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Asking for a Raise: How, When and Why

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Next to firing an employee and having to inform a coworker of various personal hygiene offenses, asking for a raise is up there as one of the worst, most dreaded workplace conversations of all time. Approaching the boss, asking for more money, trying to explain why you think you deserve it and expressing your inherent value in a convincing manner without embarrassing yourself can seem both an impossible and terrifying task, and rightfully so. But, it's not -- not if you can reframe it in your mind first and your mouth second, as a simple question warranting a simple answer. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Here's how to get started:

First, load your guns. By this I mean equip yourself with knowledge that will enable you to have an informed discussion and present a persuasive argument.

A) Research salaries on jobs comparable to yours in a like industry and region. It is vital that you know the prevailing rate of pay on jobs sharing similar circumstances with yours. There are sites like payscale.com and salary.com where you can search and compare. Also, if you happen to know any headhunters, they can give you a very good idea of salary ranges. Or alternatively, you can peruse sites such as monster.com and careerbuilder.com to see what jobs like yours are currently offering new-hires in the marketplace.

B) Be crystal clear about your performance and what concrete contributions you have made to the organization, and better yet, any impact you've had on the bottom line of the business itself. The more quantifiable they are, the stronger your position is.

The point being that if you are well paid (in comparative terms) and contributing little to the organization, you will have a much harder time selling the idea of a raise than if you are having a positive impact on the business and not being compensated competitively, and therefore, fairly. You want to weigh those two factors against one another so that you can craft an argument around them, because they are the two key variables your boss will be thinking about most.

Second, imagine that you are posing it as a question of feasibility rather than a request for more money. Simply ask if it would be possible to make an adjustment to your salary, or an increase to your compensation. Either one will do. Or, even to say, "Is it possible to place my current rate of pay under consideration..." is to ask a perfectly reasonable and non-threatening question. The only thing is, you have to be prepared for the answer, which could be "no." But even if it is, you need to hear it, and find out why. That is, if you are serious about creating the results you want. There may be milestones you need to meet, behaviors you need to change or relationships you need to improve. But better to find out than to remain in the dark, stuck where you are, and unable to do anything about it.

On the other hand, you may discover that in the process of talking about your pay and performance, you learn that it is not a conversation about an increase at all. Rather, you may learn that you are at the top of your salary range and doing just fine, in which case the more appropriate conversation is one about promotion or additional challenges and opportunities that could shape your entire future instead.

Now, with all that said, there are also some things you want to avoid at all costs.

Most importantly, don't read into what you hear and allow yourself to turn it into something that it's not. A 'no,' is NOT a personal rejection. It is simply a piece of information that should lead you to the next question which is, "If not now, then when and what do I need to do to get there?"

Don't force the answer if your boss says he or she can't give you one on the spot. Salaries are line items on a budget and it can take some finagling to make money available. Also, realize that your boss is evaluated heavily and compensated on his or her ability to financially manage the resources put in his or her charge. Often, it's not a simple matter of merely bumping you up a few percentage points. Sometimes, there really is no wiggle room and it can't be done. Regardless of which way it goes however, be sure to ask permission to set up another time to meet again in the future to revisit the topic.

Next, don't use personal measures, such as you need a new car or home, can't save enough to put your kids through school or are having trouble paying your bills. Needing, wanting, deserving and earning more money are all different things. But the only thing you should be discussing in this context is earning more. Remember, this is a business conversation, so keep it focused on the business, your role in it and nothing else.

And finally, a word of caution. Be careful switching gears and trying to swap out monetary compensation for additional perks. It's popular advice, but it can backfire. You must be really clear about what you need before you go in. There is a difference between being underpaid and needing to make more money. Just realize, that if you initially ask for a raise, but then renegotiate its value in things such as vacation, benefits, tuition reimbursement, etc..., you run the risk of having it thrown back in your lap, because if you ask for an increase again later, your boss may tell you that your "total comp" now exceeds the limits on a job compatible with yours.

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