Salary Negotiation: The Best Way to Ask for a Pay Raise

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Sure, we all want to earn more. In particular, if you aren’t getting regular enough pay raises, you might actually be losing money to inflation. But, sometimes it’s tough to know the best timing and etiquette for negotiating your salary.

Here’s how to take your paycheck from meager to mega:

Know What You’re Worth and Ask a Bit Higher

Start by figuring out the average range for your position. Don’t immediately ask for the salary you’re hoping to get; ask a bit higher. After all, your boss will likely try to negotiate you down. Norman Lieberman, a California-based salary expert and coach, suggests walking in with a very specific number in mind. By proposing a higher number, you can “split the difference” between your current salary and your asking number. For example, if you’re currently at $50,000 and want to be making about $55,000, ask for $59,500.

Talk Specifics

Lieberman suggests that you enter the negotiations with a very specific number to show that you’ve put a lot of thought into the process. An even number, he says, might make it appear that you just pulled a figure from thin air.

Sell Yourself as an Effective Employee

Set up a meeting in advance rather than grabbing your boss on her way to a meeting and stammering, “By the way…” Start by telling her how much you enjoy working for the company, and be prepared to explain why you deserve a raise. Talk about your recent accomplishments and how the company is benefiting from them. Whether or not you’re currently looking for a raise, always keep a private journal of your accomplishments. “So often,” Lieberman says, “people forget what they’ve done.”

Ask yourself these questions to quantify your contribution to the company:

  • Have you saved your company time or money? If so, how much?
  • Have you added to company profits through a client you brought on or an initiative you proposed? How much did you make the company?
  • Have you exceeded the metrics your boss set when she hired you? (i.e. You were hired to increase web traffic by 100% but your projects increased traffic by 250%)
  • What kind of projects have you taken on beyond the scope of your job?
  • Are you the person that covers for your boss or someone else at the blink of an eye?

Be sure to bring any documentation of these numbers, whether in chart, graph, or spreadsheet form.

Prepare to Be Turned Down

Be confident and ready, but also consider your strategy if your request is denied. Remember to remain gracious and dignified, no matter what happens. If your boss says that a raise isn’t right at the moment, think about whether there is anything else you can ask for, such as flexible work hours, profit sharing, paid time off, or tuition reimbursement.

Agree on a Time to Revisit the Topic

Remember that “no,” is usually “no for now.” Agree on a time to revisit the topic with your superiors, whether it’s three or six months. It goes without saying that, in the meantime, you’ll want to work as hard as you can so you don’t give anyone a reason to say no.

Be Prepared for Possible Hostility

Most bosses will respect employees who know their own value enough to ask for a raise. As long as you come in confidently and prove your point eloquently, there should be no harm done. However, before going to this meeting, make sure that you really do deserve a raise. If you ask for a raise when your boss is already unhappy with your work, be aware that she could use this as an excuse to finally cut the cord.

If You’re Really Not Ready for a Raise

There will also be times that a raise just isn’t in the cards for you, says Lieberman. Perhaps the fault lies with the company culture or a reluctance to change, but you simply haven’t done anything that warrants a raise. If that’s the case, be honest with yourself. Shift your focus to creating new initiatives and excelling at your position. Consider asking your superiors, “Is there anything more I can do to add value to this company?” When you feel like you have truly made a difference, revisit the topic of a raise.

Asking for a raise can be highly nerve-wracking, but experience has shown that the highest salaries often go to those who know enough and have the confidence to ask.

  • CityDweller

    How do you find out the average range for your position? Your specific office average or the national average?

    • carolinewaxler

      Hey City Dweller
      We did a daily about that recently. Here is the link. What industry and city are you in?

      LV Daily: What’s Your Job’s Average Salary? Is It Time To Negotiate A Pay Raise?
      http://blog.learnvest.com/workplace/workplace/w

    • http://hugerates.com HugeRates.com

      CityDweller, try indeed.com for salary averages. They’re pretty acurate.

  • RL

    It's so depressing – before I went full time with my own company, I worked for a shark of a businesswoman who drastically underpaid me due to my age. After making her hundreds of thousands, plus doing the job of numerous employees (and NOT getting the two assistants in my contract, they just kept hiring one temp), the final straw was the day she decided to jump a private jet to Japan the following day on a whim. That $30K plane flight could would have put me in my actual position salary bracket. When I tried to negotiate a raise, she stalled for 6 months before finally parting ways. Then after I left, she tried to sue me. Best lesson of how NOT to act when successful!

    • RL

      could would? Don't answer phone calls when typing – sorry bout that!

      • carolinewaxler

        Ha! Always sage advice!

    • carolinewaxler

      Oof that sounds horrible! What happened with the suit? Did it get dismissed?

  • Norman

    Thank you Theodora for interviewing me for the above article (post).

    There are so many nuances to seeking a healthy pay raise. “CityDweller” asked how one can find the average salary range for a position. Salary ranges are impacted by a number of factors including location, industry, size of firm, supply/demand curve of one's job title and your personal contributions that may warrant being paid extra. With that said, the best source of salary information is from one's industry professional association.

    Almost every industry has at least one professional association that represents it. The association offers a plethora of information on your industry, often including salary surveys. They are set-up to be helpful and friendly toward their members. So it shouldn't be like pulling teeth to get info from them. Call and introduce yourself as a “job title” in their industry and simply ask if you can get a copy of their last salary survey. If they don't publish one then ask who in their organization can speak with authority on that subject.

    Where there is a will there is a way.

    Hope this is helpful. I am in the process of rebuilding my website. In the meantime, I offer a FREE (no obligation) special report titled “Tired of Being Underpaid”. I will send it via email as a PDF to anyone here at LV if they send me an email with the subject line: please send pay raise report. My email is: norman@thepayraisecoach.com

    All the best, Norman Lieberman

  • JackieAU5

    This is a more difficult task than it seems when you work at a non-proft. We're lucky if our salaries can keep up with inflation. Very depressing…which is why I am working on my masters to leave for greener (pun intended) pastures. I have a feeling I am not the only one in this boat.

    • http://twitter.com/amkade Allison Kade

      It's so hard, especially when your firm gives you guilt trips about asking for more money because either they don't have that much money themselves…or say they don't. At a different job, I didn't get the quarterly bonuses that were promised when I was hired, because the economy tanked after I joined. There were all these guilt trips floating around, so it can be very tough. Good luck, Jackie!

  • http://hugerates.com HugeRates.com

    Good list. Item #4 – Be prepared to be turned down – is really the worst thing that can happen and its no big deal if you already accepted it as an option. Its just good practice for the next time!

  • Mwbuccini

    This is an interesting topic for me, and I’m sure, for most of us. I enjoy realizing from this that I’ve followed most of this advice intuitively, but I enjoy most of all the advice I’ve not been able to follow… knowing how well I may have personally helped the company.

    This article advises keeping a record of what you’ve done to improve the company. I know for a fact, since I’ve been hired (one year ago), sales this past season have increased 30% (!) since last year this season. And this is generally a slow time for our type of business. I can’t help but feel I’ve had some part in this; especially when I look at the timing of my arrival.

    Problem; there is a disconnect between my department and accounting, which would give me an accurate description of *my* performance in relation to company performance. To be more accurate, I am both a wholesale buyer and a retail seller for my company, and it would inform me tremendously to know what my impact has been through our accountants eyes.

  • Brwanous

    This article was the best one I’ve read (saw it in an email a few weeks ago)!  After reading it, I negotiated for a promotion and a higher pay at my organization!  This article gave me the tools and the confidence to do that.  Thank you so much for your wonderful, concrete and practical ideas!!