The Way to Work

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The Way to Work: Asking for a Raise

August 04, 2008
by Rachel Balik
You spend the better part of your life at work. Our weekly feature, The Way to Work, offers tips and guidelines to help you succeed in the office. This week: you know you’ve earned it, but how will you ask for it? That’s right, it’s time to learn how to negotiate your raise.

Fatal Faux Pas

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It’s never guaranteed that you’ll get a raise, even if you deserve one. But following some of the guidelines set by USA Today can help you up your chances, and more importantly, avoid the mistakes that will make you look bad. Don’t ask for a raise within the first six months of joining a company. Don’t ask at a time when you haven’t been performing at your best; “Make sure that your boss's most recent thoughts about your work are stellar ones,” the article advises. Nor can you assume that your boss will remember every fantastic thing you’ve done, so come prepared with e-mails she’s sent you commending your endeavors, or at the very least, a list of your accomplishments so you can appear organized and prepared. Be sure to give your boss a vague idea of what the meeting will be about, and definitely do not try to schedule it when she’s feeling crazed.
Don’t let fear rule: boldly ask for what you need. “An employee’s level of self-esteem can be reflected in the paycheck he or she receives,” Thomas Culhane wrote to The New York Times. The article may be from 1995, but much of the wisdom gathered here is still valid. For example, the basic idea that if you don’t ask, you won’t receive, is pretty timeless. Unfortunately, however, some managers simply don’t want to give anyone a raise. One NYT reader tells how he was denied a raise because his CPA certification was considered inconsequential, whereas a colleague was shot down because he lacked CPA credentials. But don’t be discouraged by what ensues. You might be in store for a better reward, such as promotion, or simply be able to treat the situation as a valuable learning lesson.
Even if the economy at large is taking a hit, a Forbes article argues, you still don’t have be afraid to ask for a raise. “The need to reward good employees doesn’t change if the economy is in a recession or an upturn,” a chief talent officer points out. Additionally, a salary expert suggests, “if you can prove that you're vital to getting the company through the recession, then a raise is assured.” You can build a case for your argument by researching what others in your field are making, and delineating the ways in which you personally have helped the company meet its goals. Avoid mentioning the current economy, don’t accuse your employer of underpaying you and don’t threaten to leave if you don’t get your raise. In fact, if granting a raise isn’t feasible for your company, then consider other benefits your company could grant you, such as more vacation days.

Raise the Roof

U.S. News and World Report makes it simple with “5 Keys to Increasing Your Pay.” The first is one of the most important: find out what matters to your boss. If you’re aware of what your boss values most, you can start reaching for these goals in your everyday work. When you’ve hit some of those goals, let your boss know—don’t wait for your review, but build up your good reputation over time. Also, set clear goals about what kind of compensation you want from the company. That way, you can be direct when you make the request, or have a plan B ready to go.
Actively make yourself worth more money, suggests The Art of Manliness Blog. Learn skills that are relevant to your company, many of which can be acquired by simply picking up a book. And “if your employer ever offers optional training or certifications, do not pass up on the opportunity.” When you have more training, you’ll be more useful to the company, naturally leading to more raises and promotions. Use your increased knowledge base to lend others a hand, which will increase your importance around the office, and make you look like a team player.
Above all, be composed, polite and prepared. Payscale, mentioned in the Forbes article, can help you determine whether your pay is fair. Once you’ve filled out the questionnaire, you can even bring your results to your employer to help your case.
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