Career Coach: How to negotiate for a raise

There have been some recent indications that 2012 might be a year in which raises and salary increases are actually possible. If so, it’s important that employees are prepared to ask when the time is right.

Asking for a raise can be one of the hardest things to do. I’ve heard many reasons: people feel uncomfortable; they don’t know how to effectively ask for a raise; they don’t have much leverage because their other opportunities are limited; or they think salaries and raises are fixed and can’t be negotiated. Perhaps more than any other reason, they are afraid of being rejected, losing their job, coming across as greedy and dealing with conflict or bad reactions from their bosses.

Below are some tips to help you be confident when asking for a raise. Preparation is key.

The most important leverage you have is your BATNA – your best alternative to a negotiated agreement. In other words, what will you do if they don’t agree to your request? If you have a good alternative, it will build your confidence, and you can negotiate from a position of strength. This is especially true if you are considered very valuable to the firm. This leads to my next point:

Make sure you have documented the value you bring to the firm (e.g., money you have saved or brought the firm, employees you have trained, awards you have won, unique skills you possess, etc.).

Conduct research to determine your worth in the external market. Review Web sites such as salary.com, payscale.com and glassdoor.com, among others, to see what similar jobs are paying. Be sure to consider cost of living differences for jobs in various locations.

Schedule at least 45 minutes to meet with your boss face-to-face if possible. Sometimes people tell me they want to “catch their boss off-guard” by not scheduling a meeting because they are worried their boss will “prepare.” It is better to schedule a time when you know you and your boss won’t be interrupted. You can tell him or her you want to talk about your job performance if you’d rather not say it’s about compensation.

Practice with a friend. Play yourself and have them play the boss. Make sure they are tough on you. Switch roles so you can see what your boss’ arguments will be like.

During the meeting:

Make sure to reiterate your good past performance and explain what you are looking for. Share your research, and then see what your manager says. “When doing research on this position, I noticed that others in similar jobs are making between X and Y.” And, make sure to have good eye contact and a confident posture when sharing your research.

Be calm. You may get frustrated or angry in the session, but it is critical that you keep your cool because your tone and style are very important to your success. Approaching a raise discussion in a collaborative fashion is more effective than using an aggressive style.

Try to phrase it such that you and your boss are working together on getting a raise for you. If he or she has to sell the idea to another higher-level manager, ask what you can do to help him or her make that happen.

Be persistent. Often, people will ask for a raise and when the boss hesitates or initially says “no,” they give up and walk away. Your boss does not know how important this issue is to you unless you are persistent. Of course, you have to know when it is time to move on.

If you have gotten as far as you think you can with your boss, then thank him or her and start to think creatively about what else can be done to address the gap that exists between what you wanted and what was offered. Bonuses, training programs, tuition reimbursement, extra time off, certifications and company perks such as phones, computers or parking might be available.

Make sure to ask enough questions and listen to what your boss says. Even if you don’t get what you want, you still should leave the meeting understanding his or her decision.

Regardless of the outcome of the meeting, it is important to leave on a calm, positive note. While you may not have gotten everything you wanted, you have done something important. By setting up the meeting and behaving in a professional manner, you have set the stage for future discussions with your boss.

It is often stressful to seek a boost in pay, but it is unlikely you will get what you want unless you ask.

Joyce E. A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management. She can be reached at jrussell@rhsmith.umd.edu.

 
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