The toughest question: Asking for a raise

More people fear asking for a raise than public speaking, but getting what you feel you’re worth doesn’t have to be an uphill battle as long as you’ve prepared for the negotiation.

You know you’re worth more — maybe even a whole lot more— but does your boss agree?

Negotiating a salary increase takes some courage because you’re really putting yourself out there. Yes, if you don’t get that raise you can always quit and take your talents somewhere else, but your boss knows it’s often not that easy to get a new job in a highly competitive job market. Not to mention, if money were the only thing keeping you in your current job, you probably would have already left ages ago.

No, you like your job and you want to stay — you just also happen to think you should be paid better for the work you’re doing. It’s not an unreasonable request, but it can still be an uphill battle to secure that raise.

7 quick tips on the best way to ask for a raise — and get it

  1. Share your professional goals and ask for feedback.
  2. Take on more responsibility — voluntarily, not because it was asked of you.
  3. Proactively communicate your wins, don’t just wait for someone to notice.
  4. Actually demonstrate your accomplishments and how you’ve added value to the company.
  5. Focus on why you’ve earned a salary bump or promotion, not why you need it.
  6. Practice your pitch and anticipate questions from your boss so you’re ready with answers. Don’t leave with your boss still asking why you should get a raise.
  7. Do your research. It’s easier than ever to find average salary information for your job title and years of experience in your area. Don’t automatically shoot for the top end of the salary range, but ask how you can get closer to the average.

According to the latest Confidence Matters study released last week by staffing firm Robert Half, 90% of workers believe they deserve a raise at work, but just 49% of professionals feel confident when asking for a pay increase and only 44% plan to actually ask for one this year with the primary reason being that their salary hasn’t grown with their job duties — the top response for the three years Robert Half has conducted this study. The discomfort around these conversations is further reflected in the percentage of survey respondents who — rather than ask for a raise — would prefer to clean their house (36%), look for a new job (14%), get a root canal (5%), or be audited by the IRS (4%).

There are a few possible reasons as to why so many employees are more reserved about salary discussions, explains Jim Jeffers, metro market manager of Robert Half in Madison.

“For one, lack of preparation and knowledge about average salary for their role has a big impact on keeping employees quiet,” Jeffers notes. “They might not have done their homework on data in their market to feel confident in a salary discussion with their manager. Additionally, money can be a sensitive and emotional topic for some, which makes pointed conversations even more challenging. Too much emotion can cloud judgment and create a lack of objectivity.”

Jeffers also says some employees worry about what that discussion may signal to their employer. Salary discussions, when handled poorly, can give the appearance that the employee is unsatisfied and thinking about leaving. Others believe they shouldn’t have to ask and feel that it’s their employer’s job to pay them what they’re worth. “Understandably, most employees fear the outcome of that conversation will result in rejection. Many aren’t prepared to hear ‘no’ and negotiate from there.”

However, being uncomfortable talking about money with the boss can be costly over the long term, according to Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half. “People who are hesitant to talk about compensation may reduce their earning power — not just in their current role but also with future employers. Do your homework on current salary levels. If you’re underpaid, role-play the salary conversation with a trusted mentor before scheduling time to meet with your manager.”

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Why ask now?

Summer is prime time for performance and annual reviews. It’s also a season for substantial change — it marks the end of school, beginning of the vacation season and, for some, graduation celebrations or moving. People on both sides of the desk — managers and employees — need to prepare for these meetings, says Jeffers. “Salary and bonus will be discussed. There is a lot of focus on wages right now and wage growth. Demand for skilled talent is in high gear and we expect the trend to continue. Bottom line: if companies aren’t paying employees what they deserve, they will lose them to other firms. We see it happen frequently. It’s much easier to retain the talent you’ve got than hire replacements.”

According to Jeffers, paying competitively is critical for managers to attract talented professionals and build retention. Managers should make a habit of evaluating compensation packages more often than once a year — quarterly is recommended — and employers should consider additional factors such as cost of living hikes, housing costs, commuting costs, and others.

Beyond pay

If a company can’t be flexible on salary, there are other benefits that can be offered to attract top talent to the organization as well as retain existing employees, notes Jeffers. Those benefits include work schedule flexibility, more vacation time, competitive health insurance options, an expedited performance review process, and more.

The key takeaway for employees (and jobseekers) is to do your homework. Be sure to review salary guides for your position or field in advance, and ask for what you want based on market data for your role and skill set, not emotion. “Practice tough conversations with a professional mentor before meeting with the boss,” Jeffers says. “Don’t jump ship without first asking your boss for a raise or other perks. People who leave jobs solely for a fatter paycheck may be disappointed in the long run.”

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