Starting Out


Five Steps to Negotiating a Raise

Erin Burt

Forget about sucking up. When it comes to asking your boss for more money, all you need is good timing and the right preparation.



Even in a bad economy, it's possible to negotiate a raise. Have you been asked to cover another employee's duties because your company downsized? Have you been putting in extra hours to help your department meet its goals? Has your company benefited from your stellar performance? Then it may be time to ask for a raise.

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But summoning the courage to ask for more money can be tough -- especially if this will be the first time you've ever done it.

We're not talking about a token cost-of-living increase to keep your buying power up with inflation. Rather, we're talking about a reward for your performance and contribution to the company that goes beyond expectations.

If you want a real raise -- a raise you deserve -- you need to ask for it. It probably won't fall in your lap. But with the right timing and preparation, you'll feel less fear and more confidence in making your request, and you'll have nothing to lose by asking. Just remember: Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Here's how to plan your pitch and get the pay you deserve.

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Prepare and make your pitch

1. Make a list of your specific accomplishments. Think you deserve more money? Be prepared to prove it. You need to show your boss the value you add to the team and point out specific instances you went above and beyond the call of duty.

Ideally, you should keep a personal log of significant contributions you made to your job from day one. If you haven't, start now. For example, note how you saved the company money or boosted sales, how you decreased hassle or stress on a project, and how you showed leadership under pressure. Use as many details as possible, such as numbers and facts. You'll want to take five to seven of your most recent or biggest-impact contributions and present them in a bulleted list.

If your job description has changed over the past year, or you've taken on added responsibilities, include those with your list of accomplishments. If you've recently completed training, received credentials or obtained an advanced degree that will benefit your employer, make sure to point that out as well. To drive home your case, you might want to make copies of any e-mails, memos or notes you've received from higher-ups, clients or colleagues that praise your performance, advises Teena Rose, president of Résumé to Referral, a résumé writing service provider.

Remember: your pay raise is based on your contribution to the company. Do not bring your personal financial situation into the discussion at all -- your boss doesn't care that your rent has gone up, you've got a wedding to pay for or you're expecting a new baby. When handing out raises, he or she only cares about the bottom line of the company. You should only ask for a raise if you feel you truly deserve it -- not because you need it.

2. Find out how your salary compares. You'll need to tell your boss exactly how much you'd like to get paid. When you know what others in your field are paid and what your position is worth, you can use that figure as a starting point for negotiations.

3. Consider negotiating benefits and perks. A raise doesn't have to come in dollar signs. So before entering negotiations, think of other areas you are willing to negotiate such as vacation time, flexible work hours, stock options or tuition reimbursement. You might also consider bargaining for the right to telecommute, a more prestigious title or a week at a professional conference in Hawaii, suggests career coach Marty Nemko.

If the benefits and perks are as important or more important to you than money, you can include them in the forefront of your pitch. But if you prefer the dough, keep a couple of possible perks in your back pocket just in case your boss says "no" to a monetary raise. They'll give you something else to bargain with if negotiations stall.

4. Time your pitch right. If your annual performance review isn't any time soon, approach your boss after you've done well on a project or taken on extra responsibilities. This will make your case much easier to present because your boss already will have a positive taste in his or her mouth. You don't want to allow him or her time to forget what an asset you are.

5. Broach the topic professionally. Set up a meeting with your boss and approach the subject like two parties trying to reach a compromise. Come with your list of accomplishments neatly typed for your boss to reference and your salary request printed at the top.

When making your case, don't compare yourself to co-workers -- stick to the field in general. And don't be cocky or greedy. If you've only been at your entry-level job for a year or two, expecting a hefty bonus, substantial raise or prestigious promotion is probably unrealistic unless you really, truly outdid yourself. Going into the negotiations with a sense of entitlement may actually hurt your chances.

Oh, and don't threaten to quit unless you really mean it. If you give your boss an ultimatum -- "Give me a raise or else" -- you just may find that "or else" is your only option.

If your boss says "no"

There are a number of reasons your boss may turn down your request, but if it's because there simply isn't enough money available, shift gears. "Suggest an upgrade in your position," says Nemko. "It's easier for your employer to rationalize a higher salary if your job description is changed to include higher-level work." You could also ask to reopen negotiations in a few months.

Ask your boss candidly what it'll take for you to get a raise by that time -- and then do it. This shows your boss you truly are interested in increasing your value to the company and will give you a specific accomplishment to quantify when you reopen negotiations.

Boss still turning you down flat? Simply say, "I understand your position," and leave the room. "An ambiguous response is often more effective than an aggressive one because it leaves your boss wondering what you'll do next," says Nemko.

Indeed, you have some thinking to do. "If they consistently say no, and you are consistently performing well, it may be time for you to start looking for a company that is willing to pay you what you deserve," says Ross MacPherson, founder of Career Quest, a job coaching firm.



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