Asking for a Raise: How to Have an Effective Conversation

Want to initiate a conversation with your boss about a raise? Do some research. Present him or her with some creative ideas, quantifiable goals, and a can-do attitude. Stay "friendly, firm, and focused," in the words of one IT professional. Add a fourth F, flexible, and you’ll get an A-plus in negotiating skills.

"Have at least a couple of pay/benefits-increase scenarios in mind, provide documented, positive peer- and cross-team member reviews, understand the going rate in the company and the industry for the same skills and role, present a set of achievable, measurable goals, and be prepared to offer ‘value-added’ ideas to garner bonus money," advises Matt Jones, senior mobile Web content manager at eBay/PayPal. In addition, Jones says, "Volunteer for additional training to augment a group’s goals, and, if at all possible, have in your back pocket leads for a job transfer and/or a new job if your desired raise doesn’t materialize."

But it’s important to understand: You don’t have to threaten to quit to make negotiation work to your advantage, especially if you like your job. In fact, in most cases, you probably shouldn’t.

"The most important thing is not money. It’s probably the least important, as long as you’re getting a competitive salary," says Lee Miller, author of Get More Money On Your Next Job in Any Economy. What’s more valuable, he says, are opportunities for training and professional development, jobs, and the projects and teams you may be invited to work on. "Frankly," he says, "the company wants to develop you. And companies like employees who are proactive in developing their own career."

That doesn’t mean you should agree to be woefully underpaid, however. Research the salary range in the industry and geographic area for the position you’d like. (Sites such as Salary Expert, Moving.com, and CNN Money are good places to start.) 

"If the salary isn’t competitive, you can ask for more," Miller says. But, he cautions, "Ask, not demand." In other words, say, "Would it be possible," rather than, "I need to have."

And never mention your high rent, significant student debt, or materialistic romantic partner as justification for wanting more money. Underwriting your private life isn’t your employer’s responsibility.

If you think an offer is lacking, restate what you think you’re worth and why, and wait for a counteroffer. "Show why you think the salary isn’t competitive and ask whether they can improve it," says Miller. "Be very prepared. Know your value in the market, what you bring to the table, and what you want."

And here’s where flexibility enters the picture: Find out whether there’s wiggle room in the benefits package or miscellaneous perks such as tuition reimbursement and in-house training. Look for continual opportunities to update and upgrade your skills so you stay competitive. Ask about other options like flextime, telecommuting, or covered commuting expenses.

Speak for Yourself

Before you begin any negotiation, make sure you’re able to articulate clearly and cogently what you’re asking for, and why you think asking for it is justified. Have an acceptable bottom-line figure in mind. Jot down your talking points beforehand and rehearse them until you feel confident enough to express them to a decision maker.

During the negotiation, be sure to listen as much as you talk. A win-win negotiation is a two-way street.

While these guidelines are the same for men and women, the sexes "tend to behave differently," at discussion time, Miller says. "Women tend to negotiate less, especially when it comes to negotiating for themselves." If you don’t feel confident acting as your own best advocate, he recommends taking a course in negotiation skills and reading books on the subject. "You have to feel comfortable negotiating for yourself."

Finally, in any negotiation, don’t become emotional or confrontational. Stay objective and be armed with facts. That’s the firm and focused part. Have a goal in mind, then try to find mutually beneficial ways to achieve it. And regardless of the outcome, don’t burn any bridges. Be gracious. You don’t want to alienate the person with whom you’ve negotiated, especially if he’s your current or potential boss.

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