“Want a Raise? – Here’s How to Ask”

“At the end of my salary, there’s always a lot of month left.”

– Loesje

ACTUAL “CASE HISTORY: Here are some survey results recently published by compensation-data firm PayScale:

    a. Over 90% of U.S. workers reported being dissatisfied with their salary.
    b. But, only 43% of U.S. workers reported asking for a raise last year.
    c. About 19% of U.S. workers were offered a raise without asking for one.
    d. But 38% didn’t ask for a raise because they were uncomfortable asking, feared being too “pushy,” and some even thought they would lose their jobs if they asked.
    e. One statistic stood out over all: of those who asked for raises, 75% were successful.

How many received the raise they felt they deserved? 44%. Not too bad. Is it possible they didn’t prepare themselves with a careful plan, practice their “pitch” for a raise, and therefore missed out on a golden opportunity to be more successful? Quite possibly, in fact, likely.

While every employee, every employer, every industry, and the financial circumstances of every company are unique, three things are for sure: First, unless you were among the 19% who were given a raise without asking, you had to ask for one to get one. Second, even if your are among the 19% who were given a raise without asking, chances are 56% you were not pleased with the result. Third, there are more effective ways to do anything you do, and that includes asking for a raise.

So, it pays to think about your raise request, organize your thoughts, decide who you will ask, consider the rationales you will use to justify your request, and practice your raise request, all before making your request. These wise steps are steps few consider and even less practice. Sad, because they work.

LESSON TO LEARN: Requesting a raise can be a stressful proposition. You may be concerned that your request will make you seem “pushy,” or even anger your boss. You may be fearful that you’ll just be turned down. And, too, you might be granted such a small raise that it would be more than disappointing, even humiliating. If you want to find them, there are so many reasons to avoid requesting a raise in salary.

On the other hand – and there is always an “other hand,” isn’t there? – there are more important reasons to take the initiative, assume the risk, and get past your insecurity and anxiety. The first three are quite familiar: “food, clothing and shelter.” Others include the need to care for, and prepare for, kids, loved ones, retirement and the proverbial “rainy days” that are sure to visit when you least expect them. Raising your salary in your present job can also justify a higher salary in your next job, for “salary history” is a question raised in nearly every job application and in nearly every interview.

Keeping yourself at or above “market rate” for your position and responsibilities, and consistent with your perceived value to your employer, is your “first job” and not your employer’s responsibility. Sure, you may be offered a raise on each hiring anniversary or each January first, but whether you receive a raise, the amount you receive, and the frequency you receive one a raise are your job to influence positively, and not your employer’s. As the saying goes, “God helps those who help themselves.”

Over time, we have coached many of our clients in this process. Each person, each employer and each situation is unique, but there are certain fundamental truths, and even a few “tricks of the trade” that we have proven themselves especially helpful when asking for a raise.

Here they are – all 30 – for your consideration.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Based on many years helping employees negotiate for themselves, here are 30 logical, sensible and effective pointers that should help you when you decide to ask for your raise:

A. First and foremost, Give Thought to your upcoming Raise Request

1. Before doing anything else, get your thoughts in order. No matter what you want to communicate to someone, it is undeniable that you will be more effective in communicating if your presentation is organized. Thoughtfully addressing what to say, to whom to say it, when to do so, and similar thoughts, can’t hurt, and sure can help. There is no single “recipe” for getting a raise, but you might help yourself considerably by looking over the list below, deciding which of the elements you wish to incorporate into your own request, and then organizing your thoughts about what you will say, when, to whom, etc.

2. Requests need to be presented with “Three R’s”: Respect, Reasonability and a Rationale. As regular readers of this blog will recognize, a “mantra” of mine is that a successful request must be made Respectfully, the “ask” must be Reasonable, and be supported by a sound Rationale. It is my rock-solid belief that any request of any kind that is based on these three principles of negotiation has no downside risk. The worst thing that can happen in response is a denial of your request, which just (a) leaves your where you are anyway, (b) tells you something important about your employer, and (c) makes you that much more experienced and effective at making requests at work than you were beforehand.

