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The Fine Art of Asking for a Raise

You want a raise. After all, every employee in the history of industrialized civilization has wanted a little more take-home pay, and some even deserved it. If your employer isn't giving you what you're worth, it may be time to ask for a bump in salary. Countless workers have gone down this road before, and many have hit a dead end. But with the right preparation, the right timing, and the right attitude, you have an excellent chance to win your case.

Preparation

The first step toward getting a raise is knowing what you're worth. According to Lorne Weeks, MD, a career specialist consultant with Careerlab, a Denver-based consulting firm, the best way to gauge your worth is to check the word on the street. But don't take a salary survey of your friends and coworkers. Instead, politely ask people in your field for a general salary picture for someone in your position. Weeks suggests something along the lines of "Hey, Jim, what are you hearing about the salary range for people like you and me?"

In many corporate settings, however, your boss won't really care what Jim makes, so make sure you can back up your figures with more tangible evidence of your worth. Internet sites such as Salary.com provide salary calculators for specific job titles, and you can usually get a free estimate of the average and high salaries for your job, with the figures adjusted for cost of living in your city or town. (Note: Some employers also use Salary.com, but they often pay a lot of money to get a more accurate estimate of what the market is paying. Don't be surprised if there's a discrepancy between your figure and theirs.) Check newspaper or Internet ads for your job title and see what salaries are being offered. You might even check with your local Chamber of Commerce or professional organizations in your career field.

If you still think your paycheck doesn't live up to your worth, it's time to prepare for the Big Meeting. Write down your recent accomplishments and your ambitions for the future. Perhaps you can show that your performance and responsibilities go far beyond your job title. Wherever possible, quantify your value to the company. If you can point to things you've done to save the company money or time, you're ahead of the game. If your accomplishments haven't resulted in dollar gains for the company, figure out the best way to illustrate the value of what you've done. Have you taken on tasks that lightened your boss's job load? Have you worked on projects that enhanced the image of your company or increased its profitability? Do you have testimonials from satisfied, enthusiastic clients?

Karl Walinskas, who runs a communications development company, says you should always document the things you've done to make your company more successful -- that way when it comes time to ask for a raise, you'll have ample evidence that you're worth what you're asking for. You may also be able to demonstrate that your duties have increased while your paycheck held steady. Above all, make it clear that a raise would be a win-win situation. You get a little more money, and your company has a productive, happy, fairly compensated employee.

Timing

Getting ahead in the business world is like passing a convoy of recreational vehicles on a busy two-lane road. You have to pick your spots. If you've just joined the company, you'll have to wait awhile to prove your value. If you think you're ready to make your move, take a hard look at the road conditions before pulling into the passing lane. You could seriously damage your career by asking for a raise when the company is bleeding money and the stock is in freefall, Weeks says. "They'll think you're kicking them when they're down." Then again, he says, companies that have just cut their workforce may have a little extra money to spend on their remaining employees, especially the highly competent ones who help keep the business afloat. If you see an opening, take it.

Some experts suggest picking a day other than Monday to make your pitch. It's a day when work tends to pile up, and when bosses are less likely to lend a sympathetic ear.

Attitude

When you walk into your boss's office to ask for a raise, check your emotions at the door. Your boss wants productivity, not drama.

"You should explain what you've achieved in the past and your agenda for the future in a very dispassionate, factual way," Weeks says. "You don't want to get into tit for tat discussions."

Don't bring up the fact that Ann or David got a raise last fall -- you're not there to compare yourself to others. Your only job is to contrast your personal accomplishments with your current salary. Similarly, don't ask for a raise based on the fact that you need more money to pay for your car or your daughters college tuition. You're there to sell yourself as a person who adds specific value to the company, not to get sympathy for the bills you've got piling up at home.

Are you underselling yourself? According to one recent study from the National Association for Female Executives, women are the worst negotiators for themselves -- they're less confident about asking for a raise even when they deserve it, and when they do get a small raise, they're less likely to ask for a bigger one. If you're on the timid side, try rehearsing what you're going to say a few times before you go in.

Rejection

If your boss declines your request, don't despair. You may want to ask for something else that doesn't call for extra cash from the company, such as extra vacation time or the ability to telecommute. Also, make sure you understand the reasons you were turned down. Maybe your boss would like to give you a raise, but the company can't afford it. Or, if your boss doesn't think you've earned a raise yet, ask how you can improve your performance so that you can get a raise next time around, and take time to follow up on how you're doing. Ask if you can meet to discuss your raise request again in six months -- then start preparing yourself for your next meeting.

Look around to see if you can spot ways your company can save money -- not just in your job or department, but in other departments as well. Look for more efficient ways of doing things -- less time spent means dollars saved.

Also pay attention to your relationship with your boss. Lynn Berger, a career and personal coach quoted in Money.net, says it's important to build a relationship with your boss and others in your company. She says that way you can let them know what you're accomplishing -- and you can see what you can do to help them as well. When it comes time to ask for a raise again, "A cheering squad can't hurt," she says.

On the other hand, you may just want to wait awhile and see what happens. Many companies have yearly merit raises, and can show some discretion in how they're parceled out. In general, Weeks says, asking for a raise is like arguing a call in baseball (hopefully without all of the dirt kicking and tobacco spitting). The umpire won't necessarily rule in your favor, but he might give you a break on the next close play. If you've made a strong case for a raise, your boss may remember it the next time he or she evaluates your salary.

What not to do

Most experts agree it's not a good idea to threaten to quit your job if you don't get a raise, unless you're truly fed up and prepared to leave the company. Bosses generally don't like to be threatened and may call your bluff. Making up or exaggerating offers you've received from other employers is also a strategy that is likely to backfire. Remember, your boss probably knows his or her counterparts in the industry.

Of course, all workers deserve a wage that matches their worth. If you fall below that ideal, a good combination of preparation, timing, and attitude should eventually make things right. If not, it may be time to find an employer who plays fair.

References

Interview with Lorne Weeks, MD, a career specialist with Careerlab, a Denver-based consulting firm

Interview with Karl Walinskas, who runs a communications development company

Asking for a Raise at Work. PageWise.Inc. 2002.

University of San Francisco. The career services center guide to negotiating salary and benefits.

Bargaining Power. NAFE Magazine. http://nafe.com/ef_spring1.shtml

Career Know-How. 5 Things You Must Know Before Asking for that Raise. Karl Walinskas.

Planning your strategy when asking for a raise. Bob Weinstein. October 5, 2001. Tech Republic.

Careerlab. About Careerlab. http://www.careerlab.com/pcn_bio_weeks.htm

Asking for a Raise. Sheryl Nance-Nash. January 26, 2001. Money.net

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