According to a recent Harris Interactive poll, one of the most common resolutions for Americans is to improve their finances in the new year. And while we certainly talk a lot about budgeting, we also know that sometimes, as Dave Ramsey says, it’s not the out-go that’s the problem—it’s the income.
Looking for a new job or starting a business are both good ways to earn extra cash, but asking for an increase from the employer who’s already cutting your bi-weekly checks is probably the simplest solution. And because we know folks tend look forward to money talks with all the anticipation of a root canal, we’ve gathered expert tips to make asking for a raise as painless—and effective—as possible.
Know Your Numbers
Sure, you were the life of the office Christmas party, and your boss regularly drops by your cubicle to get suggestions for easy gluten-free recipes. But likeability won’t pad your paycheck.
“Just because your mother loves you doesn’t mean you deserve a raise,” says April Masini, founder of AskApril.com and an expert on money and relationships. “We live in an age of entitlement where “affluenza” is a legal defense. Check yourself: It’s not just about you thinking you deserve a raise. Put yourself in the shoes of those who cut the checks. Will they think you deserve one?”
Your best bet, says certified career coach Cheryl Palmer, is to clearly demonstrate how your efforts have impacted the company’s bottom line.
“Quantifying time-saving and/or cost-saving measures can help to make a persuasive case for a raise,” she explains. “Improving customer service can lead to client retention as well as acquisition which, in turn, translates into a measurable contribution to the bottom line. When employees are able to show that they brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in new business or retained business that could have gone to a competitor, then a salary increase of a few thousand dollars is justifiable and reasonable.”
Know the Market
Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter how great you are at your job or how many years of seniority you have. In most cases you cannot expect an increase that is incongruent with current standards for your position.
“Do your research beforehand so you know how much of a raise to ask for,” says David Bakke, personal finance expert and blogger at MoneyCrashers.com. “This includes researching comparable salaries for those in similar positions and levels of experience—the websites Salary.com and Glassdoor.com are two good resources—as well as company guidelines on salary caps for your position or department.”
Note: Even though you have an ideal salary in mind, Katie Donovan, a salary negotiation consultant, encourages employees to wait for their supervisors to lead with a number during the request meeting in order to leave room for haggling. “Try to get the manager to say, ‘I can get you $X’ first, if at all possible, because their $X just became the floor of the negotiation,” she explains. “If you had said the exact same $X, it would have become the ceiling.”
Know the Right Time
Like a kid asking to go on a Disney vacation when his parents are scraping together next month’s rent, asking for a raise in the midst of a financial downturn at your company is a sure way to get a big, fat denial.
On the other hand, there are some signals that raises are ripe for the asking. “If your company is performing well, that’s a good time to ask for a raise,” says Bakke. “If you just went through a series of stellar work achievements, or if you notice that other employees have been receiving raises, those are other good signs that it’s time to act.”
Other experts suggest employees look to the calendar before proposing a raise. “Request the raise off-cycle of the annual reviews,” says Donovan. “The raises are budgeted for annual reviews, and if it’s anniversary-based and your anniversary is near the end of the fiscal year, then there is probably little money left for a raise. Also, if [all employee reviews are] at the same time, then the boss has typically taken the increase the whole department has and dispersed it throughout. When [raises are given] all at once, the focus is more on getting through the deadlines than doing it right for each individual.”
Masini also encourages to request increases when funds are more likely to be available. “Spring is a great time to ask for a raise. While this may sound arbitrary, it isn’t. Many executives are out of the office during the summer, as they align their vacation time with their kids’ school schedules for family vacation. And fall is too close to winter, when belt-tightening happens as a result of everyone taking account at the end of the year.”
Other helpful tips when asking for a salary increase are to schedule an appointment with your supervisor (this is not the time to hide behind your computer and send an email), consider other benefits in the negotiation process and always maintain a calm, professional demeanor. Follow this advice, and this will be the year you finally earn what you deserve.