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Ask for the Raise You Want

By Therese Droste

You want a raise. Whether your performance review is around the corner or you've taken on new responsibilities over the past few months, chances are the thought of asking for a raise makes you nervous. "Even the strongest person becomes mush when the topic turns to raises," says Sharon Koss, a principal with Seattle-based human resources and compensation consulting firm Koss Management Consulting. "Just remember that your boss will also be uncomfortable talking about it with you."

Planning is the key to effectively asking for a raise. Long before you even head to the negotiation table, you should be laying the groundwork for a bigger paycheck.

  • Leverage Your Skills: "You could be the organization's PowerPoint guru or possess some skill that everyone comes to you for help with," Koss says.
  • Increase Your Visibility: Volunteer for projects or committees outside of your scope of work, she says. "What you are effectively doing is running a marketing campaign for yourself. You want to make sure you've got visibility with people other than your boss."
  • Keep an Accomplishment Log: Keep complimentary letters from customers or managers, note extra projects you take on, when you stay late at the office, classes you take, new skills you've acquired and any other positive accomplishments you achieve.

Go for Gold
A performance review is a good opportunity to see if you're on a scheduled raise system. Any time you've taken on new roles but the company never coughed up extra compensation can be an icebreaker. Set up a private meeting with your boss to approach the topic.

Your job is to sell your boss on your achievements. To help you do this, take your achievement log and write out a script before the meeting. "A script will help you feel comfortable that you can objectively prove your worth to the organization," Koss says.

However, companies often have policies that dictate specific raises at certain times. "If a company's policy is to give annual raises, it's hard to get an exception to the rule," says Koss. "Usually decisions come from senior management, and your boss won't have any latitude to go outside the company's policy."

Less Than Desirable
If you do get a raise but it's much lower than what you expected, take a step back and wait a couple of days to gain objectivity. "The average person usually can't step aside from his or her emotions," says Koss. "Also, your manager may go on the defensive if you ask for a larger raise during your review."

Approach your boss after the review and ask for a follow-up meeting. Consider these tips:

  • Have an Amount in Mind: "If your manager asks you what raise you have in mind, you don't want to gasp and go blank," Koss says.
  • Be Reasonable: "If you were offered a 3 percent raise, you can't ask for 7 percent -- it just won't happen," she says.
  • Use an "I" Message: "If you got a 3 percent raise but want a 5 percent raise, say, 'I've accomplished XYZ, I possess XYZ skills, I put in extra time at the office and I'm a bit disappointed with the raise,'" says Koss. "Be sure to use an 'I' message rather than a 'you' message. It sounds less accusatory."
  • Don't Threaten to Leave: Threats work against you, because they can put you on the slow track for in-house career opportunities. "It also may put you on top of the layoff list," warns Koss.
  • Be Professional: Don't tell your boss that you heard another coworker received a higher raise than you. "Talking about what someone else received really tends to turn a boss off," Koss says.
  • If You Still Get Turned Down? "I'd nicely ask why," Koss suggests. "You deserve an explanation."
  • Ask for a Follow-Up: If the reason is financial on the company's end, ask your boss to touch base in six months. "But if you didn't get a higher raise because of your attendance or lack of skills, ask your boss if he'll reconsider things in six months, after you've improved in those areas," says Koss.
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