Why You Might Not Deserve the Raise You Think You Do

Urban legends loom large during the recruitment process. Did you hear the one about the job offer that was withdrawn because the candidate was too aggressive negotiating salary? So have I.

In reality, it’s rare that an employer will scrap a negotiation with no warning, but there’s a lesson in this cautionary tale: When a promising candidate sticks bitterly to a salary figure that’s totally divorced from reality, it suggests they might be difficult to work with, arrogant, or worse.

As an executive coach, I often work with clients who think they’re owed a raise. I also work with leaders who have to field those requests, in my other role as a consultant. Having sat on both sides of the table, I’ve seen raise-seekers make common mistakes, and noticed that they often overlook the employer’s perspective.

If you think you’re owed a raise and you don’t get one, it’s easy to feel wronged or angry. But doing your research, understanding your employer’s budget and circumstances, and being honest about your own qualifications can mitigate that sense of injustice. Here are some of the myths that might be cutting into your satisfaction with your salary.

Myth: Start your negotiation with the most aggressive number you can tolerate. Why lowball yourself?
One MBA career center director I know discouraged the school’s ambitious new graduates from embarking on hardball salary negotiations. After all, starting packages are often set, and there’s a better time to ask for more, like once you have some experience.

Myth: You should ask for a raise as soon as you’ve been at a job for a year.
Be honest with yourself: Has your recent performance justified more money? Can you document your contributions? If so, you should pursue an increase. But base your request on accomplishments, not tenure. “I’ve been working here for 12 months” isn’t enough of a case to bring to your boss.

Even if your performance entitles you to a raise, it isn’t necessarily the right time to ask for one. There are bad moments to ask for a raise, like after the company gets disappointing fiscal news, or once the annual budget has been set. Make sure the timing is right for you and your employer.

Myth: Don’t mention what your co-workers earn in salary talks.
Sometimes I’ll get a call when a client has discovered an inequity in pay. Perhaps a new hire’s salary has leaked and is above those currently in the same position. This is tricky territory, so gather data before you take action.

Try to get more information on that other analyst making 10 percent more than you (and others like her). What does she do with her days? Just because you have the same title doesn’t mean you do the same job. Then collect examples of your stellar performance (with the data to back them up). Armed with that info, can you argue that your responsibilities, accomplishments, and expertise match those of someone who’s making more than you? If you can, your salaries should match, too.

Once you’ve determined what you think is a fair salary, make an appointment with your boss. (Use e-mail to set the appointment, but always have this conversation face-to-face, even if it has to be via video link because of your remote location.)

Myth: Your performance review is the perfect time to ask for a raise.
Save yourself, and your boss, this unnecessary headache. Performance reviews are often stressful for the manager as well as the employee, and a lot of information is exchanged. You may get surprising news (for better or for worse), and need to adjust your request. Better to e-mail your boss after the review, summarize what you discussed, and ask for a follow-up meeting. You and your boss will both be more focused when you make your pitch.

Myth: If you leave the meeting without a commitment, you’ve failed.
Rarely have I heard of a client receiving a raise on the spot. Your boss probably isn’t the only one with a say in what you make. So expect the decision to be deferred until he can get approval from above. In the meantime, be specific and help him understand where you got your numbers.

The more you help your manager make your case, the better he will be able to defend the request. Prepare a short memo (one page will do) outlining your numbers and offering a short narrative about your performance. Give your boss a hard copy, and then send a digital version when you follow up with an e-mail thanking your boss for hearing you out. Your boss can forward the digital copy as needed when he’s advocating for you.

Myth: If my boss doesn’t recognize what I’m worth, I’m in the wrong job.
Not always. Listen closely if your boss tells you that your performance doesn’t warrant an increase; there’s valuable information in that exchange. Either you’ll find out that you have a milestone or two to reach before you get to the next level, or you’ll realize you and your boss are at an impasse. If it’s the latter, you may indeed have to look elsewhere.

Treat asking for a raise as a conversation based on objective information, not as a personal favor to be granted just because you want it. That way, not only are you more likely to get the outcome you’re hoping for, but you’re better prepared to take the necessary next steps if you don’t.

Finally, remember: Timing is everything, surprises rarely yield positive results, and rational persistence (as opposed to tiresome repetition) pays off.

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