3. The most compelling rationale for a request for a raise is (i) your manager(s)’ perception of (ii) your value (iii) to him, her or them, (iv) now and in the future. Employees are generally rewarded – given raises, bonuses, promotions, etc. – on the basis of their “perceived value” to their managers. Are you viewed as someone who does especially high-quality work? Do you get things done, on time? Are you perceived as an employee who often works longer hours when the situation requires it? Do you arrive before others? Are you known as someone who has a special or unique skill? How about your attitude . . . positive or negative to those around you?

If you are going to ask for a raise, it might be wise for you to first consider these and related questions, and consider devoting thought, time and energy to “polishing your perception” first. It is not what you “say” at the negotiating table, but what you “bring” to it that really counts. In asking for a raise, how you worked in months before you made your request is more important that what you say when at the meeting.

And bear in mind, too, that perception is more important than reality. Even if you are “valuable,” if no one knows it, it does not help you when asking for a raise. So, a good part of your preparation for your request for a raise may be to list those things you do for your boss (or her boss) that even he or she does not know, remember, appreciate or give you credit for.

4. Don’t focus on past value, but on (a) present value, and, especially, (b) future higher value. A very common error employees make when asking for a raise is to review in details all they did for their managers in the past, sometimes going back years. What you may have done in the past is surely relevant, but what you have done in the past is not motivating, because it is already done, and motivation is the essence of negotiating. It’s a simple fact that managers are more motivated to reward and retain their employees who are valuable to them today and tomorrow, not yesterday and last year.

5. Past efforts and contributions are important, but not to be dwelled on. It is fine to mention what you have done in the past, but don’t dwell on that. You can raise a number of issues related to the past, including (a) how long it has been since you received a raise, (b) special contributions you made during the last year or so, and (c) unmet promises and assurances made in the past about raises. However, don’t concentrate on those issues; they are not the primary thing that works to get people raises.

6. Likewise, your and your family’s needs are relevant, but should not be the primary subject of your request. Perhaps the most common error employees make when requesting a raise is to focus on their own (or their family’s) financial needs. Sure, those things are so near and dear to you, it is hard to put them out of mind. The thing to remember is that they are not motivating to your managers. Sure, they are your reasons for making the request, but they are not your managers’ reasons for granting that request. While they may be fine to mention briefly – “As I am sure you know, being a single mom with three teenagers who all want to go to college is not easy” – is fine, but making that the thrust of your reason for asking for a raise is not the most likely way to succeed.

Some employees have truly extraordinary personal or family needs, such as parents who need full-time daycare assistance, children with special needs, and the like. For these people I would recommend these items might be mentioned, but then again, not as the primary topic of conversation.

7. You might look to your performance appraisals to identify several good, strong rationales to support your request for a raise. Assuming your performance has been evaluated in the last year of two, and it has been positive, the comments and appraisals of your performance in such appraisals just might provide you with good points to raise as to your present – and future – value to your manager(s). And there’s nothing like reminding someone of something using their very own words.

Positive comments from colleagues, customers and/or business partners are all good indicators of value to your management.

8. Put your thoughts on paper, in a logical order. Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor often says, “I don’t trust my thoughts until I see them on paper.” I heartily agree with her. Putting thoughts to paper can help you assess, organize and adjust them, like assembling pieces of a puzzle into a beautiful mosaic.

As an illustration only, think of organizing your thoughts into a presentation something like this one: (1) Pleasantries; (2) Expression of Appreciation; (3) Reasons why a raise is a good idea; (4) Make the numerical request; (5) Ask for feedback when your Target has had the opportunity to digest the request. (6) Ask if there are any questions at the moment; (7) Express thanks for the meeting.

This numbered list of thoughts represents only the “main topics” you might want to express at the meeting. Keep it short, to the point, and organized. Do not try to write a “script,” as you will never remember all of the words, and trying to do so will actually confuse you.

