Asking for a raise can be an intimidating prospect, but the truth is that it’s more dangerous not to ask. The longer you stay in one job without a significant pay increase, the more likely you are to make below market rate when compared to your peers.
The annual salary increase for most employees is usually 2% to 3%, with stellar employees sometimes netting a whopping 4%. When you consider inflation, this picture is pretty bleak (a 2% increase doesn’t do much for you when the cost of living goes up by the same amount). However, a candidate negotiating with a new employer can often increase their salary by at least 10% and sometimes as high as 20%.
Doesn’t seem fair does it? Loyal employees end up making less than those who jump ship for the highest bidder. So if you love your job and want to stay with your employer, start pinching pennies pinch and skip those afternoon coffee breaks at Starbucks. Right? Not so fast!
Research shows that people with low job satisfaction are more likely to ask for a raise than those with high job satisfaction, but the latter group is more likely to actually get a raise when they ask. In other words, if you love your job, chances are your employer loves you too—and wants to make it easy for you to stick around. The only thing left to do is ask.
Although it’s stressful for most people, asking for a raise is a lot simpler than you would expect—and these tips should make it a lot easier for you.
1. Focus on the future
Too often, candidates fail to understand that employers want to compensate you for what you will do rather than what you have already done. If your negotiation story (answer to the “why should we give you a raise” question) does nothing more than itemize past accomplishments, then the conversation may not go the way you want.
Of course, people should be rewarded for outstanding performance—but that’s really what a performance bonus is intended for. Asking for a raise is a different ballgame, especially if you want to increase your salary by more than the standard two or three percentage points.
Solution: Develop a negotiation story that is more forward- than backward-looking, and only use past accomplishments as evidence of your ability to deliver future results.
2. Make it a separate conversation
I learned a long time ago that it’s best to keep your boss informed – the good, the bad and the ugly. Catching people off-guard rarely makes for a productive conversation. It’s what I call the “No Surprises” rule, and it certainly applies to salary negotiation.
For example, your annual review is not the best time to ask for a raise. By then, it’s probably too late. It may come as a surprise that your supervisor isn’t prepared for, especially if budgets have already been approved. The conversation should start at least three to four months earlier to give you time to build a case and get buy-in from your boss.
If your employer doesn’t have a formal review process, then do some digging and find out when salary increases are typically granted – end of the year, anniversary date, end of the fiscal year if different than the calendar. In fact, asking when it’s the best time is to discuss a pay raise can be a great way to start the conversation with your boss.
3. Tentative talk is better than tough talk
Most people stress over salary negotiations because they don’t feel comfortable in the hard-bargaining role. They assume you need to be assertive to be successful. This is one reason why so few people actually ask for a raise. But I have great news: you don’t have to act powerful to be a successful negotiator. Science tells us tentative talk is for more effective than power talk.
What do I mean by tentative talk? It’s a question mark instead of a period; it’s “I think” instead of “I know”; it’s “should we?” instead of “we must.” Power talk causes people to put their guard up and stop listening to you, while tentative talk encourages people to engage in conversation and help solve problems.
In his book Give and Take, Wharton Professor Adam Grant provides substantial evidence that people who approach negotiation with problem solving questions rather than demanding language are much more successful in the process.
4. Use ‘no’ to your advantage
You may have heard once or twice that you should never take no for an answer, but I disagree. Hard bargaining may work in specific situations, but a salary negotiation isn’t one of them. Sometimes no means no.
Don’t get upset if this happens to you. Instead, pivot toward solutions. Ask what you need to do to earn a salary increase in the future. Developing a game plan with your manager increases the likelihood of success later. Remember, salary negotiation is often an incremental process that can take several conversations before reaching your goal.
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