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How to Get a Raise (or Promotion)—Even in Tough Economic Times


You’re confident that you’re doing an excellent job at work. In fact, you think that you are going so far and above the call of duty that it warrants a raise, promotion, or both. Join the crowd. According to the Center for American Progress, most American workers are overworked and underpaid.

During the recession, employers laid off workers at a frenzied pace. The remaining workers just felt grateful to still have their jobs, and didn’t complain as their employers heaped more and more work on their plates. Perhaps they thought that these extra work expectations were just a temporary solution to meet an immediate need, and eventually either the necessary workers would be hired, the workload issues would be resolved some other way, or the pay would be increased.

However, none of those options have materialized.  According to Dave Gilson of Mother Jones, since 1979, productivity has surged, but this is not reflected in wages and salaries. And in addition to being more productive at work and working longer hours, many workers are expected to respond to work email after hours, on vacation, and even if they’re out sick.

So how do you convince the powers that be that you are adding more value than they are paying for—and more importantly, how do you get them to agree with you and increase your paycheck amount? Especially when the market hasn’t fully recovered?

The key is to have a strategic plan of action for presenting your case. By following the seven steps listed below, you greatly increase your chances of receiving more compensation for your hard work.

1. Time Your Meeting Strategically

Your raise is too important to discuss with your manager while walking down the hallway or showing up unexpectedly. And, this approach also decreases your chances of being successful. Most managers are busy going to meetings, putting out fires, and keeping their boss happy. As a result, your spontaneity will likely be given little thought and be greeted with a standard, polite—but negative—reply. 

On the other hand, scheduling a meeting forces your manager to set aside a block of time to concentrate on what you have to say. It also reduces the probability that you will be subject to the type of interruptions that would occur with an unscheduled meeting.

However, timing your meeting strategically also involves another element. According to career coach Ben Fanning although salary increases are typically thought of as a reward for your past performance, you’re more likely to get a raise if you’re working on a big project that is crucial to the company’s success. In other words, your raise is an incentive for future performance, which makes sense because happy workers are likely to be more productive.

2. Lay a Firm Foundation

If you’re asking for a raise, you should be gently reminding your boss that you’re an outstanding worker who adds value to the company. Your value shouldn’t be debatable and this declaration should not come as a shock. You should have a solid reputation for always going the extra mile and consistently producing excellent work. If you’re as good as you think you are, other people should notice your value.

However, your can always increase your attractiveness as an employee by making sure that you are at the top of your game. Both your position and your industry are constantly undergoing changes, advancements, and improvements. As a result, you should continuously learn ways to be better at performing your job. Whether you’re attending conferences, reading books and trade magazines, or listening to audio messages, there are always opportunities to increase your skill set and knowledge base. And this, in turn, will make you more valuable to your employers, and make you more likely to get a raise.

Also, since employers like workers who can solve problems, it greatly helps your case if you’re the person who is always generating ideas and thinking of new and creative ways to solve problems.

Fanning warns workers to avoid getting trapped into working on tasks and projects that do not affect the bottom line. Since this type of work does not add value to the organization, it cannot be used as a justification for a salary increase.

3. Present Your Case

To increase your chances of getting a raise, you’ll need to do more than just talk about your value to the organization. You will need cold, hard facts to back up your claims. This is not the time to be meek and mild. If you’re bold enough to ask for a raise, you must also be bold enough to present a compelling case.

List all of your major accomplishments in detail. Don’t just say that you increased sales, rather produce the statistics that show that you increased sales by 30 percent. Don’t just say that you increased productivity levels, show the data that backs up your claims. Also, save all of those letters of recommendation, great performance evaluations, and even emails from colleagues and customers thanking you for your help, or for going the extra mile, or for being a great team player.

Providing information is an essential part of this process, because it is the only objective data that proves your value to the organization. Perhaps you think you contribute more than you actually do; perhaps your manager thinks you contribute less than you actually do. However, the data provides facts to base your performance on. And as a result, it will be quite difficult to deny your request for an increase when the information supports it so resoundingly.

It’s also important to make sure that your data separates you from your colleagues. If everyone on your team did the same amount of work, your employer may now be faced with the prospect of having to give everyone a raise. And you don’t want your raise tied to everyone else’s, because that lowers your chances of receiving a positive response.

4. Have a Specific—and Reasonable—Dollar Amount, Backed by Data

Your carefully-crafted plan can quickly unravel if you don’t have a realistic dollar amount that is backed up by data. First, you don’t want to leave it up to your manager to decide how much your increase should be. Most companies are looking at their financial bottom line, and will lowball you with the first amount that they think you will accept. On the other hand, you also shouldn’t overstate your value. Websites like Payscale.com have detailed salary calculators to help you factor in your specific talents and skills to determine how much you should be paid. 