Putting your thoughts to paper will help you clarify what it is you want to say. It will also prepare you, just in case your request for a meeting is met with “Sure, let’s speak RIGHT NOW.” If that happens, having your “#1 through #7” in your mind will give you supreme confidence and likely success.

B. Prepare to Make Your Raise Request

9. Who is the best person to approach? The best person to ask for a raise – who we sometimes refer to as the “target” of your request – generally has two attributes: (a) he or she is personally affected by your work and dedication, and (b) he or she is likely to have some decision-making authority or at least input into whether or not you will get the raise you request. While most employees know instinctively who to approach for a raise, we use the acronym “P.P.O.P.P” – or “Persons or Pockets of Power or Profit” – to help clients who are unsure and need some direction.

While compensation issues are usually the responsibility of Human Resources” Human Resources representatives generally (i) have no direct stake in your value, effort, and attitude, and (ii) have no decision-making authority regarding your request. Sure, your manager may seek to involve Human Resources in the decision and/or the amount of your raise, but all decisions are made by decision-makers, and Human Resources representatives almost never have any authority in these decisions.

10. Is there a best time to request a raise? Well, no one feels better than right after a major, big-time success. So, if you have just won a big contract, successfully completed a large project on time and under budget, or solved a major, vexing problem for the company, it makes sense to “Strike when the iron is hot.”

Quite informally, I have asked several of my clients who are long-time senior managers in large companies this very question. Quite consistently, almost all responded, “Before we set yearly budgets,” using those words or similar ones. As most employers use a calendar year as fiscal year, that would often mean sometime in August, September or October.

There is no hard-and-fast rule on this, but making a raise request during those months – August, September or October – could also put you in a position to know what, if any, raise you may get before January and February, so that if you are disappointed you can prepare yourself to look elsewhere when most job openings take place.

11. Are there worst times to request a raise? Common sense suggests that certain events and circumstances are bad times to request a raise, including: (a) after your employer has just announced or begun large-scale layoffs, (b) shortly after your department has gone way over budget, (c) within two weeks of your manager being embarrassed, reprimanded or criticized by senior management, and (d) right after you failed to achieve agreed-upon or assigned goals. I’m confident you get the point.

12. “The Really Big Question”: “How much should I ask for?” The answer to this question depends on so, so many different factors, including, just as examples, how long it has been since your last raise, the size of your last raise, the financial circumstances of your employer, your performance reviews, your relative value to your manager(s), and others.

Some guidance on how much to request may include “the market,” that is, what others in your position, at your level, and with your experience get paid compared to what you get paid. More specific guidance might include what others at your level, with your experience, at your company get paid.

If I really had to provide numbers to answer this question, but with the understanding that the amount of raise depends on many, many different factors, I would say that most requests for raises I have been consulted on range from 5% of salary, on the lower end, and up to 25% of salary, at the higher end.

13. “Market” data can be used, but not overused. There are many sources of salary data available on the internet for use in requesting a raise. Generally, I am not a big fan of market data when requesting a raise. First, each employer is different from others, and each is faced with different needs and challenges. Second, each employee is unique, and offers a unique degree of value to his or her unique manager(s). Third, if not used carefully, presenting market data to support a request for a raise can sound a bit like “If you don’t give me a raise, I can go elsewhere,” which is not helpful.

One kind of “market data” is the length of time that has passed since you received your last raise. If two or more years have passed since you last received a raise, that alone is unusual, and not in keeping with the customs, practices, and standards in employment.

14. Find out if your employer has Salary Policies, Compensation Guidelines or Salary “bands” that might constitute a barrier to fulfilling your raise request. As an illustration, only, if your employer had a strict policy that “No employee can receive a raise unless he or she has been employed for 24 months,” then asking for a raise after you have been on the job for just 12 months might be a waste of time. Likewise, some employers have strict salary “bands” that limit what a person in a certain position, with a certain amount of tenure with the company, can receive as salary. And, too, it may be the case that, before a raise can be granted, a formal request must be submitted to Human Resources. For these and many other reasons, we suggest you do a bit of “homework” by reviewing your employer’s Company Policies, Employee Handbook and the like.

