Do you feel like you get paid what you’re worth?
Most people would wholeheartedly say no. According to a Robert Half survey cited in Fortune, 46% of U.S. workers believe they are underpaid. That’s not surprising considering that wages have barely kept up with inflation over the past several decades. We’re earning more than we did 40 years ago, but we have the same amount of purchasing power as we did in 1978.
If you want to get paid what you’re worth, it’s up to you and you alone to make it happen. But asking for a raise or promotion isn’t easy. Here’s what you need to know to make a compelling case for yourself.
Before You Meet With Your Boss
Ideally, you should start preparing months before you even approach your boss for a raise. Here’s how to set yourself up for success.
1. Identify Goals & Performance Metrics
Do you know what’s expected of you in your current role? Many workers are unsure what their boss and other superiors want to see them accomplish in their tenure with the company. Set up a meeting with your boss to talk about how you’re living up to their expectations. Where do they feel you’re excelling? In which areas do you need to improve?
Initiating a frank discussion about your performance shows your boss two things. First, it demonstrates that you care about your role and want to do your best. Second, it shows that you have initiative and you don’t shy away from criticism. All of this is a huge boost to your professional reputation.
Of course, it’s essential that you take the feedback from your boss and work to implement it in your daily role. You’ll dramatically up the odds for a raise when you prove that you’re meeting and exceeding the metrics your employer uses to gauge your performance.
This meeting is also the perfect opportunity to talk to your boss about your career goals. Explain how working toward one or two of these goals could benefit the company right now. For example, if you want a leadership position eventually, ask your boss to let you lead the next team project. If you’d like to transition to sales, ask your boss if you can tag along with a rep for a day to see how the role might fit you.
Being open about your career goals shows that you’re interested in staying with the company long-term, and this commitment helps when it comes time to ask for a raise.
2. Dress for Success
Whether you realize it or not, your boss, other superiors, and colleagues are constantly evaluating you. They’re judging you by the work you do, the things you say, and how you dress.
Like it or not, the clothes you wear at work matter. They send a powerful signal to other people about how much you respect yourself and the work you do, how capable you are, and which groups you belong to.
For example, imagine your office’s dress code is “casual Friday” every day. All your colleagues show up in jeans or khakis and short-sleeved collared shirts. Your boss, on the other hand, shows up every day in a suit and tie. What might happen if you start showing up every day in a business suit?
Not only would you look more professional and capable — something your boss would definitely notice — but you’d likely feel more professional and capable. You might also find that your boss and colleagues treat you with more respect and listen more to you when you’re dressed like senior management.
The adage “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have” is good advice. If you want a raise, then start dressing like you deserve one.
If you’re on a budget right now, don’t worry. There are plenty of ways to create a work wardrobe on a tight budget. For example, you can often find great work clothes at thrift stores and consignment shops. You can also create a capsule wardrobe for work clothes, investing in a few quality pieces you can mix and match to create several different outfits.
3. Share Your Wins Carefully
Do you share your accomplishments with your boss? Do you tell them about the new client you just signed on or the product defect you finally found a solution for?
Communicating your successes at work can feel uncomfortable. Most people don’t want to brag or feel like they’re hogging the spotlight. According to a LinkedIn survey, 46% of professionals admit they’re not confident about describing their achievements, and 53% would rather talk about a colleague’s achievements than their own.
However, if you want a raise, then your boss needs to know what a great job you’re doing right now. They need to be celebrating your successes right along with you.
How do you communicate your worth without sounding like a showoff or jerk? One way is to make it a regular affair. Once a month, send your boss an email highlighting what you’ve accomplished. Make sure to tie these accomplishments directly to your organization’s goals or your current role’s key performance metrics.
To avoid coming across as arrogant or braggy, keep your emails short, simple, and free of adjectives such as “great” or “impressive.” Share your colleagues’ and team’s successes before describing your personal achievements to foster goodwill and ensure everyone gets the recognition they deserve.
