Negotiation Week: The 5 Ways to Prepare for a Raise

This week I'll be posting a series of articles dealing with the art of negotiation at work.

I turned 33 in April and took some time to reflect on my career in education.  One surprising realization has been an uncanny ability to negotiate at work.  Vacations, salary, benefits, etc.  This weekend's Baltimore Sun provided an excellent article called "Closing the Deal" and dealt with the basics of preparing for and then asking for a raise.   Some summary points:

  • Employers expect a counter offer: remember that their first offer is rarely their last so grab some courage and be prepared to counter offer.
    • Mistake: I've seen folks who jump at the first offer when they could have gotten more.  If they want you and you're respectful and savvy, they'll generally pay more.

  • Remove emotion: you're negotiating so that your unique services can be justly rewarded.  Step back, see the big picture and believe in your own skills and talents.
    • Mistake: If you appear insulted at an offer, you may have revealed a quality that the employer will not enjoy.

  • Salary is based on the market, your skills and other factors: you're not trying to just barely cover your expenses- you want to get ahead and the employer can help you to do that.
    • Mistake: I once did my homework by geography, missing the obvious fact that a neighboring region may not be as helpful as you'd first think.  For example, Washington, DC is right next door but is probably 20-30% more expensive than Baltimore so it's not necessarily a helpful salary gauge.

  • Do your homework: find out what others in your field are making.  If you don't know, poke around online and use your network of friends to find out a general range of what folks make.  You want to be in that range, not less than nor much more than (unless of course you're Roger Clemens, then all reason goes out the window!).
    • Mistake: asking for a wild raise without knowing the market will only sabotage your desire for a raise.  You'll look silly asking for something that no one else is getting.

  • Sell yourself: it's hard to get a raise if you can't sell yourself.  Prepare your own skills by improving them in tangible ways and then be able to communicate the difference you've made as a result.
    • Mistake: asking for a juicy raise without making the case for why you deserve it.

  • Be realistic: know that the raise you're looking for may not come right away.  Can you see it as a 2 year process?  Are you willing to dig in for the long haul so that you can eventually get the raise you really want?
    • Mistake: asking for a whopper of a raise after just 6 months on the job.  The higher job you desire, the more energy, time and creativity is needed to get the raise you desire.

Here are 5 things you can do to prepare for the raise you need:

  1. Improve 1-2 key skills over the next 6 months in order to prepare for the "raise talk" that you'll have with your boss. Attend workshops, read books and talk to key people who can help you improve your skills.  Attend a seminar.

  2. Find a mentor, today.  I cannot emphasize the need to find quality mentors in the field in which you work.  Go out for breakfast or grab a drink once a month with key people whom you admire and can learn from.  Hire a coach.

  3. Improve your appearance. Invest in a few great outfits, keep well groomed and smile.  Remember that you are in a popularity contest, whether you like it or not.  Spring clean your presentation.

  4. Sign up for ToastMasters. To the degree that you can speak well, you'll move up the ladder.  Become known for giving great talks and using a clever vocabulary.

  5. Read, read, read. Use your drive time and workout time as "class time".  Become a person who loves learning and uses key insights to improve workplace situations.  The art of productive reading.