Six Steps to a Bigger Raise

By Vickie Elmer
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, September 14, 2008

Chris McGee says it's quite easy to win a big raise: Excel on high-impact or risky projects, and help your boss succeed.

To do that, you must understand how success is defined in your organization and which measures are used to judge your boss -- and you. "Understand your role in pushing your boss up, and you in turn will rise," said McGee, a principal in the District office of Mercer, a human relations consulting firm.

You can't start being a standout just a few weeks before your review. You need at least a few months to lay a firm foundation and rack up some impressive accomplishments before your boss sits down to start your evaluation.

Begin now if your review is expected in December or January. If you're aiming for a double-digit raise, keep in mind that raises will average 3.7 percent next year and 5.6 percent for the highest-performing workers, according to Mercer's research.

Here are some suggestions on reaching for a hefty raise:

· Know the goals."Really understand the vision and mission of the organization," said Ane Powers, managing partner and career coach at White Hawk Group in Washington. The mission is not what's written on a plaque on a wall; it's what people know in their guts about why the organization exists.

It's important, too, to review your personal goals for the year. As the economy or organization shifts, so do expectations for your work. "Goals set in January may not hold in July or August," said Bill Coleman,'s chief compensation officer. He keeps a document with his goals handy and keeps editing it, adding details and results. It reinforces them to him and gives him a summary he can share with his boss.

· Know the evaluation process. At some big organizations, bosses must prepare reviews 12 weeks before review dates, Coleman said. Others have a four- to eight-week lead time. (The time allows layers of management to review and sign off on reviews.) You cannot give your boss your list of accomplishments two weeks before your review date and expect to see them reflected.

McGee says ongoing conversations are best, including some about strategy. "Specifically ask their boss what they need to do to receive the highest performance rating, and even go as far as laying specific steps for achieving those goals and then strive to exceed them," he said.

Pull out last year's review and note the format and areas identified as needing improvement. Then you can highlight progress.

· Show high-impact, tangible results. If you increased sales by 25 percent in three months, that's a clear, measurable result of your efforts. Even if you didn't bring in a dime, show how you helped the business with hiring or developing new staff, producing reports faster or saving money.

It's important to keep track of what you have done in real time -- start a file and drop in a note or notes of praise regularly. "Every time you do something you're proud of, you drop it in the file," she said.

· Acknowledge missed goals."If you can't make a goal, raise the flag early," Coleman said. Powers suggests discussing alternatives with your boss -- bringing in a temp to help, or pushing the goal to next year. It's important to own up to mistakes and indicate what you learned and how you minimized the impact, she said.

· Make clear your career goal. If you want to move up, tell your boss. She could help you identify and fill in gaps in experience and give instant feedback if you develop her as your ally. You also may want another mentor to add insights.

· Ask for a good raise. Base your request on your contributions, not rising gas prices or a new baby. Know the market so you will ask for something appropriate, Power said. Check on salaries being paid via a professional organization report or online ads.

And remember: If you want a big raise, you need to aim high in your achievements. "Every time I have been given a metric, my goal is to exceed it by at least 20 percent so that there is no ambiguity in whether I hit it or not," McGee said.

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