Always include data on how your accomplishments benefit the organization financially, whether that’s saving or making it money. And be sure to save a copy of these emails; they contain valuable information you can use when it comes time to ask for a raise.
4. Know What You’re Worth Realistically
Before you ask for a raise, make sure you’re worth more money than you’re already receiving. Your worth depends on several factors, including how much others earn in your field, your level of experience, your special skills, and even your geographical location.
Educate To Career has a useful tool for calculating your salary range. Study it carefully to make sure your request is reasonable. You could do more harm than good if you ask for a $5,000 raise when you’re already earning $5,000 more than you’re worth.
You can also use websites such as Glassdoor, Salary.com, Indeed, and PayScale to research salary ranges, but keep in mind that they only provide the average salary for your position. Other factors that influence how much you’re worth include your experience and education levels. Your accomplishments, awards, training and certifications, professional reputation, and soft skills also play a big role.
If you’re still not sure how much you’re worth, reach out to colleagues or other people in your industry through LinkedIn or networking opportunities such as trade conferences.
After all your research is complete, come up with a raise amount that’s realistic for your organization and industry. According to Fortune, the average raise in the United States has been around 3% of annual salary for several decades. If you plan to ask for more than this, make sure you have a long list of successes proving why you’re worth it.
5. Analyze Your Organization’s Performance
Your chances of getting a raise are tied directly to how well your organization performed over the past 6 to 12 months. If your company is currently going through a tough time —for example, sales are down, and sweeping cost-cutting measures are being implemented — it’s not an appropriate time to ask for more money.
Look carefully at how your organization has performed over the past year. What challenges is it facing right now? How could you help solve these problems?
If your organization is going through a difficult time, it might be better to wait a few months until the market improves. However, keep in mind that you can still ask for other perks. For example, you could ask for increased stock in the company, more vacation time, a bigger end-of-year bonus, the option to telecommute a few days per week, or even a tiered raise in which your salary gradually increases over a 6- or 12-month period.
6. Practice Your Negotiation Skills
Once you ask for a specific amount, your boss will probably counter with a lower amount. Conversations about salary almost always involve some negotiation. It’s essential to brush up on your negotiation skills and be confident in your position. Even if your boss thinks you deserve a raise, they’ll likely make you work for it.
Learn effective negotiation tactics, such as using silence to your advantage and asking for slightly more money than you expect to receive. The book “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It” by former international hostage negotiator Chris Voss can help you boost your negotiation skills.
Managing Emotion During Negotiations
One of the most valuable negotiation strategies is keeping your emotions in check. But that doesn’t mean silencing every emotion during the negotiation process. Your emotions can be a valuable resource in tense situations as long as you don’t let them control you.
Practice these strategies now so that you’ll be better able to manage your emotions when you’re face-to-face with your boss.
Mindfulness is a key part of successful negotiation, according to writer and business professor Shirli Kopelman. When you’re mindful, you’re aware of what you’re feeling and ask yourself if it’s beneficial to express that emotion. If the emotion is getting in the way of what you want to achieve, then you need to redirect it.
One way to do that is to replace any negative thoughts you’re having with positive thoughts. For example, during a tense negotiation, you might think, “I’m not doing this well. My boss is going to say no to my request.” As soon as you have this thought, take a deep breath and tell yourself, “I’m worth what I’m asking for. I’m going to be calm and confident and explain why I’ve earned this raise.”
Imagine that you just asked your boss for a $5,000 salary increase. Instead of smiling and saying “Sure, no problem!” as you hoped they’d do, they sigh. Their shoulders slump, and they look down at their notes. In a split second, your confidence vanishes; obviously, they don’t think you’re worth this amount and are going to turn you down. Their body language instantly triggers stress and fear in you.
To deal with situations like this, Kopelman suggests that you reinterpret the trigger that’s causing your negative emotion. Imagine that the reason your boss sighed and slumped their shoulders is because they’re relieved that you didn’t ask for more money. Your confidence will skyrocket, and you might feel empathy for their position. You can use these positive emotions to confidently explain why you’re worth this amount.
