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How to Negotiate Your Way to a Raise
May 2011

Anyone who has been around children knows the art of negotiation. While I have none of my own, I have become a successful negotiator when visiting with my nephews and niece. They want dessert? Take 3 more bites of vegetables. Want to play a video game? Make sure your homework for tomorrow is done.

Negotiation is a give and take process until an agreement is reached between multiple parties. It doesn't matter if you are negotiating which movie to watch with your significant other, staying up late with a 10 year old, or a raise with your boss, you must always keep that give and take in mind.

Before entering into any negotiation, look at the proposition from the side of the other person you are dealing with. In the case of a salary, raise, promotion or bonus, you are dealing with your manager/hiring manager. Keep in mind you will never get an increase in pay because you have student loans to pay off or your rent or mortgage payments are too expensive. A pay increase is based on your performance and the market for your skills.

Next, take into consideration some of the following:

Do your research. How is your company performing? Look at the quarterly earnings reports. Has your company had layoffs or cutbacks? How are you paid on comparison to benchmark data at other organizations? Check sites like, or the local library that break down pay by industry, job title and region.

Understand what you contribute. Build your case by making a list of your accomplishments during the past year. Do you help make the company money? If so, remind your boss of the accounts you just landed, or the customers you retained. If you're a manager, detail the initiatives you've launched and problems you've solved, and tell your boss how this has helped the company's bottom line.

Go to your meeting with your Master Plan: Put it all down on paper. Wanting a raise and being able to show why you deserve one are two different things. Just be sure to keep it simple. There is no need for a 25-page PowerPoint presentation. Things to consider:

  • Achievements from the last year including numbers, percentages and dollars where possible. Remind your boss of the customers you retained or the big deal you won. If you are a manager, detail the initiatives you launched or problems you solved. Talk about how you added to the company's bottom line or business objectives.
  • List added responsibilities.
  • Include any trainings or new credentials or degrees earned that will benefit your employer. For example, if you are in Human Resources and got your SPHR certification or recently completed an MBA program.
  • Bring your brag book! Include copies of letters from clients, co-workers and customers saying what a great job you did.

Ask Questions. As I mentioned earlier, don't give a presentation. Ask lots of questions so you can find out your managers issues, concerns, needs and objectives. Don't assume you know what they are thinking. Asking questions that start with who, what, when, where, how and why are the best ways to get your manager to tell you want they want. You can then tailor your request for a raise based on the needs of your manager and their vision.

Timing is everything! You can't hit a baseball out of the park if your timing is off, the same goes for asking for a raise. LinkedIn crunched the numbers and found that the months most raises are handed out are in January, June and July. That means, you should have your conversations a month or so before that. Keep the meeting simple and understated.
What if your boss says no? Be prepared to negotiate. Remember, I mentioned earlier, negotiation is a give and take process between two people. You should expect to hear "No" and be prepared so you can respond unemotionally and state your reasons for consideration. Use the initial rejection as a starting point to negotiate other possible options.

Budget can be a big issue for many organizations after the economic downturn. Non-cash options can be a great plan B if your boss can not give you a raise or larger bonus. Some examples include: asking for a more prestigious job title. If you want to get an MBA, you might be able to get tuition assistance or time off for class. If your company provides alternative work arrangements, maybe you can work from home a few days a week and save on commuting costs.

If you still come up empty handed, ask your boss to help you define some specific and measurable goals that you can work on in order to secure a raise or promotion. Then, set up a meeting in 4-6 months in go over your new accomplishments at that time.

Follow some of the tips above and you will avoid the pitfalls many amateur negotiators make and will be more likely to get the best possible deal when you ask for a raise.