

'Never seen it like this'

Harper's request benefitted from good timing. 

"I would say in almost 20 years that I've been working in the recruitment industry, I have never seen it like this," said Patrick Poulin, group president of recruitment firm Randstad Canada.

There's an unmet demand for employees, especially in finance, accounting, tech and engineering, he said. 

For companies that can't afford to raise pay, there are other perks they can offer: working from home and flexible hours. (MichaelJayBerlin / Shutterstock)

And the shortage of applicants is prompting more forward-thinking companies to offer more flexibility, like making it easier to work from home. 

"We've seen a big shift happening, with companies investing even more in the technology to allow people to work remotely," Poulin said.

Not every company, especially after pandemic losses and supply chain challenges, are able to offer wage hikes.

Get creative with perks

But Poulin says companies should consider other perks. For example the employer could offer work flexibility or an opportunity on a new project.

He also advises employers to look to their current employees when considering promotions – or risk losing them.

"Always work with your internal employees first," said Poulin. "Always."

Tips for that raise request

Vermunt suggests these tips for going after a raise:

  • Set career goals.

  • Stay positive. 

  • Take the initiative.

  • Ask for a career progression meeting and give lots of warning.

  • Do the research.

  • Know what you are worth in your market.

  • Be calm, and present a carefully thought-out request.

  • Present hard numbers or evidence of your work or improvements.

  • Be prepared for a "No."

  • Consider other incentives, like projects or perks, if a raise is not an option.

  • Remain patient.

Vermunt said it's important to research what other people in your market are earning.

She said it's also helpful to have concrete examples – sales results or other evidence – to illustrate how you have improved or grown since you were hired.

This helps bolster the argument for why you are worth more pay.


Written by Yvette Brend. Produced by Jennifer Keene and Danielle Nerman.