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How to Ask for a Raise

Think hard about what you're really after. Simply asking for money will get you nowhere fast -- you need to present your case well.
Think hard about what you're really after. Simply asking for money will get you nowhere fast -- you need to present your case well.
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As Oliver Twist discovered in Dickens' classic novel, asking if you can "have some more" can be a harrowing experience. Even in a good economy, it's not always an easy thing. You don't want to come across as more concerned about money than the organization's welfare. On the other hand, if you think you're due for a raise, then don't be afraid to speak up. It doesn't have to be as stressful an experience as most people make it. Remember that your employer wants to retain good talent -- as well as watch the bottom line. Handled well, the entire process can be enormously beneficial for everyone involved.

Now, before you run off and ask your boss for a $10,000 raise, it's time for a reality check. You'll need to do a bit of research and learn more about how to handle salary negotiations. Because that's essentially what this is -- a negotiation -- and it's an important fact to remember.

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First of all, knowing what others in your field and geographic area are getting paid is important. Unless you can back it up with some pretty solid numbers, it's hard to argue you should be getting paid twice what your local colleagues are earning.

Some jobs, like sales, are easier to quantify than others. Salaries are a quintessentially quantifiable thing. To speak your boss' language, you'll need to learn how to look at what you've done for your organization and convert that information into something quantifiable -- something that can more readily be translated into increased earning potential.

Most people are aware of the importance of salary comparisons and performance reviews when negotiating a salary increase. That's just the starting point. We'll explore all of the other factors that your employer will be looking at when considering your request. Knowing what you should or shouldn't bring up can make or break the deal. If your employer is taking you seriously, your request will be examined closely. Make sure you give it the same attention beforehand.

This article will guide your research, give you tips to prepare for the meeting and inspire the confidence you need to give it your best shot.

On the next page, we'll look at how to research comparable salaries.

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In the United States, government and private surveys constantly gather wage information from both employees and employers. Utilizing this information are a variety of salary calculators you can use to figure out what people in your area earn for doing roughly the same work as you.

Here is a summary of features on the more popular salary-calculator sites:

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  • Salary.com -- detailed, has free info, fee for premium data
  • Payscale.com -- detailed, has free info, fee for premium data
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics -- detailed, all free, raw data, hard to use
  • Job Search Intelligence -- detailed, free info, small fee for premium data, cannot choose employer type

Basic features of online salary calculators are free, with premium options -- which factor in education, experience and even performance reviews -- available for a fee. Using zip codes, hundreds of different job categories are linked (In 2010 the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics kept track of 821 specific occupations [source: U.S. BLS].) The most basic of these sites (like the Bureau of Labor Statistics) will give you a simple number, while more sophisticated sites will, again for a fee, give you personalized profiles, salary-negotiating tips and detailed salary analysis reports.

There are quite a few salary calculators out there. Many use Salary.com's database, but the fees charged for premium services on sites using their data vary. Salary.com, Payscale.com and Job Search Intelligence all ask fairly detailed questions about your background and provide you with a basic (and free) salary range for your area. Detailed reports are great, but the free sites should give you a good idea of what you can expect to earn based on detailed local comparisons.

To be the most relevant, a salary calculator needs to take into account your experience, education (including the relevance of that education for your job), performance reviews and the type of organization you're in. Educational and government institutions often have very different pay ranges than private companies or nonprofit organizations. Make sure you're comparing apples to apples.

Another method is to look at similar job openings at nearby institutions or competing companies to see what type of salary they're offering. Don't overlook other types of compensation, like additional vacation days, better benefits and potential for bonuses. These are all potential items to bring up in your negotiation.

Think hard about what you're really after in this process. Simply asking for money will get you nowhere fast. You need to present your case well, which is what we'll explore on the next page.

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To begin the conversation, mention in an e-mail or conversation that you'd like to set up a meeting to discuss your role in the company. Don't panic if you send an e-mail and don't hear back right away. They'll get back to you when they have an opportunity.

Timing, as they say, is everything. Knowing when to ask for a raise is just as important as knowing how. Asking during a performance review is a great time, or when you've been assigned additional responsibilities or duties [source: Chapman].

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Opening the discussion immediately after a meeting about layoffs or bad sales numbers may not seem like the best time to ask for a raise, but here's where being fully aware of your situation can pay off. Keep in mind that in a negotiation, you bring something to the table, too. If your company is hurting, this could be your opportunity to shine.