Companies frequently give either cost-of-living increases, which are designed to help employees keep up with the rising prices of goods and services, or merit increases, which are based on performance. But, according to Payscale, there are only two factors that truly determine your worth as an employee: 

  1. What you’re worth in the market. 
  2. What you’re worth to the organization.

Payscale uses the following examples to demonstrate workplace changes that justify a raise:

  • Your characteristics change in a way that affects your market price. For example, the average software developer with three years of experience is worth more than the same developer with two years of experience. And in Seattle, this accounts for a 5% pay differential.
  • The market price for your skills has changed. If there is a shortage of certain workers which causes them to be in high demand, the company may need to pay at least 5% more to keep the employee on staff.
  • The value of your work for the company has changed. For instance, a project manager successfully completes a project on time and under budget, significantly increasing the company’s profits. If the company thinks this was a one-time occurrence, it may choose to just offer a bonus. However, if the employee is consistently performing at a higher level than comparable employees, there is a strong case for a higher percentile pay increase.

It’s impossible to tell you how much your increase should be, but considering these factors and using the detailed salary calculator should help you determine a reasonable amount.

5. Practice Your Presentation Until It’s Perfect

Presentation is everything and it is often the difference between success and failure. In his book, “Speaking Up,” Frederick Gilbert warns employees that their bosses are extremely busy and they have little patience with workers who are stumbling, communicating poorly, and taking too long to get to the main point.

Gilbert also says it is important to know how to improvise. For example, suppose your meeting is scheduled for 30 minutes, so you plan to take 20 minutes to present your case for a raise. However, when you arrive for the meeting, your boss says that something has come up and now you only have 5 minutes. 

If your boss is like most managers, there’s probably a 50/50 chance of that actually happening. As s result, Gilbert recommends having a long presentation and a short presentation, in which you can sum up all of your important points in 5 minutes. That’s why you need to practice your presentation until it is perfect. The more you practice, the more familiar you become with the presentation. As a result, you’ll feel more comfortable and you’ll be more confident—even with an abbreviated presentation schedule.

6. Fight Fairly—with Passion, but Keep It Professional

As human beings, we sometimes have a tendency to push emotional levers if we think this will help bolster our case. However, this is a professional relationship, and you need to make the case for your raise based on your work performance, attitude, and skills.

Some tactics to avoid include emotional pleas, such as, “I really need an increase because my spouse lost their job and due to this loss of income, we may lose our house and have to take our daughter out of college.” This may sound insensitive, but you were not hired because you had a financial need. You were hired because the company had a manpower need. Subsequently, any increase would be a result of the value you add to the organization, and not the result of your personal financial problems.

Also, don’t pretend that you have another job offer if you really don’t. If your boss thinks that you are looking for another job, you may be treated differently as a result. And if you throw out an amount that your new, fictitious employer is willing to pay and your current company doesn’t match it, they might expect you to leave for greener pastures and become suspicious if you don’t. 

In addition, don’t discuss the salaries of your colleagues. For example, “I know for a fact that John Connor makes $2,000 more than I do, and Sarah Smith earns $2,500 more.” Unless you know all of the factors that contribute to the higher salaries of other employees, it is not wise to open this can of worms. For one reason, you’ve taken the focus off of your excellent performance and made it solely about paying you the same amount as these employees. And if your boss presents a sound business reason, such as these employees have more experience, more education, or different job duties, you have now shut the door on your opportunity to get an increase.

7. Suppose You’re Offered a Promotion, but Not a Raise?

It’s not common, but it does happen, according to Monster.com. You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons to determine if you should accept this type of offer. On one hand, if you’re already doing the work, perhaps you might as well accept the title also, and there’s a possibility that you may get a raise in the future.

But first, you need to find out why the promotion is not tied to a raise. One possible scenario presented by Monster.com is that the hiring manager may say if they were recruiting from the outside, they would be seeking a different skill set than you possess. And this is a legitimate reason.

Also, if you’re even the slightest bit uncomfortable, you may not be qualified for the new position. If you're consider accepting it, get written assurances that training and career development will be provided, in the form of a mentor and/or external training so you can properly grow into the position.

Monster.com also recommends that you ensure you’re not signing on to “simply run faster on the treadmill.” Is this new position inline with what you’re doing now? Does it fit within your career path?”

You Owe It To Yourself

If you truly feel that your work merits a pay increase, you owe it to yourself to take the initiative and ask for what you rightly deserve. Although these are still tough economic times, companies realize the importance of fairly compensating their top employees or else they risk watching these sharp workers defect to a competitor.

It’s never too early to start planning your wage increase strategy. Make sure that you’re going above and beyond your duties, solving important problems, and tracking your results—instead of just getting by. Use the data you've collected to form the foundation for your presentation to your manager.

Practice and prepare, and your meeting will go smoothly. You'll cover critical points, exude confidence, and demonstrate knowledge that will remind your manager of why you’re such a valuable employee who is richly deserving of a raise. 


Graphic Credit: Money designed by Nick Levesque from the Noun Project.

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