Negotiating (or Not) When on the Job

By James M. Citrin

Once you’re on the job, it can be difficult to break out of the company’s standard process for increasing your compensation. But at some point, you may well feel that you’ve earned a raise. How can you act on this feeling, while minimizing the risk of harming your relationship with your boss or giving your coworkers the impression that you are greedy? Here are five steps for earning and negotiating a raise, in the short or medium term:

Step 1. Deserve a Raise

covercareerplaybookIf you want a raise, the most important thing you can do is deserve one. Companies are under relentless pressure to satisfy the demands of their stakeholders, and this means they must strive to achieve increased profitability, quarter after quarter—and employees’ salaries go directly to that bottom line.

Most people think they themselves are performing well at work, but the obvious fact is that some contribute more to the organization’s success. So do your best to make yourself essential to the enterprise. It is incumbent upon you to know exactly how your work fits into the company’s strategy for creating and capturing value. If you don’t know, find out—and if you discover that your project is on the periphery, find a way to get involved in something more central to the company’s efforts.

Once you’re sure you’re working on and excelling in the right kinds of projects, follow the advice from the chapters in my new book, The Career Playbook: Getting off to the Right Start in a New Job and 4 Guaranteed Success Strategies. If you work hard, are a strong team player, maintain a positive attitude, and take the right amount of initiative, you will be well-positioned to negotiate for a raise.

Step 2. Get the Facts

It’s your responsibility to know your market value and understand how your compensation compares to that of people in comparable roles. To find this, talk to your organization’s human resources department to understand the pay scales in your company, as well as the companies they compare themselves to when setting pay for your position. If your HR department won’t share that information with you, speak to friends, mentors, your college’s career services center, and people working in similar jobs in other organizations.

You can also take advantage of information available publicly on the Internet. At no point in history has so much salary information been as easy to get as it is today. Be cautious, however, using the data coming back from Internet searches. Different companies, industries, cities and regions have their own unique compensation structures, so take the time to make distinctions based on industry, organization size, job function, geography, and required level of education and training. Find databases that are trustworthy and used widely.

Step 3. Talk to Your Boss

Now you’re ready to initiate that delicate conversation with your boss. As I stressed above, it’s important to be sensitive when discussing your compensation. It’s well-known that managers are anxious when giving performance reviews, and they find compensation discussions to be just as stressful. So make sure to approach this talk in a constructive manner. Put the conversation into a broader context by assessing your performance in a way that shows how it fits into your department’s strategy. Solicit feedback. Share your findings from step 2, and ask what your boss thinks your expectations for compensation should be. Don’t be pushy, and don’t ask directly for more money, but be clear that compensation is an important part of the overall equation for you.

In addition to your compensation, communicate the other facets of your job that you value, such as being able to contribute to the company’s strategy, working with people you respect and enjoy, and being provided with chances to learn and grow. Your boss will almost certainly respond better when compensation is one of the items on a broader, more holistic list.

Step 4. Offer to Take on a Special Project

If your compensation is locked in for the year, or if your boss says his or her hands are tied by budgetary constraints, another approach is to suggest that you lead a special project for the company. Assuming that you fully understand how your job and contributions fit into your department’s strategy, you should be able to devise a viable effort that would be well received. Examples include offering to help lead college recruiting for your organization, hosting a training seminar for other early-career employees, doing a special intellectual capital project to market your company’s services, or performing a competitive or market study. Suggest to your boss that you lead this special project and that, if it’s successful, you receive a special performance bonus for your work.

Step 5. If All Else Fails

If you’ve followed all these steps and still find yourself up against a brick wall, it may be time to make a change. If your salary is non-negotiable, if there are no opportunities for performance bonuses, and if your market intelligence tells you that you’re under- compensated, it may be time to consider looking outside the organization for a new job.

Hopefully, there won’t be too many times in your career when you feel the need to negotiate for better compensation. Ideally, you will be in a position where your performance speaks for itself—where you’re adding so much value that your organization decides to do the hard work of figuring out how to reward you and make you happy. If you are truly fortunate, others will be prepared to lobby on your behalf. But sometimes, of course, you need to make things happen yourself. Just make sure you approach those situations with care.

James M. Citrin leads Spencer Stewart’s CEO Practice and serves on the firm’s worldwide board of directors. This excerpt is reprinted from his new book, The Career Playbook: Essential Advice for Today’s Aspiring Young Professional, copyright © 2015 by Esaress International S.A.R.L. Published by Crown Publishers, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. 

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