Asking for a raise is never easy, but it's especially tough these days thanks to pay freezes, layoffs, and general company belt-tightening. If you started a job for less than you were worth a few years ago, you're probably itching to bump your rate back up to where it belongs. And even if your salary was okay two years ago, you're probably tired of standing still.
In either predicament, you know you deserve a raise, but you might not be sure how best to approach the topic with your boss so that you get the raise you ought to have. Here are some strategies to shoot for and some pitfalls to avoid to help you find your way through your next raise discussion with your boss.
Don't make these mistakes
Let's start with a couple of the don'ts.
Don't decide you need a raise because you've been with the company for over a year. Raises are related to talent, not just time, said Chellie Campbell, author of “The Wealthy Spirit: Daily Affirmations for Financial Stress Reduction,” (Sourcebooks Trade; 2002).
"Just showing up for a year—even if you're putting in lots of overtime hours—does not mean that a raise is yours for the asking,” Campbell explained.
So don't get emotional or walk into negotiations with a chip on your shoulder. Yes, you work hard, and yes, you're underpaid. But unless your boss owns the company, it's not his fault—and he is probably just as underpaid as you are. And in the situation where your boss does own the company, you have to work even harder not to let your emotions control you: Every dollar you earn is a dollar directly out of your boss's pocket, so you've got to make him want to give you that money.
Remember that salaries are down across the board, and complaining about it won't make you any more likeable. Don't make your employer guess what you want. It's not uncommon for your supervisor to ask, "What are you hoping for?" Don't be clever or coy with an answer that says nothing, like: "Well, I'd like a raise that reflects the value I bring to the company." Be specific: "Based on the work I've done and the added revenue I've brought in over the last 18 months, I believe I should be earning $75,000 to $80,000." That’s a clear statement that explains to your employer exactly what you want. Just be sure you can back up your request with hard numbers.
Ways to increase your chances for a raise
On to what you should do when seeking a raise:
Do your research. Don't expect your employer to keep track of how much new business you've brought in or how you helped the company's bottom line. This isn't college, and the only person who keeps track of your grades is you.
So sit down and figure out exactly what you contributed to the balance sheet. If you have no idea how your job makes the company money, then you have a major problem. And if you think that being an IT manager means that bringing in new business isn't part of your job description, you're wrong. If you work for a company, you should always be trying to grow that company. If you can show your supervisor how much money you brought in or saved, you'll make it a lot easier for the raise you want to be approved.
Do be upbeat. Let's say you're hoping to bump yourself up to $85,000 a year. For at least a week before you ask for your raise, Campbell suggests you say to yourself, at least 20 times a day, "I make $85,000 a year, and I'm worth every penny." Sound a little hokey? Maybe. It’s even New Age-y, but so what?
"People pick up on what you put out there," said Campbell. "If you walk into a room with a positive, happy attitude, and if you project that you're successful and things are great, people will want to have you around. Success sells. Resentment doesn't. It's not rocket science," she added.
Do know what the market will bear. You may want to be earning $85,000 a year, but if you just graduated and you work for a small software shop in Des Moines, it’s not a realistic expectation. You can't simply arbitrarily pick a number that will support the lifestyle to which you would like to become accustomed. You have to actually know what other people in similar positions are earning.
One last comment
If the job you have is one you took because there was nothing else out there, and you accepted significantly less compensation than you deserved from the start, you have to realize that your boss knows you're willing to work for less. That is a big mindset to change.
"You put yourself at an immediate disadvantage, because they don't think you'll leave them over money," said Campbell. So if your raise request is turned down, it may be time to look elsewhere.
There is one instance where it's okay for you to stick it out with a company that won't cough up the raise, Campbell added.
"If you truly believe in the company's future prospects and trust that your boss will take care of you, then you might decide to ride out the rough times. But if you're talking about a future raise, get some sort of commitment in writing," she cautioned.
Money is slowly coming back to the high tech world. So, if you know your worth, you can get your share. It’s just a matter of taking the right approach.