The message here is simple: Before you make your request for a raise, find out if the “rules” limit or negate your chance of getting one. It may save you time, effort, and even embarrassment.

15. It can only help to practice your “pitch” for a raise, perhaps with a family member or friend. The first time you do anything, it is always a bit more difficult. The tenth time, it is always easier. For this reason, you might practice your pitch until it becomes second-nature. If no friend is available, use your dog. If your dog is out of town, use your mirror. Just practice. It makes perfect.

There is an old saying that says “There are three speeches: )1) the one you intended to give, (2) the speech you gave, and (3) the one you wish you gave. But don’t worry, your audience doesn’t know the difference.” The lesson of the saying is this: Do not fret about making the perfect request for a raise. Just smile, and do your best.

16. For increased confidence and determination, place a family photo in your pocket. So many employees feel intimidated by the idea of sitting down, face-to-face with their managers, and asking for something. If you are one of them, consider this “negotiator’s trick.” Place a photo of your spouse, partner, children, parents, pets or other loved ones in your pocket, perhaps in your purse, but in any event someplace you can touch it unobtrusively. That will remind you who you really work for, who you never want to say “I can’t help you” to, and who give you strength of conviction. This is what we commonly call the “power of purpose,” and it is provides a kind of determination and resoluteness that little else can provide. It really does work.

17. Never lose sight of your very best rationale: your present value, and that a raise would motivate you to become even more valuable to your manager in the future. Even if you forget your name, your birthday, or what day it is, don’t forget the best rationale for your raise request: you represent significant value to your manager(s), and a raise would motivate your to try to be that much more motivated to be that much more valuable.

18. How often should you request a raise? I would say no less than 12 months since you received your last raise, and surely before 24 months has elapsed since your received your last raise. If you received a very large raise last time, that would suggest closer to 24 months. If you receive no raise at all, or a very small raise, I would suggest 8 to 12 months after. Again, this answer should take into account many facts and circumstances that are particular to you, your employer, and the company’s or organization’s state of finances.

C. Making Your Raise Request – a simple Four Step Process

19. Step One: Your first “request” should be to ask for a meeting. It is often difficult to find the “right moment” to raise a sensitive subject. If you feel that such a “right moment” presents itself, then you might be wise to take advantage of it. That said, giving your “target” the opportunity to think before speaking with you on the subject, shows respect and consideration. For these reasons, we suggest you make a request for a meeting to discuss a raise, either in an email (the preferred method), or, if you are comfortable at what seems like a “right moment” to do so, by speaking with your manager.

Likewise, giving yourself an opportunity to place before his or her eyes your good reasons for the raise you request – in writing, before your meeting – gives you the advantage of a discussion based on your data and rationale, as distinct from momentary emotion. Yes, by presenting your facts and thinking before your meeting, you really do get “two bites of the apple.”

Just a reminder: Do not request a meeting until your thoughts are in order, as you want your thoughts to be in order just in case you are unexpectedly told “Fine, let’s talk right now.”

Your first step in seeking a Raise is to request a meeting to discuss the subject. We offer a Model Memo to Request a Meeting to Discuss a Raise that you can adapt for your own use. This Model Memo is a “Two-For-One.” It also includes our Model Memo to Thank Your Manager After Your “Raise-Request” Meeting. They both show you “What to Say and How to Say It.”™ To obtain copies of both, just [click here to get both.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!

20. What to do if your request for a meeting is denied. Many clients ask this question. First, I don’t want you to think in a negative way, as I am one of those who believe negative thoughts sometimes bring on negative events. Think positive, upbeat, bullish, buoyant and optimistic, and good things just tend to happen to – and for – you.

That said, my answer is “Don’t react immediately. Give yourself time to think.” Your decision on how to respond must take into account many factors, including among them: (a) any reasons given for the denial; (b) whether the answer is “no” or “not now,” or other answer; and (c) any other “data” you can discern, including whether your “target” is apologetic, antagonistic, or otherwise. Hey, your manager just might have learned someone he or she loves has died.

