The internet is filled with advice on getting a raise, much of it not very useful: Too simplistic, too off-putting, unpersuasive overall. Yet pay raises of 10 percent, 20 percent or even more are often gained, even in a bad job market. You just need the right set of tools.
Below are some of the strategies from my bestselling book "Getting More." Most are not obvious and differ from the conventional wisdom. They are based on psychology and testing among 30,000 students and professionals I've taught and advised in 45 countries over 20 years, and my own experience as an executive and manager in multiple sectors.
1. DON'T ask for a raise; ask about their perceptions.
Most advice starts by suggesting that you ask for a raise. Wrong! If you ask for a raise, they will usually reject it, invoking the bad economy and tight budgets. Instead, find out their exact perceptions of you, and exactly how you can meet or exceed them. Keep a record of this. Don't argue with them! Take it all in and thank them; you can present your case later. Their perceptions are the baseline for you to add value. From there you should lead them gradually to a recognition that a raise is justified.
2. Add value by meeting their needs and fixing their fears.
Getting a raise is all about value. You provide them with more value, and they provide you with a raise. Find out their needs and fears; fix both. Ask around, or ask them. Do they need people to work certain times of the day or year? Do they lack a skill in a foreign language or specific area? The more you fix these things, the bigger your reward.
3. Find their criteria.
What exact criteria does the company use to decide on raises? Is anything numerical? If they won't tell you, tell them that you want to meet their criteria: The more explicit they are, the more you can meet the criteria. Everything you do should be to meet those criteria: qualitative and quantitative. Check back during the evaluation period about how you are doing. This is broader than your boss' perceptions, and is part of the mix.
4. Find cost savings.
The more money you bring in for the company, the stronger your case for a raise or bonus. Some of my students have doubled their salaries in this way. Is your department overpaying for supplies, travel, postage, utilities or anything else? Might they let you take something on as a project? Is there a suggestion program at the company where they give bonuses for money-saving ideas? Do some Internet research on how other companies saved money and suggest them at your company.
5. Key on the future, not the past.
Most employees try to get a raise based on past performance. Unless you can show you meet or exceed specific criteria, this is often a lost cause, especially in a down market. The past has already been budgeted and paid for. Instead, ask for a raise based on future, better performance. Almost no one does this. Employers are grateful for employees who aim to get a raise based on additional value they add in the future. And employers are also more generous should you ask for a raise based on specific future performance.
6. Suggest intangibles.
If the company can't pay you more money in salary, ask for things that are in many cases as good as money. For example, education and training to build marketable skills, inside the company or at a university. Or the company using its relationships to help you negotiate lower interest rates on a mortgage or other credit. Can the travel or purchasing departments help you get lower prices on things? Where does the company have business accounts on which you can piggyback? Perhaps you can ask for some benefits that don't come from the salary pool, such as better health or retirement benefits given to others at the company. The list is long. Ask around, including human resources.
7. Have a great attitude.
As someone who has run companies in multiple industries and consulted to thousands of managers and professionals, I can say for sure that the right employee answer to the boss' statement, "Jump!" is "How high?" Like it or not, this is worth real money. Those employees who are positive, have smiles on their faces, approach work with enthusiasm and don't give the boss a hard time get more when it's time to consider raises. That doesn't mean criticism is taboo. But it needs to be stated with the utmost of tact and deference. If you don't want to do it, then settle for a lower raise or none at all. Don't cry and don't whine! Make the boss feel good. He or she will pay you for it.
8. Get specific evidence.
The more specific your eventual proposal, the more chance you will get a raise. Save all notes of praise, positive comments about performance and comparisons to company and industry standards. Consult the Consumer Price Index. Although you will need to be tactful, I tend to invoke the CPI if I don't get a raise, as in: "If I'm not worth less this year than last year, shouldn't I at least get a cost of living increase so I am paid the same in real dollars?" As with each strategy, nothing works all the time, but each increases your chances.
9. Volunteer for things.
This by definition adds value. Make sure that the project is visible, not a black hole of time and doesn't prevent you from doing your regular job. But a pet project of the boss or the boss' boss will give you a chance to build relationships with people who hold the purse strings. As noted above, if they are in a jam, you should definitely volunteer. They will be indebted to you, and you can cite it, humbly, when raise time comes around.
10. Expand relationships.
All around the company are people who can give you information to help you advance, or assist you in a pinch. They include librarians, cleaning staff, security, long-time employees who are often ignored, computer technicians, admin staff, parking attendants. Find them, befriend them. Bake them cookies or do something small that shows you thought of them. Learn their names. Make conversation. Talk about sports or the weather or last weekend.
11. Transfer departments.
Almost by definition, every transfer presents the possibility of a raise. Think about your career strategically. Pay your dues in your current department, and if advancement doesn't seem likely in a reasonable time, look around. This goes for other departments in your company or similar departments elsewhere. Many employers like to see someone in one job at least one to two years before an internal transfer and at least three years if it's external.
12. Be incremental.
One of the hardest things for adults to learn is to take things one step at a time. If you can't get everything you want, settle for less, with a proviso that you will talk again within a specific time frame. Start with something smaller, such as your meeting performance goals. Or that the company will consider the Consumer Price Index for you. Use what you get as an anchor. Grow incrementally from there. Employers will be grateful for your reasonableness; they will be more disposed to making additional modest raises later. Over time, these can grow to large amounts. Be patient, persistent and tactful.
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