Being concise in your approach saves time and will demonstrate your value in the eyes of your employer, so limit the type of material you bring to the discussion to only the most relevant. Leave out any personal reasons for a raise -- that's not the organization's responsibility and will all but guarantee a denial. If you're discussing how you've helped the company so far, focus on those parts of your contribution that you can quantify.

If you're already doing extra work for whatever reason, asking for a raise is little more than asking them to honor their part of the bargain, and that would be your strongest argument.

Think of ways you could contribute that you're not currently doing; better yet, ask your employer how they see your position developing in the coming years. Ask what their needs are and listen closely to the response [source: McGrath].

Consider your employer's remarks and think of ways you can make that happen. Show them how you can make their vision a reality, and they'll most likely see a good reason to reward you for it.

Now that you've gained a better understanding of how to present your case, we'll look at some good tips to keep in mind and explore how to react to whatever answer you get.

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Mobster movies often portray a hitman rationalizing, "Nothing personal. It's just business." Methods aside, it's a good attitude to keep during the negotiation. Besides helping you focus, it can reduce stress and keep you from being overly defensive. Control yourself and you're well on your way to controlling the negotiation. Maintain the control by reigning in your emotions [source: OfficeArrow].

Remember that it doesn't have to be about money. Think about what you value most. More vacation time? Better benefit package? Nicer office? Not every employer is in a position to offer more money. Be flexible and they can more easily be flexible with you.

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Another less-than-stellar reason to ask for a raise is that you're simply unhappy with your current salary. If you believe it's not fair, you'll need to justify that with solid research and approach it from that angle. Keep the conversation positive, and it'll go much easier.

If you're asked to fill a vacancy in a higher position, you're certainly entitled to adequate compensation. Even if it's not discussed at the time, it's reasonable to expect your employer to honor their side -- usually at the next annual evaluation.

Once your employer has heard your case, expect some questions. You might be asked how much of a raise you had in mind, or if you'd be willing to consider other compensation. If you haven't addressed all the ways you could contribute to the company, do not discuss money yet. Establish what your position should be and all its responsibilities before discussing financial aspects or other related benefits. For example, if it involves driving, ask about per diems and other travel expenses [source: Obringer].

Put yourself in their shoes, or even ask someone you trust to play devil's advocate. Based on your situation, think of the questions they're likely to ask you and practice your answer.

Sometimes the answer is a simple "no," which leaves two major options: accept the denial or look for other places to work. If you truly believe you're undervalued, consider finding another job. On the other hand, having the conversation with your employer sometimes improves your chances of a better review and higher salary on the next evaluation cycle.

Remember to think of this whole process as an exploration of how you can help your organization achieve more and how you can get fair compensation for your contributions wherever you are.

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Sources

  • Ancowitz, Nancy. "Salary Negotiation Tips for Introverts." Psychology Today blog. June 6, 2010. (Aug. 19, 2010)http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/self-promotion-introverts/201006/salary-negotiation-tips-introverts
  • CalTech Career Development Center. "Principles for Negotiating Salary and Employment Packages." CDC Handouts. (Aug. 20, 2010)
  • Camp, Jim. "10 Mistakes to Avoid When Negotiating a Raise." CIO Magazine. June 27, 2007. (Aug. 19, 2010)
  • Chapman, Alan. "Salary Negotiating Tips." 2007. (Aug. 18, 2010)
  • Cowan, Kristina. "How to Negotiate Salary: 5 Expert Tips." PayScale.com blog. March 21, 2007 (Aug. 20, 2010)
  • McGrath, Jane. "How Negotiation Works." HowStuffWorks. (Aug. 20, 2010)https://money.howstuffworks.com/personal-finance/budgeting/negotiation.htm
  • Obringer, Lee Ann. "How Employee Compensation Works." HowStuffWorks. (Aug. 20, 2010)https://money.howstuffworks.com/benefits.htm
  • OfficeArrow. "Getting a Raise: What Not To Do." Aug 2010. (Aug. 19, 2010)
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "How Jobseekers and Employers Can Use Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Data during Wage and Salary Discussions." April 20, 2010. (Aug. 18, 2010)
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Occupational Employment Statistics. " May 2009. (Aug. 18, 2010)
  • Weiss, Tara. "Getting What (You Think) You're Worth." Forbes.com. May 9, 2007. (Aug. 19, 2010)http://www.forbes.com/2007/05/09/graduates-salary-negotiation-lead-careers-cx_tw_0508bizbasics.html

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