Your various responses might include (a) acceptance of the decision, (b) asking whether the decision not to meet now is due to inconvenience, or a denial of any possibility of a raise, (c) considering “elevating” the request to a higher manager, or even (d) seeking a position elsewhere. Just don’t respond with negativity or with anger: they never, ever help.

21. Step Two: Before your “raise-request” meeting, prepare and send a memo outlining your reasons for your request, and the amount you are requesting. It is often said that “What you win in a negotiation is not won at the negotiating table but, rather, in your preparations for the negotiation.”

Your preparation is key. What gets you negotiating success is your inner preparation, to achieve clarity and confidence, and in your “outer” preparation, to get your negotiation counterpart ready to give to you. “Inner” and “outer” preparation is the preparation and transmission of a Raise Request memo containing your best rationales for granting you the raise you seek.

Asking for a Raise can be tough. We offer a Model Memo to Request a Raise – with 15 Great Reasons that you can adapt for your own effective Raise Request. It shows you “What to Say and How to Say It.”™ To obtain a copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!

22. At your “raise-request” meeting start off by establishing a bond. The very first sports agent, the late Bob Woolf, was a client of mine. He shared with me many times that, at the outset of a negotiation, he finds something – anything – that he had in common with his “negotiating partner.” It might be that fact that she and Bob both had kids, perhaps both golfed, maybe they each had an infirm mother, or just that they both were diabetic. No matter what it was, he would find it. He believed – and I concur – that this creates a kind of bond that encourages a “win-win” discussion to follow.

23. Move on to words of appreciation. I am 1,000% convinced that gratitude is a fundamental virtue, and that its application to the process of negotiation is tragically rare. Expressing gratitude is that rare activity that is so good and healthy for both the giver and the receiver. It lowers blood pressure for both, it raises the “comfort” hormones in the blood for both, and is just the best way to start off any meeting or encounter, for both.

Might I suggest that, at the commencement of your “raise request” meeting, you express your appreciation to your Manager (and any others at the meeting) for taking the time away from other activities, and for giving your request their attention. You might also mention how much you appreciate and enjoy your job, and that this effort is intended to make the working relation a better one.

24. Now – to your best ability – just follow through with the well-considered thoughts you prepared. With (a) calm confidence because you have prepared and practiced, (b) with the power of purpose that comes from your thinking of your family, and (c) with clarity of thought because you have focused your thoughts, make your “raise-request” pitch:

    (1) Exchange Pleasantries and Establish a Bond;
    (2) Expression of Appreciation;
    (3) Your rationales: Reward present value, and Encourage Greater Future Value;
    (4) Make the numerical request;
    (5) Ask for feedback when your Target has had the opportunity to digest the request.
    (6) Ask if there are any questions at the moment;
    (7) Express thanks for the meeting.

D. After you have made your request.

25. Some seasoned negotiators suggest “Silence is golden.” There are many seasoned negotiators who use “silence” in a negotiation to achieve their goals. How do they do that? They make their offer, or proposal, or request, and then just look the other person in the eye, and say nothing. I’ve used this tactic many times, and at times have found it to be quite effective. Consider it, if the dynamics of your request for a raise seems to suggest you give it a try.

26. What to do if you are disappointed. You’ll surely be disappointed if you are either denied a raise, or offered a very small raise. Should this happen to you, there are three general options available to you: (a) ask for reconsideration in six months or so, (b) most importantly, ask “Is there anything additional, new or better I can do to get the raise I seek in six or twelve months?” and (c) consider requesting one of more “alternative rewards” such as the consent to telecommute one day a week, be permitted an extra week vacation, or be provided an additional resource so that you can, on your own, develop even greater value.

27. If you are disappointed, one very effective response is – now, don’t laugh – to request more responsibilities. A poor raise, and I am supposed to ask for more work? Well, yes and no. The idea behind asking for more responsibilities is that, if you cover them well, your next request for a raise will have a very solid rationale behind it, which is what you want. Give it some thought.

