This career advancement post originally appears in my Work In Progress blog for Forbes.com:
In the past few years, the tight labor market has led to layoffs and restructurings that have resulted in surviving employees taking on additional responsibility, often without additional pay. Now that the market is showing signs of improvement, I expect these employees will be bolder about asking for help or at least asking for more pay. But before you ask for a raise, follow these seven steps to maximize your chances of actually receiving it:
Build your case
It’s not enough that you want the raise or even that you think you deserve it. Can you make a strong and specific case as to why your salary should be higher than it is now? Is it that you are underpaid compared to the market? Is it that you are an above average performer and are contributing more to the bottom line than is reflected in your pay? What are the specific business reasons why your employer should pay you more right now?
Collect market data
If competitors are paying more for the same role, then you have a strong case to your employer that they need to catch up or risk losing you and OTHER high performers to the broader market. You can see tips for How To Get Salary Data You Can Use in my earlier Forbes post. If the market data doesn’t support your case, it’s still critical that you know this before you ask for a raise so you can build your argument around other compelling reasons why you should still get your raise despite the market data.
Collect personal performance data
If you are an above average performer who is significantly contributing to the bottom line, then this also gives you a strong case for getting a raise. Get proof of your contribution. Save the emails of praise from colleagues. Detail the specifics for clients who only want to deal with you, sales that were initiated by your idea, or projects that you’ve had a direct hand in driving to success. Detail costs saved or processes streamlined or however else you are measuring your bottom line impact. Don’t ever assume that your boss knows what you’ve accomplished, especially since roles have changed so much in this volatile market.
Research what you’re up against
What are the possible objections your boss will have to your request? It could be that s/he knows the market pays more and that s/he knows and values your contribution. BUT there isn’t money in the budget. Or raises are never granted this time of year. Research possible conflicts your boss may raise, and come up with solutions in advance. Ideally you want to time your request before budgets have been decided for that quarter.
Brainstorm other positive outcomes
More money in hand might be the target, but would you accept a one-time spot bonus over a change in salary? How do you feel about a variable bonus or equity? Is additional time off or tuition reimbursement or some other perk just as valuable? You don’t want to only have one outcome in mind because then your request becomes a Yes/ No outcome rather than a dialogue where actual negotiation takes place. But in order to prevent a Yes/ No outcome, you have to have alternatives to the one thing you are asking for.
Increase your leverage
You know it’s best to look for a job when you have a job. The current job gives you leverage — you have confidence knowing you have at least one other option so you don’t have to settle. You want to have similar leverage when you negotiate for your raise. Another offer for more money is the most obvious form of leverage. But anything that gives you confidence to stick to your request is a form of leverage – a savings fund so you know you could quit if you want to; a strong and engaged network so you know you could quickly find another position if you need to; a diverse and valuable skill set so you know you would be desirable to other employers.
Run a dress rehearsal
Don’t let the first time you are asking for your raise be the actual meeting with your boss. You want to practice making the request, battling the objections, sharing your data, and answering questions. You want to feel your nerves and know you can push through anyway. You want to role play the dialogue so you feel the unexpected questions and learn how to improvise a response. Work with a coach, a mentor, or someone who can at least give you the feeling of the actual event before it happens.
You very well might deserve a raise. But just because it is right and fair doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. You will have to ask, and you will have to do so convincingly. So before you request that meeting, think through your strategy and incorporate the steps above. Let me know if you get that raise!