How I Asked For a Raise

By Kerri Davidson

I accidentally asked for a raise on national television. It was completely unintentional, but that brief encounter proved to be the best career preparation I could have asked for.

My performance review was coming up at work and, as I hadn’t had a substantial raise in years, I knew I needed to ask for one during the review. But at the same time I wondered how I ever would get the courage to do so. After consulting many friends on the subject and spending an embarrassingly long time practicing my speech in the mirror, I decided I deserved a raise and had to take a chance and ask for one.

Three days before my performance review, I was eating lunch on a bench catty-corner to Radio City Music Hall, a few blocks from the building I worked in. Just as I was finishing up my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a lady in a suit stopped in front of me and introduced herself as a producer for “Good Morning America.” She explained that the show was doing a segment on questions women were afraid to ask their bosses, and she asked if I had a question for their expert. Without hesitation I said, “Well, I would love to know how to ask my boss for a raise.”  She pointed to her camera guy a few feet away and asked if I’d like to do that on their program.  

I was holding my wadded up sticky sandwich wrapper and figured there was a good chance I had crumbs on my shirt, but my New Year’s resolution for that year and every year afterwards was to take every opportunity offered to me, no matter how scary or potentially embarrassing.  So I threw away my trash, asked if I looked OK, which prompted some face wiping and pinching of cheeks, and once I was camera ready (or as ready as I ever could be), I took the microphone.  

The camera was huge and hovered a few inches from my cheek. I was instructed to ignore it and instead look at the producer and ask my question.  All of a sudden my face was frozen, but I managed to squeeze out of my frosted lips that I’d love to ask my boss for a raise, followed by a quick, “How was that?”  She said it was good, but to try one more time and say it like I did when she first walked up to me.  Again came the camera, so close it was practically affixed to my face. I looked firmly into its glassy eye and repeated, “I’d love to know how to ask my boss for a raise.” It was a wrap.  She said, “Watch ‘Good Morning America’ tomorrow morning to see yourself on television,” then walked away. Just like that I’d gone from eating the lunch of a third grader to asking one of the toughest questions of my career on camera. I was instantly excited to be on the program, but at the same time said a short prayer that no one at work would catch it, since it would blow my cover for my performance review.  

I woke up early the next morning and immediately turned on the television to “Good Morning America.” After sitting through commercials and about a million weather reports, the anchor announced the next segment — what women are afraid to ask their bosses. I gasped a little in excitement, turned up the volume and sat on the floor next to the television, hoping that my quick question had made the cut. I didn’t have to wait long to find out. They showed a visual of a laptop opening up and there was my face inside, asking for a raise.  

My first thought was relief that my hair looked OK and no zits were visible. Then I realized I’d just done what I was so fearful of doing — ON NATIONAL TELEVISION.  It was obvious I was nervous, my eyes were open so wide, but I had done it, I had expressed my desire for a raise in front of thousands of people. After that, how could I not ask for it in a small office in front of my boss?

To my relief, no one at work had seen my five seconds of television fame. The next day was the anticipated, and dreaded, Review Day.  I repeated my lines to myself all morning.  My boss, who I should mention, was the coolest, most laid-back person on the planet, called me in for my review.  I reminded myself that I’d asked this question in front of America; I’d already done this, I could do it again.  We walked into the office together and I held my elbows as I repeated the lines I’d memorized, again through faltering breath and clenched cheeks.  She said, “Oh, well I definitely believe you deserve one.  I’ll do my best.” Then she went straight to her boss to begin working up the approval chain.  

I got a raise that year, actually I did better than that I got a promotion; all thanks to a little bravery, a conviction that I deserved it, and some practice on “Good Morning America.”

Kerri Davidson is a memorist, poet and editor based in New York City. Visit her website at www.kerridavidson.com or follow her on Instagram at thedustdancing or email her at 3kerri@gmail.com.