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by Hillary Patin

How to Negotiate a Raise

Negotiating a raise can be a daunting task, but get it right, and you could bump your salary significantly.
Girl celebrating

Getting a raise now could have a big impact on what your salary is in five, 10, or even 20 years from now. Since salary increases are often based on a percentage of your current salary, your salary will grow at a faster rate each time you attain a raise. Whether you’re trying to save money or figure out how to make more of it, negotiating for a raise will get you the most bang for your buck. Here’s how to negotiate a raise in five steps.

1. Remove all barriers

When you first saw this article or had a friend mention that you could try to get a raise, you might have had some thoughts—thoughts that tried to stop you. Thoughts like “They pay everyone the same, so why would I bother?” or “That would be an intimidating and awkward conversation—I’ll pass” start to erode your confidence. Don’t give in to them. Think about it like this: If you don’t even try to negotiate for a raise, you’re missing out on an opportunity to be making hundreds of dollars per year! One slightly uncomfortable conversation now has big payoffs for your next paycheck and for the rest of your career.

Ask your boss if you could have a meeting with them to discuss your compensation, or commit yourself to talking about it during your next performance review. But before you have the meeting, get prepared.

2. Research your market value

It’s important to focus the conversation on what you’re worth. You’re not likely to get a raise if you focus on why you want it or because you feel like you deserve it, or because your coworker gets paid more than you. Focusing on your market value shows your boss that you know your worth and that you’ve done your homework. Plus, since numbers and research are objective, they make a compelling case. You are no longer the center of the conversation—your research is.

My favorite place to start research is Payscale.com. Payscale’s free salary report is great because it has you enter in a ton of relevant information to determine what you’re worth, including your location, education, past jobs, skills you have, the number of years of experience you have under a given title, and more. Because Payscale is so thorough and looks beyond national pay rates for people with x job title, it’s a very powerful tool to have during your negotiation. Places to get additional research are Salary.com, Glassdoor.com, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

You want to walk away from this research with a salary range: what salary you deserve at the very least and what salary you deserve at the most. If your research leads you to find that you’re being underpaid, that’s more leverage for you. If you find that you’re being paid about average, or being paid above average, you might need to put more work into the next step. Remember, whether you’re being underpaid, overpaid, or paid just right, a raise is a drop in the bucket for most companies.

3. Use the briefcase technique

While Ramit Sethi’s briefcase technique works for many occasions, it works amazingly for salary negotiations. I wouldn’t go into a salary negotiation without it.

Basically, you’re showing that you’ve done your homework by pulling out a prepared document from your briefcase (or binder—whatever is common at your workplace) and explaining it to your superior. This forces you to do your homework ahead of time and put yourself in your boss’s shoes. With the briefcase technique, you won’t be simply asking for a raise; you’ll be showing why you deserve one.

In the case of salary negotiations, at the minimum you should include your research from step 2. Organize your market value research into an easily skimmable document and pull it out during your meeting. You’ll use the document to explain that someone with your job title in your city with your experience is worth $x salary, and that you’d like your compensation to reflect your worth.

I’d recommend a second briefcase document: a list of your accomplishments and testimonials from coworkers and superiors. You could even include a quote from the same person you’ll be negotiating with for a raise. In order for this document to be successful, your list of accomplishments should be ways you’ve gone above and beyond—not your job description. If you’re trying to convince your boss you deserve a raise because you’re doing the minimum, it’s not going to work.

To make your list of accomplishments more powerful, tie them to metrics your boss cares about. If you can tie any accomplishments you’ve made to increased productivity or increased revenue, the more relevant your accomplishments will be to your boss, and the more likely you are to get a raise.

It’s a good idea to get in the habit now of tracking your accomplishments and collecting testimonials throughout your career. Next time you think about negotiating for a raise, you’ll have a list ready to draw from. A great way to do this is to ask your coworkers or former bosses to write you a recommendation on LinkedIn.com.

4. Master the negotiation conversation

The actual negotiation conversation is much easier when you have your briefcase technique and market value research on hand. However, all that work will have been for naught if your boss says “no” and you accept it and leave within a few minutes.

Keep the conversation going by doing the following: Prove your value, then listen, and then empathize. Then do it again, and again. When you’re proving your value, make sure not to talk too long—you need to hear what they have to say to know how to respond next.

Start the first round by proving your value with your research on your market value through the briefcase technique. Explain the context, but keep it short and to the point with your salary range in mind. Then see what they have to say in return, and listen. You might get something like “We pay everybody the same amount” or “It’s tough times in this economy.” Empathize with them by agreeing and showing them you see their point. For example, “Yes, I can definitely see how differing pay among coworkers could be awkward, but…” Then prove your value again—this time by pulling out your list of accomplishments and testimonials. For instance, “…but I have contributed more than the average employee. For example, I doubled productivity of the team by improving x process, and I think my compensation should reflect that.” Then hear their response, empathize, and repeat.

5. Practice, practice, practice

It’s one thing to read this and understand what to do. It’s another thing to actually do it in the room with your boss.

That’s why you must practice. Either practice with yourself or find a friend to help you practice. If you’re by yourself, practicing in a mirror and recording yourself will help you see how you come off—are your shoulders scrunched and does your voice sound robotic? Did you not know how to respond after the fourth round of proving your value? Mess up now while the pressure is off.

It’s helpful to scenario-plan at least a few conversations. Write down their possible responses, then write down yours, then theirs, then yours, etc. Practice your responses until they become natural.

The less you have to think about what you’re going to say next, the more you can focus on having confident and positive body language. Make sure you smile and make some small talk before the meeting starts; watch to see if you’re fidgeting or slouching; and make sure your body reflects that you’re engaged in the conversation through hand motions and eye contact.

Now you have all the tools to get started toward a higher salary. Whether you dream of being debt-free, upgrading your living situation, or giving back, negotiating a higher salary is one of the most efficient ways to make it happen. Set the meeting and start your research today.

Disclaimer: Hey! Welcome to our disclaimer. Here’s what you need to know to safely consume this blog post: Any outbound links in this post will take you away from Simple.com, to external sites in the wilds of the internet; neither Simple nor our partner banks, The Bancorp Bank and BBVA Compass, endorse any linked-to websites; and we didn’t pay/barter with/bribe anyone to appear in this post. And as much as we wish we could control the cost of things, any prices in this article are just estimates. Actual prices are up to retailers, manufacturers, and other people who’ve been granted magical powers over digits and dollar signs.