In a perfect world, every boss would acknowledge top performers and pass out generous pay raises annually. Unfortunately, that’s usually not how it works. Even a star employee can motor on for years without a promotion or meaningful bump in pay.
And yet, the idea of having to go in and ask for a raise can make even the most ambitious and tough-minded among us hesitate. Maybe you love your job—and you need it—so you don’t want to seem ungrateful.
Perhaps you’ve been told that to be fair, everryone in your department always gets an equal percentage increase. And, of course, you understand your supervisor is saddled with certain budget constraints.
Still, your accomplishments deserve recognition. If a pat on the back just isn’t cutting it anymore, asking for a raise is likely the only way you’re going to get what you have coming. But you have to prepare.
Despite the dread-filled discomfort involved, you aren’t the first and you won’t be the last to have this little chat. You have to be confident without being arrogant, positive about your past but focused on the future, and equipped with the numbers you’ll need for a serious negotiation. Here are five things you can do to prepare to ask for a raise at work:
1. Get clear on your goals
Asking for a raise isn’t about what you want or need—it’s about what you’ve earned. But before you walk in and ask for some kind of tangible acknowledgment of what you’re worth, you should know what your end goal is.
• Is it money? For most folks, money equals security. Put away a $5,000 difference in pay for 40 years, and you could have, at a minimum, $200,000. Or maybe you’d rather get a one-time bonus—enough to help with your down payment on a home or pay for a bathroom remodel.
• Is it a title? Perhaps you’re the kind of worker who thrives on moving up and trying new things, and you know a title would give your resume a boost when it’s time to pitch yourself for a new position or project.
• Is it professional development? You could lobby for some tuition help so you can go for your MBA, or ask to attend key workshops and conferences that would benefit both you and your employer.
• Is it flexibility or more family time? Maybe it’s time to discuss ways to bring balance to your life—with an extra week of vacation or a schedule that allows you to work from home or to pick up your kids from school a couple of days a week.
2. Get your three numbers ready
Michael Donaldson, entertainment attorney and author of Fearless Negotiating, calls it the “Wish-Want-Walk” method: Your “wish” is your goal: what you hope to get. Your “want” is where the market will likely push that number. Your “walk” is where you draw the line, and if the offer isn’t what you think you deserve, you’ll walk away. You’ll have to do some homework to set some appropriate targets:
• Start by researching your value. What do people in similar roles (perhaps with different titles) earn? Sites such as glassdoor.com , salary.com , and indeed.com are great places to look for up-to-date salary data.
• Talk to a recruiter or “headhunter” about what’s going on in the job market and to determine the going rate for someone with your skills, experience, and education. You’ll probably have to disclose your current salary, so get comfortable with that idea before you make contact.
• Connect with others in your industry or with a similar job title and ask for an informal chat. You might not get an exact figure for what someone is making, but you could learn a salary range. (You may have more luck asking someone who’s at a level above yours about what he or she used to make—a mentor, for example, or former boss.) Just as you would with a salary comparison website, make sure the information is relevant to where you live and work.
• Assess your “X factor.” What quality or qualities do you have that set you apart and make you worthy of the salary you want? Maybe you’re great at building relationships with clients, or you’re a networker who knows everyone in town.
Could be you’re consistently the top performer in your department, or you’re a problem-solver who always gets the job done well, even with a tight deadline. Be ready to explain how those strengths and abilities matter to the decision-maker with whom you’re negotiating.
3. Get your facts together
Think of yourself as a lawyer going to court: To get the verdict you want, you must gather evidence and witnesses to make your case to the jury (your boss). Be prepared to produce the proper “exhibits,” including:
• What others value about your work. Ask your clients and co-workers to give you some written feedback so you can say, “Here’s the impact others see that I make in this company.” Be ready to point out specifics in positive past reviews from your current supervisor and others as a reminder of your standout skills.
• Your financial value. Bring the salary figures you collected from various sources.
• Your current value. Yes, you’ll have to brag a little and share accomplishments that made you proud. Start with something like, “Here’s how I’ve been able to add value over the past year.” Did you bring in a new account? Save a crucial project? Have a list prepared and bring visuals.
• Your future value. A raise isn’t just about the past; you’ll also want to point out what you’ll be doing to add value in the coming months and years. Be clear about what you want to do in the future, and how you plan to contribute to and/or grow the business. Note the responsibilities you’d like to take on and how your doing them will help the company.
4. Get your confidence up
Unless you’re a professional mediator, you’re probably going to be nervous about this meeting. Not many people can claim to be an expert on how to ask for a raise. Try not to think of it as a negotiation, instead, think of it as a conversation.
(At SoFi, we offer complimentary career counseling to members.) Here are some ways to take your anxiety down a notch or two:
• Practice. Once you’ve assembled your talking points, practice your pitch on friends and trusted colleagues so you can get some feedback on your tone and word choices.
• Use your data to support your request; don’t let your emotions take over. Try not to get mad
5. Get that raise!
You’ve researched. You’ve practiced. You’re ready. So here are just a few more tips for acing the big ask:
• Set up an appointment ahead of time. You don’t have to say it’s about compensation. Just be clear that you want to have a conversation about your contributions to the company, and you’d appreciate it if your boss could set aside some time—an hour or so—for a talk.
• No matter what happens, this is still your place of employment, so stay steady. Even if you don’t get what you want, conducting yourself in a respectable manner will add to your boss’s appreciation for your professionalism.
• Remember that timing is crucial. Knowing when to ask for a raise is as important as knowing how. Be mindful of how your business operates: If it’s a slow period and the decision-makers might be out of the office, wait a bit. If it’s your busy season, why add to the headaches? Did your boss just tell you-you’re a vital member of the team? Ahem, there’s your cue. Do everything you can to make your case at the best possible moment.
• Be OK with silence. You’ve been planning this for weeks—maybe longer—but your supervisor might not be prepared for this discussion. Don’t try to fill conversation gaps because you’re uncomfortable. Leave time for the boss to process what you’re saying.
• Be serious but be aware of the fine line between standing your ground and being too firm. Tentative talk is better than tough talk. It’s OK to say “I think” instead of “I know.”
• Don’t make any declarations that you can’t stand behind. It may, indeed, be time to move on to another job, but you want to do it with grace and patience, not as an impulsive response to your raise conversation.
• This is one of the most important workplace conversations you’ll have—so you want to get it right. And SoFi can help. SoFi members have access to complimentary one-on-one advice from experts on resume-building, branding, networking, and other skills needed to help make a smooth and successful career transition, whether you’re ready to move up or move on.
The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.