Asking for a raise is one of the most difficult conversations to start.
It usually goes something like this:
“I need a raise.”
To which your boss can reply with an endless number of reasons why it’s not going to happen.
Here’s a more practical way to prepare for that conversation so that you can increase your chances of success.
First of all, your starting point is critically important. If you are looking to break into a new job, you have to make sure your initial salary is adequate. Raises come in small increments. And when you move jobs, it’s unusual to get more than a 10-20% jump. So you need to make sure you start as high as you can, otherwise you’ll always be working just to catch up.
Next, it is vital that you understand the context of your “ask”, specifically, what is happening behind the scenes at your company.
Ask yourself these questions:
- How is the company doing? Is it expanding and hiring new people, or shrinking via layoffs? If the company is shrinking you can still be paid more– in fact during tough times it’s even more important for companies to keep their high value team members. So never let that put you off asking.
- How does the company see you? Are you high profile, respected and seen to be contributing? Or do you keep your head down hoping someone will notice?
- Do you have a skill that pays a premium? Sometimes it’s not the bosses that make the most money, but the people who do the specialized work that is harder to hire for.
- Who makes the decisions about salaries? Most businesses have budgets. And people’s salaries are usually forecast at least a year in advance. Well-organized companies also have a pool of money in that forecast to cover raises. But consider this. If you expect a 15% raise – but the company only forecasts 3% per person – that means you ‘took’ the equivalent of 5 people’s raises.
- What time of year is it? Asking for a raise when the business is close to the end of the financial year, when every dollar counts, is tricky.
- Is there a formal review cycle? Do you know when conversations will happen, or is it ad hoc? Either way, don't wait until your performance review to bring up your request
OK, now you’ve done your homework - how do you go about ensuring that you are being considered for an increment?
First, look closer at your scope of work
What were you hired to do, and what are you doing now? The most powerful tool you have is a record of the value that you add to the business. If you are saving the company the need to hire another person, it’s easier to justify an increment.
Use online tools such as glassdoor.com and payscale.com to find competitive and comparative positions. Gather data on what other people with your scope of work and experience and being paid. And go a step further and ask your colleagues what they are paid. But be warned, that can be a conversation that can change your view on your job!
If you are lucky enough to work for an organization that publishes salary data make sure you’re clear that what you’re asking for is in line with what is published.
Next, figure out WHO is best to talk to
The first conversation you have should be with someone who is empowered, and in your corner. If you have a good relationship with your boss or supervisor, they can negotiate with HR and Finance on your behalf. If you don’t have a good relationship, you will need to work much harder to show your value, and your boss’s word can undermine all the hard work you’ve put in. Every day HR managers have people in their office complaining about their compensation, but rarely do the complainers propose what their salary should be, or have people championing their compensation for them. Don’t be the complainer.
Next, have the conversation
Remember, this is a negotiation. And one big rule of negotiations is: “Don’t take a no from someone who isn’t empowered to say yes”. Don’t be like Oliver Twist asking for more gruel. This is not a favor to be doled out – but a business case to be made.
The top 4 points for you to present
- Your scope of work, and the increased value you bring
- Comparative data from your own company or your industry
- Your commitment to the company and your intention to continue to expand your role to bring increased value
- Your number (first, think of what you think is fair. Next add 10-20% to that number. This gives yourself room to negotiate down)
Practice your conversation. Your pitch should be no more than 60 seconds to cover the points above – but have extra points ready should the person you’re talking to want more detail. Make the ask. And then stop talking.
Don’t leave the conversation open ended. Ask clearly what the next steps are and how you can help make it happen. Even if you get a ‘no’ – persist with requests for performance review dates and insights into why you got the no (remember, there’s always a lot going on behind the curtain – it’s often not even about you).
Lastly, even if you get a ‘no’ or you aren’t able to secure the money you want - there are other ways for you to benefit from your loyalty and contribution to your employer. Instead of money you can ask for extra time off, or have the company pay for courses or continuing education. Or perhaps ask for a flexible work arrangement, a more challenging assignment, or even a transfer to a different location. All of these things can help increase your long term earning potential.
There is a LOT of anxiety around asking for more money at work – it’s tied so closely to our self worth that it can be far more comfortable to wait. But you are your own champion. If you have a sponsor or mentor in the organization recruit them in too, but the most important thing is that you ask.