Negotiating a raise is a fundamental skill for any successful career. The trick is to anchor the request for a raise in information gathering and questions – never outright demands.
“Honestly, professionals don’t ask enough for raises,” said Shravan Goli, president of Dice. Yearly reviews, additional responsibilities or outside job offers can spark the discussion, but Goli contends professionals should focus on the substance of the discussion, rather than the timing, when negotiating a raise.
“One thing to remember when asking for a raise is that you’re signaling to your employer that you believe your performance has been above average, and you are prepared to take on more responsibility,” he said. “No employer will hand over more money without receiving something in return, like the option for an employee to work on new projects or work on developing more professionals on the team.”
“The best time to ask for a raise is when you apply for the job,” said Jim Camp, founder of the Camp Negotiation Institute, which trains clients and corporations on an insight system of negotiations.
Ask questions about how the company handles promotions, earning certifications or other achievement and various types of compensation. “A new person should be building an agenda for what exactly is going to happen when they achieve certain goals,” Camp said. “It’s actually a negotiation of the raise before you ever get there.”
If you’ve never before asked such questions, Camp recommends opening the conversation ASAP. “Now it’s time to go in and say, ‘We’ve never discussed this, but I would like to lay out the framework for the future on how I secure raises and promotions,’” he said. “Ask ‘What would you like me to accomplish? What milestones should I hit? What would be the raise, the salary or the benefits that I’d receive when I achieve them?’”
The question about a raise needs to start focused on the company and your manager, not you, said Stuart Diamond, a negotiations expert whose training and advice is used by organizations such as Google, Morgan Stanley and the U.S. Army Special Forces. He is the author of the best-selling book “Getting More: How to Negotiate to Achieve Your Goals in the Real World,” which ranked No. 1 in FINS.com’s “Five Best Business Books to Read for Your Career in 2011.”
“You should not say, ‘I deserve a raise!’” Diamond said. “You should say, ‘How can I meet your needs so well that you will think I deserve a raise?’”
Use the resulting information to build a checklist for your next raise. “Be as specific as you want,” Camp said. “Building that agenda is always a critical piece to getting the raise.”
Document Your Performance, Always
“If you haven’t been keeping a list of your accomplishments during the year, you’re already behind,” said Goli, who urges employees to keep a file of kudos they receive in writing or verbally from colleagues or bosses. “This way, you’ll have tangible examples to attach to your request for more money.”
To prepare to negotiate a raise, take stock of your personal strengths, features, education, skills, mission and purpose – and how that helps your employer, Camp said. “You need to evaluate what you deliver – and what you will deliver in the future – and how hard you work, and also the value and benefits it will bring to the organization.”
Camp also recommends identifying the problem you want to address through the raise and then be prepared to present it to your employer. For example: “The problem I see is that I feel taken advantage of and I know my performance will suffer.” Or, “I can’t spend 16 hours a day to finish a project and not have the financial rewards I require for myself and my family.” Write all your insights down to begin building your script, he suggested.
Quantify Your Worth
Wherever possible, quantify the financial benefit – cost savings, new business or increased revenue – that you bring to the company. “Having that information at your fingertips to support your case is important and leverage-able,” said JR Samples, CEO of Accountability Partners, a consulting firm in Chicago.
Estimate what compensation is typical for your position and market, some suggest. “Knowing where you stand in the compensation range is useful when negotiating,” said Goli. “On a national level, tech salaries rose five percent on average last year, which was the biggest jump in a decade.”
As an attorney and a former journalist, Diamond is a big believer in the power of information, and suggests gathering information about:
Company standards and criteria for promotions and raises: “To meet their criteria, you need to know what the criteria are – qualitative and quantitative,” Diamond said.
Company goals, major players and department operations: Get to know the longest-term employees, cleaning staff, security staff, parking attendants and other support staff. “Be friendly to them, bake them cookies on holidays, learn their names,” Diamond said. “They are like an early warning system – they find things out weeks before the news is announced.”
Challenges that the company and your manager face: “Find out what they’re afraid of and figure out how fix it,” Diamond said. “The more you can address their fears, the bigger reward financially.”
Use Questions to Frame 'The Ask'
Armed with your insights about your worth and the needs of the company, map out what you want to say to ask for your raise. Use questions to find out your manager’s opinion of your performance and their receptiveness to reviewing your compensation for a possible raise.
“The best negotiators ask questions,” Diamond said. “They don’t make statements. Even if I make a statement, I end it with a question: ‘What do you think?’ So it’s a conversation, not a debate.”
Identify the Right Person for the Ask
“Ultimately, it’s the person who can say yes or no,” Samples said. “Your direct manager may not be that person, but you may still have to go through them. Going over their head for something like this may not help your cause.”
HR may be thought of as an obstacle here, but, Diamond said, “They know all the intangibles the company provides; education grants, training grants, other benefits. They know the whole list of things available if they get stuck on salary.”
Practice the Ask
Work with a partner to role-play how you plan to ask for the raise and how your manager might respond, Diamond said. Switch roles – so you are the boss and your partner pretends to be you asking for the raise. “Put yourself in the situation mentally, see what it feels like, the issues that might come up and how you could best handle it,” he said. “That’s a really good way to stop being nervous.”
“Feeling fearful and nervous about asking for a raise is very natural,” Camp added. Preparation is the key ingredient to taking away the emotion.”
Time the Ask Well
“The employee has the benefit of choosing the time, the place and the process,” said Samples. For example, “If a positive thing has happened, and the decision-maker is in a good mood, be prepared and chose that time.”
Give your manager the right to say no at the start of the conversation to diffuse any feelings of confrontation and put your manager in a more receptive frame of mind, Camp said. Have empathy and respect for your manager as a company decision-maker. Avoid ultimatums, take-it-or-leave-it demands or false deadlines.
Sample noted that all of this may require more than one conversation. The first may be necessary to find out whether your manager is open to discussing the merits of giving you a raise. The second might be focused on making your case for receiving a raise. “If you get a green light on the first one, go for the second,” he said.
If They Say Yes, Document the Plan
If your boss agrees to your request, ask what the next steps are. “You want to have real clarity about who is going to do what when,” Samples said. Send your boss an email thanking them for the conversation and support, and outlining what you understand the next steps will be.
If They Stall, Ask Questions
If your manager hesitates, Samples suggested thanking him or her for the consideration and then asking if they have any concerns. “You want to try to get to the underlying concerns if you can and address them, while you are in the conversation.”
If They Say No, Ask More Questions
Gently try to get information about why your boss can’t support your requested raise. Is it tied to your performance or the company’s financial status? “The more data you can obtain gives you a plan for when to revisit the conversation,” Samples said.
If They Still Say No, It’s Decision Time“If you have great mission and purpose, and you are truly performing to the maximum of your ability, and they reject your raise, it’s time to start looking at what happens next to build your career,” Camp said. This may mean looking for a new job. “But if you feel you are in the right place, then go back to your manager and build an agenda about how you get to that raise.”