It's the question many people dread asking their boss. And yet, it's also the one most likely to be top-of-mind this time of year for most employees, particularly in Canada's red-hot job market.
“Can I get a raise?”
Despite the temptation to rush to your manager to ask for a larger paycheque, it's important to do your homework well in advance of popping the question–that, or risk unintended consequences. “Getting a raise starts far before the day you walk into the boss's office,” says Sharon Graham, president of Graham Management Group, a leading executive resumé-writing and career-management firm based in Milton, Ont. “You really should understand that one of three things is going to happen: you might get the extra money, you might find out you're not nearly as valuable as you think you are, or you could lose your job.”
With that in mind, start by ensuring without a doubt that you've met the two most important criteria for getting a pay increase: exceeding the company's expectations and displaying exemplary behaviour. If you haven't, Graham warns, don't even bother asking.
The next step is to do some digging. Has it been a good year for your company from a financial standpoint? Is your firm in a position to hand out more money? You should also figure out what's reasonable in terms of salary, not just in your own backyard, but in your industry as a whole. This isn't always easy, as most organizations won't readily disclose what other people make. So do some research on your own. Find out what the salary band or range is for your job function. Consult at least two professional or industry associations for comparable salary data. Visit websites such as Workopolis.com or Salary.com to get a sense of where you fall on the compensation ladder. Those steps will give you something to work with when it comes to negotiating an appropriate figure for a raise.
You'll also need to come up with a personal business case. In other words, why should your company be willing to pay you, versus any of its other employees, more money? What are you worth to it?
Make a list highlighting your most recent and high-profile accomplishments. Be concise and clear. “If you are working on projects where you can measure their impact to the organization, that will usually be easier to justify,” says Keri Humber, a senior compensation consultant with global human resources consulting firm Hewitt Associates, in Toronto.
It's always a good idea to have a solid backup plan. If your boss says no to a raise, will you stay or will you go? If you're planning to take the latter step, it's probably a good idea to have another job offer lined up before you do; it may even give you some negotiating power.
Rather than going to your boss with a single dollar figure in mind, be prepared to be flexible and to work within a range. However, Graham advises that “it's important to establish what your bottom line is, or the minimum outcome you can live with, so if things don't go exactly according to plan, you will have some negotiating power.” The goal? “To strike the best deal without overpricing yourself.”
When it finally comes time to meet with your boss, there are some crucial dos and don'ts that can make the difference between getting that raise and embarrassing yourself–or alienating your superior–in the process. Always negotiate in a professional and ethical manner. Focus on business issues, not emotions. Stay upbeat throughout your meeting and discuss only your very best accomplishments, ones that exceeded expectations. Remind your employer that you're still completely loyal to the organization and that you intend to continue performing to the same above-average standard regardless of his or her decision.
Do not get angry if you don't get your way. It's also important to remember that companies tend to compensate employees based on merit, not personal need, so as tempting as it may be to share your financial woes with your boss, don't.
Avoid slagging colleagues who you've heard through the office grapevine make more money for doing the same job. And if more dough simply isn't an option, consider non-monetary rewards, including increased benefits or vacation time, additional expense allowances, or even a company car, cellphone, pager or membership in a professional association.
Most importantly, whatever you do, don't expect to walk away with a raise immediately. Graham says most managers need time to digest the information discussed in your meeting before coming back with an answer. “And for heaven's sake, if the salary's fair, you should accept it.”
As long as there's money in the pot and an employee has met all the criteria for getting a raise, Graham says, “there's no reason an employer would choose not to reward its best employees.” Good luck.