Plenty of employees are finding themselves in this predicament, because many recession-wary companies that stopped handing out raises during the economic downturn are still hesitant to open their wallets today. But career experts say that despite all the penny-pinching, a salary hike isn’t necessarily out of the question--so you might as well ask.
“Clearly most companies today are not looking for opportunities to hand out money,” says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant. “During the boom era of the late '90s when talent was scarce and retention was top of mind, nearly the opposite was true. While the corporate landscape is different now, you shouldn't sit idly and feel dissatisfied in silence. If you have supportive evidence your salary is at sub-market levels, you should speak up.”
She says it is possible to get a raise, even in an environment where money isn't exactly falling from trees. “Your organization has invested time and money in you. Savvy bosses understand that unhappy and underpaid employees are under-performing employees, which helps no one. It's a drain on their time to have to re-hire and train a replacement that fits the corporate culture. So if you have a legitimate request, you do have a certain amount of leverage.”
Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio, a career expert and co-founder of SixFigureStart, a career coaching firm, agrees. “I think it’s always a good idea to ask for a raise, even when employers are not handing them out,” she says. “But only when that discussion is tied to performance.” Employees should keep careful records of how their actions helped the bottom line of their company, or helped other team members improve the bottom line of the company, she suggests. “No one is going to hold your hand and remind you of the great things you did all year,” she adds, so keep track and share them with your manager at the appropriate time.
Asking for a pay raise is a delicate conversation and something you should not do without careful planning, says Dr. Katharine Brooks, director of Liberal Arts Career Services at The University of Texas at Austin and author of You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career. “Being prepared can help you overcome your hesitation.”
Aside from keeping track of your accomplishments and contributions, you can plan by thinking about things like timing. “This is key,” Brooks says. “If others are being laid off, or there has been a cutback in revenues to the organization, that is generally not the time to ask for a raise. Wait for things to settle, then assess the situation. Perhaps you are now doing the work of two former workers, or you have brought in more revenue than in previous years. Wait until you can approach from a positive rather than negative stance.”
Once you’ve determined whether it’s the right time to ask for a raise, here’s what you can do to get it:
Know your value. Do the proper research to figure out what you’re worth, even if it means going on interviews or using resources like Getraised.com, Payscale.com, or Glassdoor.com, says Thanasoulis-Cerrachio. If you find out you’re underpaid, you can use that to negotiate an increase.
“Look at salary surveys, cost-of-living comparisons, and rates of compensation within your organization, if possible,” Brooks says. “If you are aware that colleagues are earning more than you, tread carefully. You don’t want to put others in a negative light or violate a corporate written or unwritten rule about knowing what others earn. Simply present what the field generally pays, and why you believe your performance is at the top of your field.”
Know the number. Once you do the research, figure out what you think is a fair amount of money to ask for, says Thanasoulis-Cerrachio. “Have that number in your head when you ask for a raise.”
Schedule a meeting. Find a time that works best for you and your boss, Thanasoulis-Cerrachio says. Taylor adds, “Give your boss a head’s up that you want to chat about your career growth so that you both have ample time.”
Practice salary negotiations. This can be a difficult or awkward conversation. Practice with a friend who can be a tough negotiator, Thanasoulis-Cerrachio says.
Start on a positive note. Taylor suggests kicking off the conversation with something like, "I really enjoy working here and find my projects very challenging. In the last year, I've been feeling that the scope of my work has expanded quite a bit. I believe my roles and responsibilities, and my contributions have risen. I'd like to discuss with you the possibilities of reviewing my compensation.”
Or, "I'd like to discuss my career and how I can do my best work."
Tell them you know that the company isn’t handing out raises. Anita Attridge, a Five O’Clock Club career and executive coach, says, “Make the case of why you should be an exception to this policy. This will need to focus on the results you have achieved for the company.”
State your case, and then pause. Listen to what your manager has to say. “Give it your best case for why you should get a raise,” says Thanasoulis-Cerrachio. “Never use idol threats or mislead an employer to think you have an outside offer. Make your case based on your research and the results of your work. The worst they can say is no.”
Depending on the response, gauge how much detail you now need and how much back up support you require, Taylor says.
Be specific. Give your boss a range for the raise you want, and explain why. “Be prepared to say, ‘After a lot of research, which I have here if you'd like to see it at some point, and how I feel I have contributed to the company, I would ask for you to consider an increase of $5,000 to $7,000. It has been ___ (time) since my salary was last reviewed. I greatly appreciate your consideration,” Taylor says.
Bring your personal kudos file. Bring a list of your key achievements, and focus specifically on the areas of accomplishment that are important to your manager, Attridge says.
“Bring up your strengths and talents, your accomplishments, your desire to do even more, and your ideas and plans for the future in your role at the organization,” Brooks adds.
Don’t be aggressive. Be diplomatic, well-prepared and assertive, but not aggressive. “The squeaky (not screechy) wheel gets the grease,” says Taylor.
Don’t threaten your employer. Whatever you do, don't threaten to leave if you don’t get the raise, Brooks says.
You also shouldn’t threaten your boss with other job offers, interviews, recruiter conversations, etc., Taylor adds. “You run the risk of your boss mistrusting you, or in the worst case, if you're already on somewhat shaky ground, him saying, ‘maybe you should consider those offers.’”
Ask for endorsements. “One of the most powerful ways to demonstrate to your manager that you deserve a raise, or at least some form of recognition for your results, is to have other people endorse the work you have done and how it helped them,” Attridge says. This may be done through a phone call to your manager or an e-mail. The more your manager hears about how your work has contributed to organization goals and results, the stronger you will be positioned to be seen as someone deserving of consideration for an exception in the time of no raises or at least some form of recognition.
Don’t share your sob story. “Don’t bring up personal issues,” Brooks says. Don’t tell your boss that you can’t afford your rent, or that you need a raise to cover other personal expenses. Stick to your accomplishments and the value you add to the company.
Be patient. Remember, your manager may need a few days to think it over and get back to you, so don't be disheartened if you don't get an instant "yes," Taylor says. There's also a chance your boss isn't the one to make the decision. He or she might have to go to the higher-ups with your request.