28. Step Three: No matter what the result may be, you must send a “Thank You” note. Begin each day with gratitude, and end it with gratitude, as well, even if it was not a good day, because at the very least, you were given the day. The same goes for requests at work. Even if your request for a meeting to discuss a raise, or your request for a raise, is flatly rejected, thank your “target” for his or her (a) consideration, (b) time and effort, (c) understanding, (d) opportunity to work at your job, (e) past courtesies, (f) prompt response, or whichever of these or others is applicable and appropriate. Gratitude is a powerful motivator, and always comes back to benefit you, even if sometimes in mysterious ways.

Don’t forget – We offer a Model Memo to Thank Your Manager After Your “Raise-Request” Meeting. Comes as a two-for-one package with our Model Memo to Request a Meeting to Discuss a Raise. They both show you “What to Say and How to Say It.”™ To obtain copies of both, just [click here to get both.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!

E. Confirmation is the Most Important Step in Negotiation

29. Step Four: Confirm promises, commitment and assurances. I have seen hundreds of clients learn this lesson the hard way: “Whatever is accomplished in negotiation can be soon lost by a failure of confirmation.” Confirmation is the last step in workplace negotiation, and a critical one, at that. So, any promise, assurance, agreement, commitment, suggestion or pledge should be memorialized in an email, which is a “forever confirmation.” The person who promised you a 10% raise might not be around when it is time to collect. Or, she might have a “loss of memory.” We strongly suggest that, to make the email confirmation one that does not seem confrontational, it should be couched as a “Thank You” note, for the promise, commitment, assurance, etc. made at the meeting.

30. Begin your NEXT salary negotiation today by making yourself EVEN MORE VALUABLE! Unless you will never again want a raise, the time to prepare for your next raise request – if that becomes necessary – is today. Perception of Value to your Manager is “where it’s at” in getting more and better from your employment relation. What are you waiting for?

For individual attention and assistance, I am available for telephone consultations lasting 30 minutes, 60 minutes, or 2 hours. If you would like to set up a consultation, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly! Shows you “What to Ask, and How to Ask It.”™

These 30 Pointers may not all be applicable to your situation, but chances are at least several will be. Each one should be considered potentially helpful to you. Even if just a few of these pointers are of help to you, you are that much more prepared to make your effective and successful Request for a Raise, a key component of “Navigating and Negotiating for Yourself at Work.”™

SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work. Negotiation and navigation of work and career issues requires that you think “out of the box,” and build value and avoid risks at every point in your career. We strive to help you understand what is commonly before you – traps and pitfalls, included – and to avoid the likely bumps in the road. Understanding the “in’s and out’s” of common contract provisions is one important part of path to job and career success.

Always be proactive. Always be creative. Always be persistent. Always be vigilant. And always do what you can to achieve for yourself, your family, and your career. Take all available steps to increase and secure employment “rewards” and eliminate or reduce employment “risks.” That’s what SkloverWorkingWisdom™ is all about.

*A note about our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.

Please Note: This Email Newsletter is not legal advice, but only an effort to provide generalized information about important topics related to employment and the law. Legal advice can only be rendered after formal retention of counsel, and must take into account the facts and circumstances of a particular case. Those in need of legal advice, counsel or representation should retain competent legal counsel licensed to practice law in their locale.

Sklover Working Wisdom™ is a trademarked newsletter publication of Alan L. Sklover, of Sklover & Company, LLC, a law firm dedicated to the counsel and representation of employees in matters of their employment, compensation and severance. Nothing expressed in this material constitutes legal advice. Please note that Mr. Sklover is admitted to practice in the state of New York, only. When assisting clients in other jurisdictions, he retains the assistance of local counsel and/or obtains permission of local Courts to appear. Copying, use and/or reproduction of this material in any form or media without prior written permission is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved. For further information, contact Sklover & Company, LLC, 45 Rockefeller Plaza, Suite 2000, New York, New York 10111 (212) 757-5000.

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