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How To Ask your Boss For A Raise

I’m sure there are other things out there as nerve-racking and stomach-butterflies-inducing as approaching your boss to ask for a raise. But as anyone out there who has ever done it before knows, it’s hard to think of any at the time. And of course the recession and its accompanying layoffs, cutbacks, and unemployment doesn’t make it any easier to ask for more money, since things are generally tighter all around. But the truth is that you deserve to be getting paid what you’re worth, and it’s a matter of self-respect versus fear and uncertainty when it comes to asking for a raise.

To help tame those butterflies and lessen your anxiety over approaching your boss, here are the best pieces of advice that I could find to guide you in your noble quest.

Research First, Talk Second

First off, you need to find out what is a reasonable wage to be expecting for your field and your job title. If you’re already at the high end of the scale, it’s still worth a shot to try, but your boss might be much more hesitant to grant your request than if you were on the low-to-mid range of the spectrum. Check out websites like Salary.com, SalaryExpert.com, and Payscale.com to search U.S. salaries in all sorts of fields and job positions. This market research can be used as a bargaining chip if you do in fact find that the average salary for your position is higher than what you’re currently making, or that you are an exceptional worker making only mid-level pay.

Go in Prepared

Make a list of your accomplishments to prove to your boss why you deserve to be making more money. And don’t do it on the spot or at your desk 10 minutes before, either. Take some personal time to really compile a record of the ways in which you’ve helped the company, either through shrinking company costs or increasing revenue. Kiplinger suggests asking yourself what major work issue you’ve solved or improved upon in the past year as a good way to start. And the more tangible results you can use, the better. If you track your statistics at work—say, the number of new clients you see each week—this is a perfect time to use the hard numbers to prove your point (if they’re in your favor, of course.) Start thinking of percentages, statistics, or other ways you can track your performance to present to your boss inarguable evidence about what an asset you are to the company.

Come up with a Backup

Though your boss has the power to grant your request and agree to a pay increase on the spot, you need to also be prepared for the opposite scenario. Make sure you think about and determine in advance what your backup plan is; are you willing to leave your current job if you don’t get the raise? Are you okay with waiting around and perhaps taking on more job responsibilities to prove that you’re worthy of a pay increase? A CNN article recommended building a “cushion” for yourself if your boss doesn’t readily agree to a raise. For example, things like more vacation time, a company car, or the opportunity to work from home once in awhile can be used as bargaining chips if you don’t get the raise you ask for, but your boss shows clear interest in keeping you around and keeping you happy.

Big No-No’s

  • DON’T compare your salary with the salaries of your friends and family members who are working in different fields. This can lead you to extravagant expectations for the actual job you are performing, in the field you are working in. (And asking for far more than you are actually worth can look greedy, excessive and unreasonable.) Look at salary surveys or the websites above to research pay averages within your own field.
  • DON’T broach the topic of a raise in an email, post-it note, or voicemail. This is a serious conversation, and you should treat it as such. Ask to set up an official business meeting with your boss, and not over lunch. Pick a time when both your schedules are clear and you can present your case face-to-face, professionally and uninterrupted.
  • DON’T fall into the practice of talking about how much money you “need” to make to pay your bills, your car loan, or anything personal. When have you ever heard of a salary being based on how much money a person “needs” to make? Salaries are based on a person’s job performance, experience, and how much they deserve to be making for their accomplishments and contributions to the company. So even if you are struggling to scrape together your mortgage each month, or your credit score is in the pits and you can’t take out a loan for your kids’ college tuition, don’t ever talk about how much you “need” to make.
  • DON’T beat around the bush during the conversation. State what it is that you do for the company (it’s nice to remind your boss of all your responsibilities), along with the list of your accomplishments and then pitch your desired pay. Don’t let your boss toss out a figure first, since it might be far lower than the number you were hoping for. Instead, set the bar high—experts suggest setting it even higher than you actually want. For example, you could ask for a 10% raise when in reality you are really hoping for 8%. This gives some wiggle room and provides a cushion so you don’t feel like you’re settling.
  • DON’T time your talk with a recent layoff at work, a financial hardship for your business, or a recent flub of yours. Instead, try to wait until you’ve had an accomplishment at work, or your boss has just praised you for something you’ve achieved for the company. It sounds cheesy, but going in for the raise while you’re seen in a favorable light can only help your odds.

Definitely DO listen carefully to your boss’s response to your request and continue to work on your negotiation based on what he or she is saying. Ask open-ended questions to clarify things that are vague or uncertain, such as “Why is a raise not feasible for the company at this time?” or “When will you be re-evaluating the budget?” or “What specific tasks would you require from me to get to the salary I’m requesting?”

And last but not least, remember that your best bargaining chip is going in with a job offer from another company, offering you more than you are making at your current job. This might be difficult to obtain, but it shows that you know what you are worth, you are serious about your request, and you are willing to back it up. If your boss truly values you as an employee he or she will be forced to honor your request, or at least negotiate some exceptional benefits to keep you. 

Good luck! 

DK is an avid financial blogger who is eagerly awaiting the 4th of July fireworks display. Visit RoadFish.com to read more of his work. 


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