Being an adult is hard. You have to pour the milk into your own cereal, learn the difference between a co-pay and an HSA, and periodically yell at yourself to cut your hair and get a job. And then, once you get it, you have to ask for a raise to pay for your fancy adult haircuts. But come on! That’s harder than asking Cindy McAdams to junior prom, and you don’t see this one ending in a slow dance to “Lady in Red.”
There, there, young millennial. We’re here to help. We sat down with Lori Pugh, senior director of human resources at Deseret Digital Media in Salt Lake City,, and hammered out nine simple tips for negotiating the raise you deserve. Basically, you win over your boss with the same moves you used to impress Cindy: persistence, hard work, a shower and a spreadsheet detailing her projected return on investment.
1: Do your homework.
The first step when you’re asking for a raise (or negotiating a salary at a new job) is knowing what other people in your industry make. You have to know the Jones’ salary to keep up with them. In the olden days, this involved a lot of gut instinct and a little sifting through the Jones’ trash to find their tax returns. These days, the Joneses are right there on the Internet, and with a few clicks on sites like Glassdoor or Indeed you can discover the average salaries, benefits and number of personalized mugs people in your industry expect, and tune your raise requests accordingly. But Pugh stresses that those numbers are pretty general. “Most companies like to drill down and get pretty granular,” she says. They look at their specific industry, demographic and size to make final salary decisions. So get granular first! Be prepared to argue what value you will add to the company — in Pugh’s words, how you essentially “pay for the raise you’re hoping to get.” Finally, do some sleuthing to determine how your employer is faring right now (big firms usually publish financial data online). Hint: If the piggy bank is empty, it probably won’t oink.
2: Stress your strengths and distinctions.
Asking for a raise is a lot like being in a Miss America pageant. When your boss or interviewer asks you what you want most, don’t say something vague like world peace. State precisely how much money you want, and why you deserve it — why your experience, talents and specific contributions are vital to the company and worth a raise. Are you trained in a program other employees don’t know? Did you get a special certificate in astrophysics and can’t wait to apply it? Are you really, really good at twirling a baton to “She’s a Grand Old Flag”? You know, the things that set you apart from your peers, that make you you. Show them that it will actually benefit the organization to pay you more. As Pugh says, you want to argue that you are “bringing in this much money or decreasing costs.” Because in some ways, beautiful snowflake, you are just a number. Sorry (and you’re welcome)!
3: Choose a walk-away point.
Marie Antoinette knew when it was time to walk away and let other people eat cake, and you have to, too. Okay, sure, her line in the sand resulted in a trip to the guillotine, but the message is still totally obvious. In every negotiation, you have to know when to walk away. Know the minimum salary you’re willing to accept, and be prepared to say no if you don’t get it. That’s right, if you want some R-E-S-P-E-C-T, you’ll have to figure out exactly how much it means to you. Factors to consider: how much you need the job, your other prospects, non-salary perks and benefits, and whether or not the job is for a lead role in Titanic Two: Jack is Back. In that case, ask for more money.
4: Have a respectful tone and sympathetic ear.
To be or not to be, that —is a monologue. A really, really long monologue about death and uncertainty and also these things called the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Asking for a raise, on the other hand is a dialogue. That means being respectful, and listening as much as you talk. It means hearing your boss’s needs and concerns, repeating those back to her, and finding a solution. Something along the lines of, “It sounds like this modeling agency is looking for someone with incredibly straight teeth. I was top in my class for straightest teeth at Harvard Modeling University, so I think I have a lot to offer and can really earn my raise.” Then listen start listening again. Remember, be confident but not entitled, self-possessed but not vain. Remember, Narcissus spent all his time staring into a pond. Do you think he was gainfully employed?
5: Have a few non-salary packages in mind.
A wise man once said that money isn’t everything, and he was right. There are also insurance benefits, vacation packages, sick days and family leave. Okay, okay we know that the quote is about valuing the truly important things in life — like “Does your work have a slide?” and, “Is Taco Tuesday all-you-can-eat?” — but before you ask for a raise, Pugh reminds us, it’s important to “take a look at all the other benefits that don’t show up on a paycheck.” Is your office culture unparalleled? Do they offer telecommuting options? Stock options? If so, it might affect your walk-away point, and it might let you get creative with negotiating. If your boss can’t give you a raise, could they increase your paid time off? Profit sharing? Flexible hours? Bonuses? Bounce-back tickets to Lagoon? Before you negotiate, come up with a few creative non-salary options in case your employer isn’t able or willing to add a comma to your paycheck. Channel Don Corleone and make them an offer they can’t refuse. (Wait, no, don’t do it like Don Corleone did…)
6: Set goals to prove you’re committed to the company.
As Bob Dylan once said, you don’t need a Franklin Day Planner to know which way the wind’s blowing. But what did he mean?? He meant that every company has goals, and if you want a raise, you should, too. Your first goal? Educate yourself about the company. Where does it want to be next month? Next quarter? Next year? What are their values? Their vision? Once you know that, you’re on to goal number two: Insert yourself into that formula. Show that you have what they need. Offer concrete examples of revenue you’ve generated, ideas you’ve implemented, world-domination strategies you’ve hatched in your underground bunker in the dead of night. Do you hear that? That’s the sound of you going from a liability to an investment. The hidden lesson? Don’t ask for a raise after a few months. Wait until you’ve made a big batch of proof pudding. As Pugh says, wait until “you’ve proven yourself, completed some serious projects, and have some data behind you.” Then walk into that office and make it rain.
7: Don’t share personal reasons you need a raise.
Your pet python died. Your daughter had a terrible underwater basket-weaving accident. Your cat had a dog, and the dog ate your rent money. These are all reasons to ask for a raise, they’re just not very good ones. Asking for a raise can feel personal — it can make you anxious, worried or sweaty — but the reasons for getting one shouldn’t be. Lots of circumstances might make you need more money, but they don’t make you deserve it. When you’re in the negotiating chair, stay focused on what you're worth as an employee. Compensation is based on performance, not circumstances or desperation. Be assertive and professional, supporting your arguments with objective reasoning. As Pugh says, most companies are sympathetic but they’re still businesses, which means “the bottom line is the bottom line.” And if all else fails, you can always get a new job with better python benefits.
8: Take the initiative.
The bull has horns for a reason: so you can seize them. If you want a raise, stop standing around like some rodeo clown on an off night. Get out there and make it happen. Ask managers what the company policies are with regard to pay and compensation. Find out how they review employee performance, as well as the process for pay raises and promotions. It may feel pushy, but this bull is metaphorical and you will not be gored to death. In fact, many managers understand and even appreciate employees who are concerned with advancement and promotions, and see their ambition as an asset.
And and another thing: Don’t wait for the performance review to discuss salary. Go on offense and give your managers a preview, discussing your upcoming goals and the criteria for earning a raise. (Oh, you can let go of the bull’s horns now, sir. It gave you a raise hours ago and it’s getting weird.)