7. Practice Your Pitch
Asking for a raise is a nerve-wracking experience for a lot of people. To get through it smoothly, it’s critical that you practice your pitch before you meet with your boss.
Ask your spouse, partner, or a trusted colleague to sit down with you and roleplay the meeting. Have them come up with some tough questions your boss might ask so that you can learn how to better think on your feet and come up with some great answers.
Roleplaying might feel awkward at first, but not as awkward as you’ll feel if you go into the meeting with your boss without practicing at all.
Asking for a Raise
You’re ready to sit down with your boss and ask for more money. Here’s what to do.
1. Practice a Power Pose Before the Meeting
In her famous TED Talk “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are,” Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy explains how you can boost your confidence levels by practicing power poses. A power pose is a body posture that is open and confident, such as standing with your legs wide apart and your hands on your hips. In her book “Presence,” Cuddy says that physical poses have a more direct link to the mind than other confidence-boosting techniques, such as positive self-talk, making them more effective.
A 2010 study published in the journal Psychological Science backs up Cuddy’s claims. It found that participants who practiced a power pose for two minutes experienced higher testosterone levels and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who practiced a low-power pose, such as sitting with their shoulders bowed, looking at the floor. This resulted in a greater risk tolerance.
Power poses might not work for everyone, but they’re certainly worth a try. It can also help to learn how your body language affects other people’s emotions and use that to your advantage. Books such as “What Every Body is Saying” by former FBI counterintelligence officer Joe Navarro can help. For example, sitting up straight with your shoulders back and smiling projects an air of ease and confidence, which your boss will pick up on.
2. Don’t Complain About Your Current Salary
Complaining about your current salary won’t win you any favors with your boss. In fact, it’s likely to do more harm than good. When you put your boss on the defensive, nothing positive will come of the meeting.
Another no-no is comparing your salary with your colleagues’ during negotiations. For example, imagine you say, “Janet makes $60,000 a year, and I work a lot harder than her, so I should be paid at least $67,000.” This distasteful attitude won’t get you a raise and might even get you fired.
Focus instead on how you can solve some of the company’s problems and help it overcome specific challenges it faces in the months and years to come. When you communicate your value, your boss will fear losing you to a competitor, increasing the likelihood that you’ll get what you want.
3. Time It Right
When you ask for a raise is just as important as how you ask.
Typically, managers have more flexibility in their budgets around the time performance reviews are conducted, especially if the company is doing well. You might have more success if you ask for a raise during your annual or semi-annual performance review.
Another good time to ask is after you’ve had a major win, such as securing a lucrative new client. Ride that wave of goodwill all the way to your boss’s office and capitalize on your success.
Of course, there are also times when it’s not a good idea to ask for a raise. For example, hold off on asking when your company or team has experienced a major setback, when the company is struggling financially, or when you haven’t had any recent accomplishments to share with your boss.
What to Do If Your Boss Says No
If your boss turns down your request for a raise, don’t take it personally. The decision likely has little to do with your character or value and more to do with the company’s bottom line. Your boss’s hands may be tied, so don’t let the lack of a raise affect your working relationship.
Instead, ask what you can do to earn a raise. Asking this question is a great way to position yourself for a future raise. If your boss gives you instructions and you follow through, it will be that much harder for them to refuse your request when you bring the topic up again. Ask not only for an outline of objectives, but also when you can next broach the subject. Then, make sure you meet those goals and objectives and maintain an immaculate record to secure a raise the next time around.
Asking for a raise is a normal part of having a career; everyone has to do it at least once, and more likely, on a fairly regular basis. After all, it’s a rare organization that willingly hands out extra cash to their employees.
While it can feel stressful to ask for a raise, it doesn’t have to be. Taking time to prove your worth to the organization and demonstrating how your efforts positively affect the bottom line goes a long way toward getting a yes from your boss.
What tips and strategies have worked well for you when you asked for a raise?